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Bitcoin NFTs: What are ordinals?


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In a twist that blends the vintage with the vanguard, over 200,000 ordinal NFTs have emerged directly on the Bitcoin mainnet1. This groundbreaking phenomenon is not just stirring interest but also stimulating discussions within the tech-savvy circles of the Bitcoin community1. Ordinals, utilizing a unique identification system known as ordinal theory, furnish each Bitcoin satoshi with a unique number, transforming them into potential digital collectibles without veering from the core Bitcoin protocol1. By leveraging the up-to-date technological advances like Segregated Witness (SegWit) and the Taproot upgrade, these NFTs are changing the playing field for non-fungible tokens on the world's foremost cryptocurrency network12.

Key takeaways

  • Ordinals represent the innovation of NFTs on the Bitcoin blockchain, leveraging each individual satoshi as a potential digital collectible.
  • The Bitcoin mainnet has become the host for over 200,000 minted ordinal NFTs, introducing a new asset class to the network.
  • Technological upgrades like SegWit and Taproot have paved the way for more sophisticated data structures favorable to ordinals.
  • Rising debates reflect the community's engagement with the potential impacts of ordinals on Bitcoin's blockspace and transaction fees.
  • Ordinals highlight the nuance between fungibility and non-fungibility, allowing owners to dictate the nature of their digital tokens.
  • The evolution of NFTs on Bitcoin’s secure network presents expanded utilities and unforeseen opportunities for digital assets.

Understanding the basics of Bitcoin NFTs

The emergence of ordinal NFTs has sparked conversations and intrigue among enthusiasts and critics alike. These Bitcoin NFTs represent a novel approach to crafting digital collectibles, anchored firmly to the base Bitcoin blockchain. Unique in their design, each Bitcoin Ordinal carries with it a digital signature in the form of a serial number that is directly attached to a satoshi, the smallest denomination of Bitcoin, effectively making that unit non-fungible. Unlike their Ethereum counterparts, Bitcoin Ordinals eschew a proof of stake (PoS) system in favor of Bitcoin's native proof of work (PoW) mechanism, which aligns with the network's overarching design philosophy3. This defining feature intricately links the identity of an NFT to the history and journey of the individual satoshi on which it resides4.

Ascending the ranks of digital innovation, Bitcoin Ordinals juggle both promise and criticism. Despite their decentralized ethos and resistance to censorship, which bolsters their appeal, these digital signatures have ushered in a heated debate about resource utilization on the network. Critics argue that the increased demand for space and potentially higher fees signify a deviation from Bitcoin's foundational purpose and could precipitate unwanted congestion3. Meanwhile, advocates for Bitcoin's Ordinals project a vision where each inscription—be it an image, a piece of text, or even a small digital game—unveils a secure method of storing valuable data on the blockchain, with transaction fees bolstering network security and miner incentives. This intersection of opinions not only stirs discussion but also highlights the importance of diversification within the crypto ecosystem4.

Your curiosity might lead you to wonder how the market has reacted to these intriguing Bitcoin NFTs. Although not outperforming the allure of NFTs on platforms like Ethereum in terms of popularity or transaction volume, an undeniable interest in Bitcoin Ordinals persists. Pioneering wallets such as Ordinals Wallet, Xverse, and UniSat have extended support to this burgeoning asset class, offering users the ability to store, buy, and sell these digital collectibles directly through the Bitcoin network3. Reflecting on the transaction volume as of July 2023, the more conservative standings of Bitcoin NFTs in the marketplace could suggest a prudent approach; individuals interested in acquiring such assets should commit only what they are willing to lose, acknowledging the volatility inherent in the crypto space and the current lack of regulatory protection4.

Encompassing both innovation and controversy, Bitcoin Ordinals tap into the core of what many believe digital assets should embody—decentralization, security, and identity. As you navigate through this landscape, be aware of the varying perspectives and the niche potential these assets hold within the grander scheme. Whether they will redefine the trajectory of NFTs on the base Bitcoin blockchain or serve as a footnote in its storied chronicle remains an unfolding narrative within the crypto community's dialogue34.

Deciphering Ordinals: Revolutionizing Bitcoin's data structure

As you delve into the world of Bitcoin NFTs, you'll encounter the groundbreaking concept of ordinal theory, which is reshaping the foundational aspects of Bitcoin's data composition. What makes this particularly intriguing is the idea that while Bitcoin operates on the principle of fungibility, where each unit holds identical value to the next, ordinal NFTs infuse individual satoshis with the non-fungible charm that is the bedrock of digital collectibles. The introduction of Bitcoin ordinals by Casey Rodarmor in 2022 leveraged this theory, designating a distinct and inimitable ordinal number to every satoshi—the smallest fragment of a Bitcoin5.

Now consider this: each satoshi carries a TokenID, an identifier engendered through its ordinal number, thus making it singularly recognizable amidst the sea of 100 million satoshis that compose one Bitcoin5. With every transaction, these satoshis retain their sequential integrity via a first-in, first-out framework, ensuring the preservation and authenticity of the TokenID during transfers. What makes this even more compelling is the addition of metadata—in the form of images, videos, or text—that becomes indelibly inscribed onto individual satoshis, thus transforming them into veritable NFT artworks directly on the Bitcoin blockchain supported by the recently minted 4MB inscriptions that marked a new era within the space5.

The transformative Taproot update back in 2021, instigated a new Bitcoin address format that bolstered privacy, security, and scalability, thereby facilitating the capacity for such innovations to flourish within the Bitcoin network5. It's within this evolving digital landscape that ordinal NFTs are captivating attention in 2024, with burgeoning marketplaces coming to the fore to capitalize on the potential these tokens hold for asserting unique ownership in the digital realm5.

Without altering the core function or infrastructure of Bitcoin, this emergent integration of ordinal NFTs adds a rich stratum of significance and value for collectors and enthusiasts alike. It encapsulates a revolutionary step forward, transforming each fungible token into potentially unique digital assets. And as we witness the continuous attention and innovation around Bitcoin ordinals in the coming years, it becomes clear that the applications and implications of this merger between causal ordinal assignments and the blockchain are only just beginning to unfold5.

From SegWit to Taproot: Technological advances leading to Ordinals

As you explore the realm of Bitcoin-based NFTs, it's crucial to appreciate the significant technological milestones that have enabled their development. Bitcoin's protocol enhancements reflect a deliberate evolution of its blockchain, expanding its utility beyond simple monetary transactions to now include unique digital ownership possibilities.

Segregated Witness (SegWit): Introduced in 2017, SegWit significantly altered Bitcoin's transaction structure by segregating the signature information (witness) from the transaction data. This modification resolved the issue of transaction malleability and improved the blockchain's capacity by optimizing the space each transaction occupies within a block. However, it's important to note that while SegWit enhanced transaction throughput, it did not inherently facilitate the embedding of arbitrary data for NFTs or enable complex smart contracts directly.

Taproot Update: The 2021 Taproot upgrade further refined Bitcoin's functionality by introducing Schnorr signatures, which streamline transaction processing and enhance privacy. Although Taproot improved the efficiency and privacy of complex transactions, its primary role was not to embed additional data within transactions or to directly support the creation of NFTs. Instead, it made the execution of complex transaction types, such as those involving multiple conditions or parties, more space-efficient and private.

Emergence of Bitcoin Ordinals: The creation of Bitcoin-based NFTs, particularly Ordinals, utilizes the Bitcoin network's capability to carry small amounts of arbitrary data within transaction outputs. This application is creative but does not directly stem from the functionalities introduced by SegWit or Taproot. Instead, it builds on the existing ability of Bitcoin's transaction structure to include non-financial data, which has been ingeniously repurposed to embed NFT data, showcasing the adaptability of Bitcoin's foundational technology.

The development of Bitcoin-based NFTs illustrates how innovations within the Bitcoin ecosystem can lead to new applications such as digital collectibles. These enhancements do not alter Bitcoin's core functions but rather demonstrate the blockchain's versatile potential for innovation beyond its original design.

The distinct architecture of Ordinals on the blockchain

These unique digital artifacts have woven themselves into the very fabric of the Bitcoin network, elevating ordinary satoshis to extraordinary levels of individuality and value. Integrating directly onto the Bitcoin blockchain, each satoshi garners a sequential number, known as an ordinal number, endowing it with the character of a non-fungible token. Unlike traditional NFTs that rely on auxiliary layers or smart contracts, Bitcoin ordinals harness the native capabilities of the Bitcoin protocol, ensuring backward compatibility and facilitating smooth adoption.

With the Bitcoin network acting as an immutable ledger, the addition of inscriptions via ordinals transforms simple transaction outputs into vibrant canvases where text, images, code, and more can be directly embedded. This capability, while not unlocked by Taproot itself, utilizes the transaction space efficiently within Bitcoin's existing framework, further enabled by prior enhancements like SegWit which optimized block space. This means that users have the ability to express ownership, create digital collectibles, or even immortalize information on the blockchain, all within the secure and decentralized framework that Bitcoin is known for.

Indeed, as millions of ordinals circulate within the ecosystem, it's evident that their integration has reshaped the creation and perception of NFTs on the Bitcoin blockchain. By leveraging the flexibility of the network, ordinals maintain Bitcoin’s fundamental ethos of decentralization and security while also allowing for a new breed of tokens that blend both fungible and non-fungible properties. This duality introduces nuanced possibilities for token ownership and, as an unintended side effect, has also led to higher transaction fees, reflecting the increased utility and data load within blocks.

Blockchain technology continues to surprise and innovate, and with the distinct architecture of ordinal inscriptions, you're witnessing a new chapter in the storied narrative of the Bitcoin network—an era that pays homage to the past while boldly shaping the future.

Ordinal inscriptions: Embedding media onto Bitcoin Satoshis

As an emerging phenomenon in the blockchain universe, ordinal inscriptions have introduced an innovative approach to NFT data storage. Unlike traditional non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that rely predominantly on the Ethereum blockchain and smart contracts for the creation and exchange process11, these Bitcoin-based digital tokens are inscribed directly onto satoshis through the Ordinals protocol, bypassing the need for additional layers or chains11. These inscriptions can carry a variety of content, ranging from text and images to videos, provided the size remains under 4mb, ensuring a wide spectrum of digital art can be embedded into the Bitcoin blockchain1112.

With the inscription process, transaction witness data is no longer just facilitating the verification of Bitcoin transactions but is also becoming the canvas for metadata representation11. This shift not only challenges the conventional separation of token data and its metadata but also integrates the two by inscribing metadata directly onto the Bitcoin ledger within transaction outputs11. Each satoshi, identified by its unique ordinal number, becomes a distinct piece in this emerging collection of collectibles, initiating a new narrative in the world of digital ownership11.

Creating unique digital art with Ordinal numbers

These artworks, defined by their ordinal numbers, serve as a testament to authenticity and rarity11. As ordinal inscriptions gain traction, they've redefined collectibles in the cryptocurrency space. Each inscription, etched onto its underlying satoshi, bears significant potential for cultural relevance, where artists leverage platforms like Ordinals wallet to manage and showcase these unique digital pieces11.

The process doesn't stop at the artwork's inception; there are network fees associated with crafting these ordinal inscriptions, varying with the Bitcoin network's current load and the inscription's size11. For collectors and artists who delve into the world of inscribed satoshi, these factors are paramount in understanding the evolving landscape of Bitcoin-based NFTs. By engaging with this specialized segment, your awareness and participation help shape the metadata-rich space of individualized Bitcoin blockchain art11.

In a world where digital art is continually seeking new frontiers, the use of ordinal numbers has carved out a place within the blockchain for digital collectibles to thrive. These inscriptions immortalize creations on the Bitcoin ledger, providing not only a platform for artists but also a secure, transparent system for collectors seeking verifiable uniqueness in their acquisitions11.

Trading and owning Ordinal NFTs

The emergence of over 200,000 ordinal NFTs on the Bitcoin blockchain signals a growing interest in integrating cultural artifacts with financial technology, creating a distinct marketplace for these unique tokens. Platforms like Magic Eden, which have begun to support Bitcoin-based transactions, are witnessing significant trading volumes, highlighting the market's rapid adaptation to the demand for these assets.

For those invested in the digital representation of art and collectibles, understanding the evolution of Bitcoin transactions to accommodate ordinal NFTs is critical. The implementation of updates like SegWit has enhanced the network's efficiency by addressing issues such as transaction malleability and optimizing block space usage. This has indirectly supported the integration of richer media forms onto the blockchain. However, it's important to note that the typical block size remains around 2MB, not 4MB as previously mentioned.

The introduction of the Taproot upgrade further refined Bitcoin’s capabilities by improving privacy and enabling more complex transactions with greater efficiency, though it did not directly increase the blockchain's capacity for data storage. These advancements have fueled not only market growth—with initial trading volumes observed between $5-$6 million, peaking at significant amounts in subsequent months—but also sparked discussions on the cultural significance and inherent value of integrating such innovative technology with digital assets.

Post-halving, Bitcoin's network has adjusted to the reduced miner rewards, which has implications for transaction fees and network congestion. The community has been navigating these changes, which affect the cost and efficiency of transactions, including those involving NFTs.

Despite these challenges, the allure of owning digital art or collectibles, uniquely inscribed on a Bitcoin satoshi, continues to draw both enthusiasts and critics into discussions about the future of NFT marketplaces and the role of digital assets in our digital world.13.

Comparing Ordinals with traditional Bitcoin transactions

As you delve into the Bitcoin network, it becomes apparent that while Bitcoin's inherent fungibility ensures each unit is interchangeable, the introduction of Bitcoin Ordinals represents a significant paradigm shift. These ordinals, non-fungible by nature, mark an evolution towards digital collectibles, enriching the Bitcoin ecosystem with assets that boast unique characteristics and inherent value. However, fully grasping this emerging ordinal market necessitates an understanding of their distinctions from typical Bitcoin transactions.

Traditionally, Bitcoin is designed around the principle of fungibility, where each coin is as good as any other, facilitating seamless global trading. Yet, with millions of Bitcoin Ordinals now inscribed, a new layer of non-fungible digital assets has emerged, each tied to individual satoshis. These ordinals, with their unique data inscriptions, differ from standard satoshis, forming a new subclass of digital assets with varied uses from art and media preservation to identity verification.

Understanding Liquidity and the Market for Ordinals

The liquidity of Bitcoin ordinals starkly contrasts with that of conventional NFTs traded on platforms like Ethereum, Solana, and Polygon. The ordinal market, still in its nascent stages, lacks the depth and breadth of liquidity seen in established digital collectible ecosystems. Consequently, trading ordinals often require specialized, Taproot-compatible wallets like Ordinal Wallet for secure transactions. Unlike the more accessible trading experiences on established platforms, Bitcoin ordinals predominantly necessitate over-the-counter or peer-to-peer trades, highlighting the market's early development and underscoring the need for heightened user caution and education16.

The cultural impact of Ordinals on the Bitcoin community

The emergence of ordinal inscriptions within the Bitcoin blockchain revives the debate on its expanding utility. We are now witnessing Bitcoin's evolution from a mere decentralized ledger of financial transactions to a platform where cultural significance takes center stage. This shift, catalyzed by the integration of ordinal-like NFTs, has polarized the Bitcoin community, igniting discussions about the blockchain's potential for transformation.

Proponents of this innovation celebrate it for its potential to extend Bitcoin's utility beyond financial transactions, suggesting that the cultural assets now emerging could pave the way for previously inconceivable uses of the network. Critics, however, express concerns about the increased block space usage and the strain of higher transaction fees that accompany larger blocks. Such debates reflect the broader discourse on Bitcoin's ability to accommodate significant cultural milestones within its secure and immutable structure.


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The rise of Bitcoin-based digital collectibles

With over 200,000 ordinal NFTs minted since their inception, these digital gems born from the blending of SegWit and Taproot updates now stand at the forefront of a revolution, priming the Bitcoin network for a myriad of potential applications, including decentralized applications and digital identity verification.

Potential Applications Beyond Art:

The Bitcoin network, known for its impeccable security and decentralized nature, may soon escalate its capabilities through the BRC-20 protocol, a burgeoning system for developing new cryptocurrencies and tokens using ordinals. Unexpected alliances between art and technology have birthed platforms like DeGods and OnChain Monkeys, signaling an upcoming era where creative projects are not just imagined but also implemented. The unique nature of ordinals—serializing satoshis in the order they were mined—opens the door to designing sophisticated systems for representation, voting, and collective decision-making on issues of digital identity.

The rise of Bitcoin artifacts has underscored a refreshed communal endeavor, where enthusiasts inject new life into the Bitcoin blockchain through participation, trading, and collective creativity. Each transaction, each new inscription encapsulates an act of community engagement, propelling the Bitcoin NFT market into a space where users are not just observers but active contributors.


As we observe the emerging trends within blockchain technology, Bitcoin NFTs represent a unique convergence of innovation and digital permanence. Unlike traditional digital assets that exist on secondary layers, ordinal NFTs are engrained directly onto the Bitcoin mainnet, showcasing a sustainable approach for digital collectibles. By fusing the rigorous blockchain protocol with the creation and trading of non-fungible tokens, this technology opens up new vistas in the future of Bitcoin, where your digital possessions embody both value and indestructibility.

The foundation laid by Georg Cantor's introduction of ordinal numbers in 188317 has found a new application with ordinals, integrating into the structural integrity of well-ordered sets in the blockchain. This innovative mechanism, anchored in the properties of ordinals which extend natural numbers and describe positions within infinite sets17, adds a layer of individuality to every satoshi—turning Bitcoin into a tapestry of potential digital artifacts. As we dive deeper into the blueprint of blockchain's evolution, we appreciate Bitcoin NFTs' role in differentiating position from size17, highlighting their importance in expanding Bitcoin's realms beyond mere currency.

Your exploration of this domain is not just a journey through cutting-edge technology but is also a participation in the burgeoning history of digital collectibles. The steadfastness of the Bitcoin network, now coupled with the dynamics of ordinal NFTs, underscores the platform’s potential for lasting innovations. Engaging with the community, you become part of this continuum—as the blockchain technology, underpinned by the Von Neumann definition of ordinals17, steadily constructs the bedrock for a vibrant future of digitally permanent collectibles.


What are ordinal NFTs and how do they relate to Bitcoin?

Ordinal NFTs are a new form of non-fungible tokens that exist on the Bitcoin mainnet. They are digital collectibles that are native to Bitcoin and do not require additional layers or protocols to function. Ordinals are directly attached to individual satoshis, which are the smallest units of Bitcoin, making each satoshi uniquely identifiable and non-fungible.

Can you explain the concept of ordinal theory?

Ordinal theory is a system that assigns a unique sequential number, known as an ordinal, to each satoshi based on when it was mined. It creates a definite order and enables each satoshi to have a distinct position number, which is paramount for establishing its non-fungibility and creating ordinal NFTs.

How do SegWit and Taproot contribute to the creation of ordinals?

Segregated Witness (SegWit) and Taproot are two technological advancements on the Bitcoin blockchain that have significantly contributed to the development of ordinal NFTs. SegWit solved the problem of transaction malleability and increased the block size limit by changing the way data is stored, which allowed for more efficient use of block space and the addition of arbitrary data within transactions. Taproot further optimized the storage of this data and streamlined how advanced scripts, including those for complex transactions, are managed on Bitcoin's blockchain. Together, they provided the foundation needed for creating and managing ordinal NFTs.

What makes the architecture of ordinals different from other blockchain technologies?

Ordinals have a unique architecture because they are inscribed directly onto satoshis without the need for additional layers or changes to the Bitcoin protocol. This backward-compatible approach allows ordinal inscriptions to be integrated seamlessly into the existing Bitcoin network, where each satoshi can carry embedded media like images or videos.

How are ordinal inscriptions redefining NFT metadata?

Ordinal inscriptions challenge the traditional notion of NFT metadata by integrating it within the transaction witness data of a Bitcoin transaction. Instead of relying on external metadata repositories, ordinal inscriptions ensure that metadata, such as images and videos attached to NFTs, remains an immutable part of the Bitcoin ledger.

What does it mean to own an ordinal NFT, and how can one trade them?

To own an ordinal NFT means you have exclusive control over a satoshi that has been inscribed with unique data, giving it a collectible value. Trading ordinal NFTs involves marketplaces like Ordinals Wallet and requires using a Bitcoin wallet that supports Taproot addresses and coin control features, which facilitate the management of individual satoshis and their ordinal inscriptions.

What is the difference between the fungibility of traditional Bitcoin and that of ordinals?

Traditional Bitcoin units are fungible, meaning each unit is interchangeable with any other identical unit. However, ordinals introduce non-fungibility by assigning unique characteristics to individual satoshis. Depending on the inscription and the collector's interest, an ordinal can be viewed as a standard satoshi or as a unique collectible.

How do ordinals impact the Bitcoin community and its culture?

Ordinals have sparked mixed reactions within the Bitcoin community. While some see them as an unnecessary use of block space and a cause for increased transaction fees, others celebrate them for unlocking new potential uses for Bitcoin and for incorporating cultural assets into its decentralized framework.

What potential applications could ordinals have beyond digital art?

Beyond digital art, ordinals may have applications in areas such as decentralized identity systems, voting mechanisms, asset tokenization, and could potentially lead to new forms of derivative tokens, expanding Bitcoin's functionality far beyond simple financial transactions.

How are Bitcoin-based digital collectibles, such as ordinals, evolving with the community?

Bitcoin-based digital collectibles are ever-evolving, driven by community engagement and creative projects that attract interest from various realms. Initiatives like DeGods and OnChain Monkeys demonstrate investment in Bitcoin's capabilities, fostering a competitive NFT ecosystem within the Bitcoin blockchain that continues to grow and innovate.

Source links

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  3. https://www.investopedia.com/what-are-bitcoin-ordinals-7486436
  4. https://www.fidelity.com/learning-center/trading-investing/bitcoin-ordinals
  5. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/bitcoin-nfts-ordinals-coinix-v2ktc
  6. https://en.foresightnews.pro/bitcoin-ecosystem-bottlenecks-innovations-adaptations-for-mainstream-adoption/
  7. https://coinpaper.com/3855/binance-discontinues-support-for-bitcoin-ordinals
  8. https://docs.qtum.info/qtum-documentation/qtum-features-and-advances/qtum-ordinals/chapter-1-introduction-to-ordinals
  9. https://coingape.com/bitcoin-ordinals-wallets/
  10. https://freenft.com/blog/btc-ordinals
  11. https://cryptoticker.io/en/how-to-create-ordinal-inscriptions
  12. https://pintu.co.id/en/academy/post/what-is-ordinals-bitcoin-nft-innovation
  13. https://decrypt.co/219345/bitcoin-ordinals-halving-nft-trading-magic-eden
  14. https://coinpedia.org/beginners-guide/what-is-bitcoin-ordinals/
  15. https://www.gate.io/learn/articles/the-ultimate-guide-to-bitcoin-ordinals-and-inscription/2215
  16. https://www.coinsmart.com/blog/bitcoin-ordinals-vs-ethereum-nfts/
  17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ordinal_number

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