The Testnet is an alternative Bitcoin blockchain, to be used for testing. It isprimarily used by developers for testing Bitcoin-related applications. Although similar, the Testnet and the Bitcoin network are not compatible, meaning you can’t use Bitcoins on the Testnet, and you can’t use Testnet coins on the Bitcoin network.
In other words, Testnet is an exact copy of the Bitcoin network intended for testing purposes only. The network allows application developers or Bitcoin testers to experiment, without having to use real Bitcoins or worrying about breaking the main Bitcoin ecosystem.
The main reason why a this network exists is for developers to perform specific tests. To be more specific, when Bitcoin developers try to introduce some changes to the protocol – such as Segregated Witness – they have to ensure the concept is thoroughly tested first and foremost. This can be done relatively easily on the Testnet since it is an alternative version of the primary Bitcoin blockchain.
The primary reason why the Testnet is so important is for developers and other coders to experiment with new code and solutions. In doing so, they are not “disturbing” the main Bitcoin network, nor are they forced to use Bitcoins which actually have a value. More importantly, if a proposed code change were to go awry, it will have no impact on the main Bitcoin ecosystem. The Testnet is a pure testing environment and should always be treated as such.
There have been quite a few iterations of the Bitcoin Testnet. Testnet 1 was designed first as you would expect. When the second version came around, it introduced an official Testnet reset with a different genesis block. This change was necessary as some people traded Testnet coins for real money.
At the moment, the network uses Testnet 3, which was part of the Bitcoin Core 0.7 release. In addition, a new genesis block was introduced to avoid the mining difficulty from ramping up or decreasing too fast. The third generation of the network (Testnet 3) added a new rule for mining coins. If nothing is mined for 20 minutes, the difficulty will reset to the minimum (1.0) for the next block. This allows more blocks to be mined and keeps the network accessible to more miners.
As it would be expected, the Bitcoin Testnet sees far fewer transactions compared to the main blockchain. That is only normal since very few users actively transact on the Testnet on a daily basis. It also has a much smaller blockchain as there are fewer transactions taking place. At the moment, the Testnet blockchain is roughly one-tenth of the main Bitcoin blockchain.
How to get Testnet coins
Whereas Testnet has no value as is the case with Bitcoin, there are in limited supply and have to be acquired. The first way to acquire them is through mining. Testnet coins can be acquired through the same software that is used in Bitcoin mining.
The other way of acquiring Testnet coins is by using an online service referred to as faucet. These are services set up by individuals or organizations with the network’s coins to spare. A web search for Bitcoin Testnet faucets will lead you to the latest available faucets.
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