Blockchain Light Nodes and Everything You Need to Know About Them

8 min read

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New vocabulary enters the world of cryptocurrency and blockchain every day, with terms like whale, DeFi, mining, and so on - it almost feels never-ending. However, it’s important to be familiar with the basics, and one of those basics includes the word ’node.'

Although nodes may seem daunting at first, they are not a hard concept to grasp. Generally speaking, nodes are defined as connection points within a greater system.

We see real-life examples of nodes every day.

For example, the router you use acts as a node between the internet and your laptop, picking up all the information from the internet and sending it to your laptop. It may also take information from your laptop and send it to the internet. One can also think of it as a junction or an intersection.

What is the function of a node?

The primary function of nodes is to receive and send out information before verifying them and storing them on the shared database, known as the blockchain.

To act as a node, a computer must have a downloaded copy of the entire blockchain, which can be very much data. A computer that takes part in running the blockchain and securing the network is known as a node.

What are the different types of nodes?

The blockchain consists of many types of nodes, such as full nodes, light nodes, and miner nodes.

  • Full Nodes contain the entirety of the blockchain, and their main responsibility is to validate and authenticate transactions taking place on the blockchain. If any transaction is found containing an error, it will automatically be rejected by the node.
  • Miner Nodes is a type of node that validates and authenticates transactions like a full node but also utilizes its computing power to verify, solve, and add new transactions to the blockchain. This is done through the Proof of Work method, which tries to solve an encrypted puzzle. Additionally, these nodes help provide security and stability to the blockchain.

What is a blockchain light node?

A blockchain light node, also called a light client, is similar to a full node in terms of its functions. However, instead of storing the entirety of the blockchain in its memory, it only stores parts of the blockchain that are relevant to the transaction being performed.

This means that light nodes are far more efficient and beneficial for users than full nodes, as they can be cheaper to maintain and offer an easier method for accessing the blockchain without having to maintain a fully-synced copy.

These light nodes, on the other hand, may not act independently.

Instead, they rely on full nodes, often using them as intermediates. This is because full nodes can connect to the blockchain and act as a midpoint for light nodes and the blockchain.

How do blockchain light nodes work?

Like most other nodes, blockchain nodes work through the consensus algorithm.

Many of the current cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, Dogecoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum, use a type of consensus algorithm known as Proof of Work (PoW). Although the exact workings of PoW may be too technical for a layperson and out of the scope of this article, the main function of PoW is to prevent double-spending by verifying transactions.

This allows for a safer network, the addition of value to the network as energy is consumed, and the strengthening of the decentralized system.

Although Ethereum currently uses PoW as its main consensus algorithm, it is slowly shifting towards a new type of algorithm known as Proof of Stake (PoS), which some consider a far more efficient method of preventing double-spending.

In summary, these consensus algorithms allow the nodes to effectively send, receive, and process the data on the blocks of the blockchain and validate the transactions being performed.

How to Set Up a Light Node

Running a full node can get slightly complicated, especially for those who aren’t too familiar with coding and specific crypto-related programs. However, running a light node can be fairly straightforward by following a few easy steps.

Firstly, you may need a computer or laptop that meets the desired blockchain’s specifications. Light nodes are, as the name suggests, light in terms of the data they consume.

Often, light nodes can be set up on devices such as laptops and mobile phones, as these devices are often low storage.

Full nodes, on the other hand, have a much longer list of requirements, ranging from various settings to programs such as VPNs, security measures, and expensive hardware like a machine with 1TB of storage and a powerful SSD and HDD.

Secondly, for running a light node on the Ethereum blockchain, you will need a program or software that can help you access the Ethereum ecosystem. Programs and software used for this purpose are known as clients.

For running an Ethereum light node, a client known as ‘Geth’ – short for Go Ethereum – will be needed. This client is programmed in the Go language.

Geth can be downloaded directly from the website. Using this program will allow you to join the Ethereum network through peer-to-peer transferring of Ether or by mining.

What this light node will do is store the ‘blockchain header .‘A blockchain header can be thought of as a unique fingerprint that each block possesses. It is used as an identification tool for blocks.

Additionally, it will request any other desired data, such as information from the blockchain on-demand.

Currently, there are 10,500 active and reachable nodes within the Bitcoin ecosystem, with the number increasing day by day.

Blockchain light node and cryptocurrency wallets

Like any currency or form of money, you need a safe space to store it. If you’ve already entered the world of crypto and have some coins of your own, you’re most likely using a digital wallet.

There are many forms of wallets available for safely storing cryptocurrencies, such as software, hardware, and paper wallets. However, the two major types are full node and light node wallets.

To understand the concept of light node wallets, it is important to look back in time. Traditionally, wallets have required the user to download a copy of the entirety of the blockchain.

Not only does this process use up vast amounts of storage, with file sizes larger than 300 gigabytes, but it can also be costly in terms of time and power wasted.

Each time the wallet was opened, it would take some time to update and process every transaction and operation that occurred on the blockchain. Sure, if you’re constantly checking your wallet, it wouldn’t take too long, but opening it after a week, or even a month, could prove to be extremely time-consuming.

Additionally, there were also other requirements for running a full wallet, such as 4GB of RAM, a bandwidth of 500 MB downloads, and 5 GB uploads, as well as the ability to continuously run the node for six or more hours a day.

All these requirements can add up over time to become costly in terms of time and resources used.

However, running this type of full node wallet gives an individual the ability to be in full control of their cryptocurrency, and monitor the level of security and anything going in or out.

To accommodate the modern lifestyle, where time is a commodity more precious than any other, blockchain light nodes were created to be accessible from any location via smartphones and other smart devices such as laptops.

Blockchain light nodes didn’t require an entire copy of the blockchain and simply downloaded the block headers to authenticate transactions.

Pros and Cons of Light Nodes

Pros

The pros of using a light node are very straightforward – it’s convenient. Light nodes can be accessed with just a simple internet connection via a smartphone, laptop, or other smart devices. This makes your crypto wallet available to you from any location at any time without having to go through any hassle.

Cons

Just like physical wallets are prone to theft, light node wallets are prone to cyberattacks, where hackers can access your wallet and take your assets. Light node wallets are usually at risk due to the fact they use third parties to store data - meaning they own the hypothetical ‘key’ to all your data.

One of the more common security risks is being scammed. When using a full node, you are directly connected to a certain cryptocurrency’s protocol and its rules. These rules are often coded to a great degree of accuracy to prevent cheating of any sort.

However, when using a light node, all the transactions being made from your device are running through a third party whose security systems may not be the most effective, leaving your wallet vulnerable.

Light nodes also have a weaker security protocol than most full nodes and don’t verify transactions to the greatest degree of accuracy. This can lead to people using fake coins and the light node not being able to appropriately process them.

Another risk of using light nodes is the breach of privacy. The transactions you make will be recorded by your preferred third-party application, with no disclosure on how this data will be used.

Unless you’re using a browser such as Tor or a VPN, the transactions you make will be associated with your IP address which can leave you vulnerable. This data can also later be sold to companies, exploited, or exposed.

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