As a concept, the blockchain is simple. It is a big ledger, and each entry on that ledger, a block, is the foundation for the next block. That is how it is supposed to work in theory. In reality, however, sometimes there are blocks that never get built upon, and those are orphans. So how do orphan blocks happen, and what is their relevance to altcoins?
Orphan blocks can happen in a few ways. The most common way is that two miners on an altcoin network finish a block at the same time. Since only one can go into the chain, it turns into a beauty contest of sorts. The software will look at the proof of work for both blocks, and whichever block has the greater proof of work wins. The winner becomes part of the blockchain and is used to build the next block. The other is cut off and does not “count,” even though, technologically speaking, it is “valid.” You could, in fact, build a blockchain off of it. Orphan blocks can also be formed by attempts to reverse transactions, which are, obviously, less ideal.
Mostly, orphan blocks will not concern investors. As the blockchain advances, the orphans fade off into the distance, to be little more than curiosities.
It is worth understanding the technical side of any investment you are considering, and amid all the hype about blockchains and their design, it is good to know that even the best technology has its quirks. If you would like to know more about orphan blocks, and blockchain in general, subscribe to the Bitcoin Market Journal newsletter today!