Full node is a program that fully validates transactions and blocks. Almost all full nodes also help the network by accepting transactions and blocks from other full nodes, validating those transactions and blocks, and then relaying them to further full nodes.
Most full nodes also serve lightweight clients by allowing them to transmit their transactions to the network and by notifying them when a transaction affects their wallet. If not enough nodes perform this function, clients won’t be able to connect through the peer-to-peer network—they’ll have to use centralized services instead.
Many people and organizations volunteer to run full nodes using spare computing and bandwidth resources—but more volunteers are needed to allow Bitcoin to continue to grow. This document describes how you can help and what helping will cost you.
Any computer that connects to the Bitcoin network is called a node. Nodes that fully enforce all of the rules of Bitcoin are called full nodes. Most nodes on the network are lightweight nodes instead of full nodes, but full nodes form the backbone of the network. The latest version of bitcoin full node software can be found on the bitcoin.org site.
What makes a full node?
Full nodes download every block and transaction and check them against Bitcoin's core consensus rules. Here are examples of consensus rules, though there are many more:
- Blocks may only create a certain number of bitcoins. (Currently 12.5 BTC per block.)
- Transactions must have correct signatures for the bitcoins being spent.
- Transactions/blocks must be in the correct data format.
- Within a single blockchain, a transaction output cannot be double-spent.
If a transaction or block violates the consensus rules, then it is absolutely rejected, even if every other node on the network thinks that it is valid. This is one of the most important characteristics of full nodes: they do what's right no matter what. For full nodes, miners actually have fairly limited power: they can only reorder or remove transactions, and only by expending a lot of computing power. A powerful miner is able to execute some serious attacks, but because full nodes rely on miners only for a few things, miners could not completely change or destroy Bitcoin.
Nodes that have different consensus rules are actually using two different networks/currencies. Changing any of the consensus rules requires a hard fork, which can be thought of as creating a new currency and having everyone move to it. Consensus rules are different from policy rules, which specify how a node or miner prioritizes or discourages certain things. Policy rules can be changed freely, and different nodes can have different policy rules. Because all full nodes must use exactly the same consensus rules in order to remain compatible with each other, even duplicating bugs and oddities in the original consensus rules, creating a full node from scratch is extremely difficult and dangerous. It is therefore recommended that everyone who wishes to run a full node use software based on the reference client, which is the only client guaranteed to behave correctly.
At minimum, a full node must download every transaction that has ever taken place, all new transactions, and all block headers. Additionally, full nodes must store information about every unspent transaction output until it is spent. By default full nodes are inefficient in that they download each new transaction at least twice, and they store the entire block chain (>60 GB) forever, even though only the unspent transaction outputs (<2 GB) are required. Performance can improved by enabling -blocksonly mode and enabling pruning.
A subset of full nodes also accept incoming connections and upload old blocks to other peers on the network. This happens if the software is run with -listen=1 as is default. Contrary to some popular misconceptions, being an archival node is not necessary to being a full node. If a user's bandwidth is constrained then they can use -listen=0, if their disk space is constrained they can use pruning, all the while still being a fully-validating node that enforces bitcoin's consensus rules and contributing to bitcoin's overall security.
Why should you run a full node
Running a full node is the only way you can use Bitcoin in a trustless way. You will know for sure that all the rules of Bitcoin are being followed, for example that no bitcoins are spent not belonging to the owner, that no coins were spent twice, that no inflation happens outside of the schedule and that all the rules needed to make the system work (e.g. difficulty) are followed. Full nodes are currently the most private way to use Bitcoin, with no nobody else learning which bitcoin addresses belong to you. Full nodes are the most secure way to use Bitcoin, they do not suffer from many attacks that affect lightweight wallets.
This is by far the most important reason for running a full node, though it is a little difficult to understand.
As explained previously, full nodes enforce the consensus rules no matter what. However, lightweight nodes do not do this. Lightweight nodes do whatever the majority of mining power says. Therefore, if most of the miners got together to increase their block reward, for example, lightweight nodes would blindly go along with it. If this ever happened, the network would split such that lightweight nodes and full nodes would end up on separate networks, using separate currencies. People using lightweight nodes would be unable to transact with people using full nodes. If all businesses and many users are using full nodes, then this network split is not a critical problem because users of lightweight clients will quickly notice that they can't send or receive bitcoins to/from most of the people who they usually do business with, and so they'll stop using Bitcoin until the evil miners are overcome, which is the appropriate response. However, if almost everyone on the network is using lightweight nodes in this situation, then everyone would continue being able to transact with each other, and so Bitcoin could very well end up "hijacked" by evil miners.
In practice, miners are unlikely to attempt anything like the above scenario as long as full nodes are prevalent because the miners would lose a lot of money. But the incentives completely change if everyone uses lightweight nodes. In that case, miners definitely do have an incentive to change Bitcoin's rules in their favor. It is only reasonably secure to use a lightweight node because most of the Bitcoin economy uses full nodes.
Therefore, it is critical for Bitcoin's survival that the great majority of the Bitcoin economy be backed by full nodes, not lightweight nodes. This is especially important for Bitcoin businesses, which have more economic weight. To contribute to Bitcoin's economic strength, you must actually use a full node for your real transactions (or use a lightweight node connected to a full node that you personally control). Just running a full node on a server somewhere does not contribute to Bitcoin's economic strength.
Having the blockchain stored on your hard drive is the most private way to have a wallet. All other lightweight solutions leak information about which addresses are yours because they must query third-party servers. The Electrum servers will know which addresses belong to you and can link them together. Despite bloom filtering, SPV nodes based on BitcoinJ do not provide much privacy against nodes who connected directly to the wallet .
For many use cases, such privacy may not be required. But an important reason to run a full node and use it as a wallet is to get the full privacy benefits.
Lightweight nodes are sometimes able to be temporarily tricked into accepting transactions or blocks that are not actually valid. This could cause serious financial damage, especially for websites that automatically process Bitcoin transactions. Full nodes provide the maximum security possible, and so they should be used by all businesses, and also by regular users whenever doing so is convenient.
Full nodes may provide various services to other network participants (if the software is run with -listen=1 as is default). This is especially important for lightweight nodes.
These services include:
- Filtering transactions and blocks on behalf of lightweight nodes so that lightweight nodes do not need to download every transaction ever made on the network in order to find their own transactions.
- Serving historical full blocks to nodes that have been offline for a while.
- Transmitting new transactions from users to miners.
- Broadcasting new blocks from miners to other nodes.
For the most part, these services are only usefully performed by full nodes that are listening on port 8333. The more full nodes that accept incoming connections there are, the more users the Bitcoin network can support. Although if there is ever a shortage, lots of archival nodes can be easily created by cheaply renting VPS or AWS space.
Some are incentivizing it
Bitnodes ran a program to incentivize full node operators until the end of 2015.
How to run a full node
If you run the Bitcoin Core/bitcoind wallet, you are running a full node. If you open port 8333, you will contribute to the network's capacity. If you actually use the wallet feature, or if you use a lightweight client like Multibit but configure it to connect exclusively to your full node, then you will contribute to the network's economic strength and receive protection from some possible attacks against lightweight nodes.
There are a few alternate full node implementations, but they are not recommended for serious use because it is currently difficult to determine whether they implement the consensus rules with 100% accuracy. Even very slight inaccuracies could cause serious problems for the users of these alternate clients. One widespread example implementation is Bitcore.
Bitcoin Core full nodes have certain requirements. If you try running a node on weak hardware, it may work—but you’ll likely spend more time dealing with issues. If you can meet the following requirements, you’ll have an easy-to-use node.
- Desktop or laptop hardware running recent versions of Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux.
- 145 gigabytes of free disk space, accessable at a minimum read/write speed of 100 MB/s.
- 2 gigabytes of memory (RAM)
- A broadband Internet connection with upload speeds of at least 400 kilobits (50 kilobytes) per second
- An unmetered connection, a connection with high upload limits, or a connection you regularly monitor to ensure it doesn’t exceed its upload limits. It’s common for full nodes on high-speed connections to use 200 gigabytes upload or more a month. Download usage is around 20 gigabytes a month, plus around an additional 140 gigabytes the first time you start your node.
- 6 hours a day that your full node can be left running. (You can do other things with your computer while running a full node.) More hours would be better, and best of all would be if you can run your node continuously.
Note: many operating systems today (Windows, Mac, and Linux) enter a low-power mode after the screensaver activates, slowing or halting network traffic. This is often the default setting on laptops and on all Mac OS X laptops and desktops. Check your screensaver settings and disable automatic “sleep” or “suspend” options to ensure you support the network whenever your computer is running.
- Legal: Bitcoin use is prohibited or restricted in some areas.
- Bandwidth limits: Some Internet plans will charge an additional amount for any excess upload bandwidth used that isn’t included in the plan. Worse, some providers may terminate your connection without warning because of overuse. We advise that you check whether your Internet connection is subjected to such limitations and monitor your bandwidth use so that you can stop Bitcoin Core before you reach your upload limit.
- Anti-virus: Several people have placed parts of known computer viruses in the Bitcoin block chain. This block chain data can’t infect your computer, but some anti-virus programs quarantine the data anyway, making it more difficult to run Bitcoin Core. This problem mostly affects computers running Windows.
- Attack target: Bitcoin Core powers the Bitcoin peer-to-peer network, so people who want to disrupt the network may attack Bitcoin Core users in ways that will affect other things you do with your computer, such as an attack that limits your available download bandwidth.
See Also on BitcoinWiki
- Clearing Up Misconceptions About Full Nodes
- Why Your Business Should Use a Full Node to Accept Bitcoin
- Bitcoin is not ruled by miners