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Using a Bitcoin Block Explorer 101

Are you looking for an introduction to the various Application Layer Protocols (ALPs) which enable reading and writing to the blockchain? Would you like to learn more about the various tools and concepts which can help build real-world applications using the Bitcoin blockchain as a data store, repository, payment ledger or token creation/storage system?

Our introductory course to Bitcoin Development is the best place to start. Below the curriculum creator, Evan Freeman gives an overview of what to expect from this free certificate course.

An introduction to using a Bitcoin Block Explorer

A block is a collection of transactions which happened in the stipulated amount of time from the previous block. The transactions that made it to the block in that time period are put in the order they have been received (by the nodes) and when each transaction is created is always represented by a hash. A hash is part of many cryptographic tools that Bitcoin uses to achieve security as it has a unique property.

What is a hash and what are its unique properties?

A hash is a cryptographic function. One of its unique properties is that it can transform a given input into a fixed number or an alphanumeric string.

What is a Bitcoin input hash?

The input hash provided can be numeric, alphanumeric, media files or binary files.

What is a Bitcoin output hash?

The output hash can be chosen to be 64-bit, 128-bit, 128-bit or 256-bit depending on the choice of the hash algorithm. Another unique property of this hash function is that it is a one-way function, which means there is no way to generate the data if someone has the hash with them. This effectively means that even a one-character change in the input data can completely change the value of the hash output.

input hash table

These two unique properties enable the use of this hash function as a digital fingerprint for the data processed through the function.

Each transaction once created, will have a hash generated for it using the SHA256 algorithm and this is what the content and a transaction look like for a transaction with Hash:

828ef3b079f9c23829c56fe86e85b4a69d9e06e5b54ea597eef5fb3ffef509fe

How a Bitcoin Block Explorer utilises hashes

Typically, a Block Explorer is used for browsing this data on the Bitcoin blockchain. A Block Explorer is a special run full node which is not mining, but part of the Bitcoin network providing ‘read’ services to users. In future, these Block Explorers are expected to offer specialised services for a fee, such as searching for a specific type of transaction.

A full node here means running a complete codebase of the Bitcoin protocol software along with the real-time sync and storage of all of the historical block data of the Bitcoin ledger. One such implementation of a Block Explorer is Whatsonchain.com.

Whatsonchain Block Explorer

Bitcoin Block Explorer features

Block Explorer software provides some great features like:

Block Explorer viewer

Displays all available block information. It includes an interactive viewer which displays Block metadata like timestamp, block height, etc, along with the complete set of transactions present in the block.

Block Explorer transaction and Script viewer

Displays all available transaction information including the metadata, then also displays every bit of transaction detail in ASCII (to display if any data present in the transaction) and JSON formats. It also provides input and output script information on a step-by-step basis.

Block Explorer tools

It provides a varied and quite useful set of tools like an easy user interface to broadcast raw transaction, decode raw transaction, see Tag Stats on different OP_RETURN tagged data, view Mempool Summary, Unconfirmed Transactions, Node Status, Peers and detailed Transaction Stats.

Block Explorer universal search

A varied set of search abilities is provided by the Explorer search using transaction ID, block height, block hash, raw blocks and, raw transactions.

Let us look up a transaction based on the following parameters on the Explorer:

A Block Explorer can be a very useful tool for not just browsing your transactions but also for reading logs, traceability information and reading the data embedded in transactions.

An introductory course to Bitcoin development

To learn more about Block Explorers as well as the various APIs that are provided by Whatsonchain.com, make sure you sign up for BSV Academy’s free introduction to Bitcoin development course.

To sign up for this free course, head over here.

Evan Freeman

Bitcoin Curriculum Specialist