What is Litecoin? Beginner's Guide
Widely considered to be the first successful “alternative cryptocurrency,” Litecoin’s 2011 release would inspire a wave of developers to try to expand the user base for cryptocurrencies by altering Bitcoin’s code and using it to launch new kinds of networks.
So, while Litecoin was not the first cryptocurrency to copy Bitcoin’s code and modify its features, it is one of the more historically significant, establishing a robust market over time even as it has sometimes faced criticisms that it lacks a clear value proposition.
For example, Litecoin would first differentiate its technology by reducing the amount of time it took for new blocks of transactions to be added to its blockchain. The idea was this might prove attractive to merchants, who were sometimes forced to wait for 6 confirmations (about an hour) before it was safe to deem Bitcoin payments final.
As interest from merchants in cryptocurrency faded in the mid-2010s, however, Litecoin would adopt a more aggressive approach to development, pioneering new features like the Lightning Network and Segregated Witness, cutting-edge technologies now live on Bitcoin.
Rather than stoking competition between the networks, the market has largely viewed these efforts as in line with Litecoin’s values. (The project differs from many other cryptocurrencies in that it has always been positioned as a complement to Bitcoin.)
Early marketing efforts for the project went so far as to portray Litecoin as the “silver to bitcoin’s gold,” a tagline that continues to entice potential buyers to this day.
How does Litecoin work?
A modification of the Bitcoin code, Litecoin has many similar features. So, if you know how Bitcoin works, you’re likely going to have an easy time understanding Litecoin.
Litecoin uses cryptography to enable ownership and exchange of its cryptocurrency, LTC, and its software places a hard limit on the amount of LTC that can ever be created at 84 million.
Like Bitcoin, Litecoin also uses a form of proof-of-work mining to enable anyone who dedicates computing hardware to add new blocks to its blockchain and earn the new Litecoin it creates.
The two main differences are that Litecoin aims to finalize transactions faster and that it uses a different mining algorithm. On Litecoin, new blocks are added to the blockchain roughly every 2.5 minutes (as opposed to 10 minutes on Bitcoin).
Litecoin’s mining algorithm originally aimed at reducing the effectiveness of specialized mining equipment, though this would later prove unsuccessful. (Today, it is still possible to mine litecoin with hobbyist equipment, though its market is dominated by large-scale miners.)
Litecoin has since proven a valuable test ground for more experimental cryptocurrency features.
In 2017, Litecoin adopted “Segregated Witness,” a technology that helps cryptocurrencies add more transactions into each block. Later that year, the first Lightning transaction was completed on Litecoin, a development that showcased how it could use a layered network design.
Who created Litecoin?
Since 2011, Litecoin has been closely associated with its founder and creator, Charlie Lee, a computer scientist and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Lee would go on to a career in technology before creating Litecoin, working at Internet giant Google. He later joined cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase as Director of Engineering in 2013.
Once joining the startup, Lee largely put the development of Litecoin aside, saying in 2017 that he thought his most important goal at the time was to help people “own bitcoin and hold bitcoin.”
In late 2017, Lee departed Coinbase to pursue Litecoin development full time. Lee now serves as the managing director of the Litecoin Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the project.
Why does LTC have value?
Litecoin is programmed to produce only a finite supply (84 million) of its cryptocurrency, LTC, and to periodically reduce the amount of new LTC it introduces into its economy.
Due to its predictable, finite supply, litecoin is popular among traders, who have relied on it to increase in value around supply reductions and to keep pace with Bitcoin’s growth during periods where its price appreciates.
Litecoin can also be used to pay for goods and services using payment processors that accept bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on behalf of merchants.
It is also widely traded on most major cryptocurrency exchanges (including Alt 5 Pro), making its market one of the more liquid globally.