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Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, being of high value, are often not transferred as whole coins, but rather as fractions.
However, dividing cryptocurrencies into smaller units can be a complex process that incurs additional mining fees, making transactions less cost-effective. To address this issue, unspent transaction outputs (UTXOs) are utilized.
An unspent transaction output (UTXO) is a component of blockchain transactions that can be utilized as input in a new transaction, effectively defining the start and end points of each transaction. This model is a critical element of Bitcoin and various other cryptocurrencies.
To illustrate, a cryptocurrency transaction is made up of inputs and outputs. When a user initiates a transaction, they use one or more UTXOs as inputs and provide their digital signature to validate ownership of the inputs, generating outputs. The UTXOs used in the transaction are then considered "spent" and can no longer be utilized, while the outputs become new UTXOs that can be spent in future transactions.
For example, suppose Emily has 0.45 BTC in her wallet, represented as two UTXOs of 0.4 BTC and 0.05 BTC. If Emily needs to pay John 0.3 BTC, she can break up the 0.4 BTC UTXO and send 0.3 BTC to John's address and return 0.1 BTC to herself, creating two new UTXOs of 0.3 BTC and 0.1 BTC. Alternatively, if Emily needed to pay 0.42 BTC, she could combine her 0.4 BTC UTXO with the 0.05 BTC UTXO to generate a 0.42 BTC UTXO and return 0.03 BTC to herself.
Overall, the UTXO model serves as the mechanism for tracking cryptocurrency ownership and transactions, functioning similarly to checks that are addressed to specific users or public addresses. UTXOs cannot be used in part; instead, new checks must be created and passed along.
The UTXO model serves as a critical verification tool, providing greater security for cryptocurrency users. The ownership of each crypto unit must be authenticated before it can be spent, reducing the risk of fraudulent activity.
The UTXO model also helps to prevent double-spending and maintains the stability of crypto amounts. It does so by only allowing unspent outputs to be used for future transactions, ensuring that each fraction of crypto is only used once.
Furthermore, the UTXO model offers a degree of transparency without revealing users' identities. It records a public key associated with each crypto unit, allowing for a clear chain of ownership in case of disputes.
For consumers, the UTXO model allows discrete pieces of crypto to be created and used in any transaction, rather than trading whole coins to institutions that mine fractions. This eliminates excessive fees and makes it cost-effective to manage even very small crypto transactions.
The UTXO model and account model offer distinct approaches to handling transactions. The unspent transaction output model treats currency as an object, where each object has its history stored on it, but only requires accessing ownership when sent. In contrast, the account model creates a separate record for each user, tracking and remembering the balance of each account continuously.
Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. The account model requires larger storage demands, with networks needing to store large blocks of data and access them frequently. On the other hand, the UTXO model requires less storage, but takes slightly longer to examine each block's history before transferring funds to another user. However, the UTXO model's enhanced security features make this slightly longer transaction time worth it. Ultimately, the choice between the two models depends on the specific needs and preferences of the network.
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