Bitcoin has had scaling issues for years but since the activation of SegWit, it will allow making leaps in transaction throughput. You can take advantage of this upgrade right now by using a SegWit enabled wallet and save up to 30%-40% in fees as pointed out by Subhan Nadeem.
Widespread SegWit adoption will help solve Bitcoin scalebility issues today but that will not be enough in the future. Although there are other existing scaling solutions being worked on like Schnorr Signatures and MAST, scaling limitations of an open blockchain cannot be escaped.
Enter Lighting network. It is a second layer solution built on top of Bitcoin. It is being actively developed right now and you can already perform test transactions on Bitcoin testnet without worrying about any lost funds.
In this post, I’ll show you how you can experience the Lightning Network today and perform payments to other wallets and services.
Option 1 — A web wallet
The simplest way to experience Lightning is to head over to HTLC.me. It is a web-based Lightning wallet created by Alex Bosworth. You can start doing payments immediately without any configuration. Ask a friend to set up the same wallet or open a separate browser and you can send payments back and forth by exchanging invoice requests. To pay for a service, go to Yalls.org and try to pay for an article.
For the next wallet options, you will have to obtain testnet coins to play with. I recommend you visit backend.hamburg/faucet after you set up your phone or desktop wallet and send those coins to the deposit address.
Option 2 — Desktop wallets
Currently, there are 2 wallets that are fairly easy to setup on your computer. The Lightning-app wallet and Zap. Both use Lightning Network Daemon (LND) as the back-end client so you can use the same balance and channels between both apps.
This is my favorite Lightning-enabled wallet. It has a fantastic user interface and tries to make Lightning payments as easy as possible. It is being developed by Jack Mallers with multiple contributors. He has made easy to understand tutorials on how to get started. I think this is the best option for beginners to start testing the Lightning Network. Visit zap.jackmallers.com to learn more.
Lightning app is developed by Lightning Labs, the same company that develops the LND client. To set it up on your PC or Mac, head over to their GitHub release page and download the latest version, unzip the archive, and launch the “Lightning” executable file.
At first, you will have to open channels manually but once you are connected, LND will start to map the network and will continue to open channels automatically.
Both desktop wallets store wallet data in the same folder so technically you can use the same account with both apps at the same time.
Option 3 — A phone wallet
Multiple organizations are working on their own Lightning clients. This is possible because the Lightning network is a standardized protocol. Currently, there are 3 software implementations of Lightning: LND, Eclair, and C-lightning. Developers behind the Eclair client have created the first Lightning-enabled Android app. You can get it here from the Google Play store. This wallet requires you to open channels manually but the app has a one-click connect feature that will establish a channel with an Eclair node. That will allow you to pay for a Starblocks coffee. Check out their detailed guide on how to do the payment.
Testnet Lightning services
There are multiple apps created to demonstrate how Lightning payments would work if you would pay for a product or service. For the time being, it is easiest to open a direct channel with a service to perform a payment. Do note, however, the exciting thing about Lightning is the ability to pay for services that you do not have direct connections to.
LND developers have made a more extensive list here of Lapps (Lightning Apps). Here are the most popular ones on Bitcoin testnet:
Yalls — Micro blogging powered by Lightning
Bitrefill — Pre-paid phone top-up service
htlc.me — Lightning web wallet
Starblocks— Lightning coffee
Notable milestones in Lightning development post Segwit activation
The Lightning network is evolving rapidly and here are some notable milestones that are bringing Lightning closer to reality:
It is exciting to see how Bitcoin is progressing but this is still alpha software, so I discourage anyone to use it on mainnet right now because the probability of losing funds is very high if you don’t know what are doing, and there are plenty of bugs in the software. People running alpha software on Bitcoin mainnet is also a distraction for developers as they will lose valuable time because of the need to shift from being a protocol developer to a customer-support representative.
Some reactions to these developments from the community were something along the lines of “Why is the progress so slow?” or “We needed this YESTERDAY.”.
It is true that Lightning would’ve helped solve most problems in Bitcoin but keep in mind that no one has any obligation to do anything in Bitcoin. It is a completely open system and anyone can contribute as much or as little as they want.
Building great things is hard. Innovation is even harder. Add to the fact that Bitcoin is not just your typical software but a multi-billion dollar store of value. So it is very wise to take a conservative approach and make sure that the software is safe.
Elon Musk mentioned this point in his talk about colonizing Mars:
Technology does not automatically improve. It only improves if a lot of really strong engineering talent is applied to the problem that it improves.
If you are interested in these developments, I encourage you to experiment with all of the software mentioned above. Start with HTLC.me and if you find this worth to test out further, install Zap and start opening Lightning channels and doing payments.