What Are Bitcoin Ordinals?

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Exploring the World of Bitcoin Ordinals: An Introduction to Bitcoin’s NFT Potential

What are Bitcoin Ordinals? After exploding on the scene during the last bull cycle, news surrounding non-fungible tokens (NFT) may have taken a back seat. But there’s life in the industry yet and with mixed appreciation it’s being built on Bitcoin.

Enter Bitcoin Ordinals.

When we dive into the nitty-gritty of Bitcoin Ordinals, we see the possibilities that once teased the introduction of NFTs on Bitcoin’s age-old blockchain. But there’s a catch! Bitcoin’s unique technical design is a fortress. Altering the code of Bitcoin applications? Nearly impossible.

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This stringent structure stems from a highly decentralized network of developers and nodes. there’s no central authority leading the change, which makes Bitcoin truly unique.

So, while other blockchains expanded and evolved to host artsy, collectible, and sometimes downright bizarre NFTs, Bitcoin stayed in its lane. For a long time, the dream of Bitcoin NFTs remained just that – a dream.

But here’s where it gets interesting. As the crypto ecosystem has grown, evolved, and branched out, new avenues have opened up. And with these new pathways, the potential for Bitcoin NFTs has re-emerged, more promising than ever.

WHat are Bitcoin Ordinals

What Are Bitcoin Ordinals?

Bitcoin Ordinals exploded onto the scene in January 2023, courtesy of Casey Rodarmor. At its core, Bitcoin Ordinals is a transformative concept that has equally fascinated and polarized the Bitcoin community. So, let’s simplify it.

When we talk about the ‘fundamental units’ of Bitcoin, we’re referring to satoshis, colloquially known as ‘sats’. Bitcoin Ordinals integrates these sats with unique information, morphing them into an entity with a distinct identity, much like a NFT.

Wondering how you can embed text, images, or other digital content into Bitcoin’s smallest unit? It all boils down to the protocol that facilitates inscription on Bitcoin.

Fast forward to April 2023, and the Bitcoin ordinals protocol exploded. In just that month, records of daily inscriptions using Ordinals were smashed an astonishing four times due to frenetic network activity. From video games to artwork, users poured content into the network at an unprecedented rate.

And while things have quietened down since then, there’s still a desire from parts of the Bitcoin community to launch their own Bitcoin-style NFT.

Inscription Explained: The Magic Behind Bitcoin Ordinals

The deeper you dive into Bitcoin Ordinals, you’ll see the term ‘inscription’ thrown about, but what does it mean?

In the simplest terms, when we talk about an ‘inscription’, we’re referring to the process of embedding or etching a digital asset onto the smallest unit of Bitcoin – the satoshi. But it doesn’t just end at simple data.

The beauty of the Bitcoin Ordinals protocol is its ability to allow inscriptions that also feature smart contracts. These contracts, in turn, have the potential to represent NFTs. So, in essence, inscription is the doorway to creating Bitcoin NFTs.

Bitcoin NFTs - Bitcoin Ordinals

Now, if you find yourself pondering, “But how do Ordinals differ from the NFTs we hear so much about?”, the answer is intricately linked with inscription. It’s this unique process that sets them apart.

It’s important to acknowledge the giant strides Bitcoin has taken to make this possible. Remember the Taproot upgrade in November 2021? That wasn’t just a random update. It was a monumental shift that gave the Bitcoin network a considerable advantage when it came to inscribing onto satoshis.

Diving even further back, it’s crucial to recognize the significance of the SegWit upgrade in 2017. Why, you ask? Because it brought the “witness” feature, which is a cornerstone for the inscription process. The data of content gets inscribed into the witness of Bitcoin transactions, enabling a new era of digital asset interaction on the network.

Understanding the Why: The Rationale Behind Bitcoin Ordinals

Diving into Bitcoin Ordinals, it’s essential to understand not just the ‘what’, but also the ‘why’. What sparked the inception of Bitcoin Ordinals?

The answer is rooted in age-old debates within the Bitcoin community. The crux of the matter was: should Bitcoin be solely be money or for financial transactions only? The emergence of Bitcoin Ordinals illustrates that Bitcoin’s potential stretches beyond monetary transactions. It offers a robust and decentralized network perfect for data storage.

Envision a world where Bitcoin reigns as the global reserve currency. While it establishes a worldwide financial network, it may stifle experimental use cases like inscribing data within the block space. It’s argued that tapping into the block space of Bitcoin for storage can be a pivotal move to bolster Bitcoin’s security budget.

Historically, Bitcoin had a modest allowance of about 80 bytes for messages within blocks using the OP_RETURN function. While it was a start, it didn’t suffice for the kind of sophisticated NFT Ordinals we discuss today.

Enter two game-changing hard fork upgrades that we mentioned above: Taproot and SegWit. These not only bumped up the size limit to a whopping 4 MB but also redefined block size measurement. This innovation streamlined transaction data organization, paving the way for the Bitcoin Ordinals era.

Bitcoin Code

Decoding the Mechanics of Ordinals: How Do They Work?

When peeling back the layers of Bitcoin Ordinals, developer Casey Rodarmor says its based on four distinct parameters:

  1. The satoshi’s index within its block.
  2. Its cycle number.
  3. The block’s index during the difficulty adjustment period.
  4. The block’s index during the halving epoch.

Rodarmor says, to truly grasp the intricacies of Bitcoin Ordinals, it’s crucial to understand the delicate balance between these parameters. For instance, using these parameters can reveal the rarity of a satoshi.

In the NFT world, rarity is gold, the rarer the mint, the more collectors might value it. So, knowing the ordinal ranking of satoshis becomes pivotal in determining the rarity of a Bitcoin NFT.

But there’s more to the functionality of Bitcoin Ordinals than just this. Part of its charm is its ability to repurpose code, shaping it into envelopes for data inscribed onto satoshis. With Bitcoin’s expanded block size limit, the Ordinals protocol takes it a step further, enabling more substantial data inscriptions on satoshis.

To put it in more relatable terms, consider two dollar bills of identical value. Now, imagine one of them is signed by footballing legends Lionel Messi and Pele. While both bills can purchase the same product, there’s no denying the added value of the signed bill. Similarly, Ordinals add a layer of distinction and value, reshaping how we perceive individual satoshis.

The Unique Appeal of Ordinal Inscriptions: Are They Really Like NFTs?

Many people think of Bitcoin Ordinals as NFTs, but are they the same? Do they even share the same characteristics?

To start with the basics, NFTs, especially those on Ethereum, are typically stored as pointers to off-chain data, usually in the Interplanetary File System (IPFS) – a decentralized storage system. Ethereum became the go-to platform for this largely due to its prowess in smart contract development.

Casey Rodarmor claims NFTs aren’t the complete digital assets they’re touted to be, primarily because they rely heavily on off-chain data. Rodarmor’s solution? Ordinals, which have their data inscribed directly on-chain, eliminating the need for any off-chain data. This makes Ordinals a more complete digital asset in comparison.

Rodarmor prefers to label Bitcoin Ordinals as “digital artifacts” rather than lumping them with traditional Bitcoin NFTs. A noteworthy distinction lies in the absence of creator royalties for digital artifacts like Ordinals.

Bitcoin BTC

Another significant differentiator is the simplicity and self-containment of Ordinals. There’s no reliance on an external token or sidechain, and everything happens directly on the Bitcoin blockchain.

So, how exactly do Ordinal inscriptions differ from conventional NFTs? The inscriptions are seamlessly stored within taproot script-path spend scripts through specialized Bitcoin transactions. The creation process is streamlined, involving merely creating the taproot output that contains the inscription content and then expending that output.

In essence, while the surface similarities between NFTs and Ordinals might confuse some, a closer look reveals a world of difference, both in philosophy and execution.

Bitcoin Ordinals vs. NFTs: What Sets Them Apart?

Now we know there’s a real difference with NFTs and Bitcoin Ordinals, let’s take a look at the real story? Let’s delve into what sets them apart.

  • On-chain Minting:
    The most distinguishable aspect of Ordinals is that they store the actual raw file data directly on the Bitcoin blockchain. Contrast this with NFTs on Ethereum or other chains, which essentially act as reference points to files that can reside anywhere, much like pointing to a piece of art housed in a gallery.
  • Inscription vs. Tokenization:
    If you were to lay out Bitcoin Ordinals and NFTs side by side, you’d notice a stark difference: inscription. Sure, at first glance, Ordinals might seem like NFTs since they carry unique data like texts or videos. But a deep dive reveals that Ordinals directly inscribe this file data onto the Bitcoin blockchain. In contrast, NFTs come into existence through tokenization, wherein entirely new tokens are minted on distinct blockchain networks.
  • Smart Contract Functionality:
    Another dividing line between the two is the absence of smart contract functionality in Bitcoin. As a result, trading Bitcoin Ordinals isn’t a walk in the park. Without decentralized exchanges, user-friendly interfaces, and accessible wallets, one is limited to the Over the Counter (OTC) trading model for Bitcoin Ordinals.
  • Concurrency Issues:
    For those dipping their toes into the world of Bitcoin Ordinals, a crucial point of note is the potential for concurrency issues. Inscription has paved the way for multiple inscriptions onto individual Satoshi units. In contrast, each NFT is typically linked to one distinct digital or physical asset. This means with Bitcoin Ordinals, the once theoretical concerns of multi-vector NFTs are inching closer to reality.

What Are Bitcoin Ordinals?

So, what are Bitcoin Ordinals? In this post, we delved deep into satoshis, the role of inscriptions, the unique parameters set by the developer Casey Rodarmor, and the distinct differences between Bitcoin Ordinals and NFTs.

This journey illuminated the groundbreaking potential of Bitcoin Ordinals in the vast digital realm. As the distinctions between inscriptions, on-chain minting, and traditional NFT tokenization become clearer, the role and significance of Bitcoin Ordinals in the ever-evolving blockchain universe are undeniable.

And while the creation of Bitcoin Ordinals doesn’t sit well with many Bitcoiners, the fact is, Bitcoin is an open source protocol for anyone to build on. And whether we like them or not, they’re likely here to stay.


Please be advised that the contents of these posts are not to be construed as investment advice. While some of our contributors may be price analysts, their opinions and analyses are personal views and are shared with the intention of promoting discourse and understanding.

Always conduct your own research and consult with a professional financial advisor before making any investment decisions. The Bitcoin market can be volatile, and past performance is not indicative of future results. Invest at your own risk.

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