Bitcoin addresses can be fairly complicated – sometimes even annoying for the average user. How do I identify bitcoin addresses, with a multitude of various address types and different Bitcoin forks, identifying how you should be sending your Bitcoin correctly can mean the difference between your coins reaching its intended recipient or, in the worst-case scenario, disappear into the darkness!
The three types of Bitcoin Addresses
1. P2PKH or Legacy Format
Legacy format Bitcoin addresses are the original type of address used during the earlier years of Bitcoin. It’s also known as a P2PKH or Pay-to-Public-Key-Hash Address. Functionally, legacy format Bitcoin addresses are less convenient than the newer BTC address formats, as they have higher transaction fees, “bulkier” QR Codes and also check for case sensitivity (making it more complicated to record on a piece of paper or system). They also cannot interact with native Segwit (Bech32) addresses (as detailed later below)
A legacy address always starts with “1” and looks like the following examples:
2. P2SH Format, “Segwit” Addresses or Compatibility Address Format
P2SH, or “Pay-to-Script-Hash” Addresses, are the most widely supported format as they allow funds to be transacted to both P2PKH and bech32 addresses, as well as supporting more complex functionality such as multi-signature support. The transfer fees for Bitcoin sent using a P2SH address are lower than that of legacy addresses as well.
Most exchanges currently generate P2SH format addresses in order to provide maximum compatibility between legacy Bitcoin addresses and bech32 addresses. They can be identified by the “3” in front of the address and looks like the following examples:
3. Native SegWit Addresses or “Bech32” format
SegWit stands for Segregated Witness and is a soft-fork of Bitcoin; a significant upgrade that addressed various issues of the Bitcoin network. Although its original aim was to address a potential exploit known as the “transaction malleability bug”, it was also designed to reduce processing and wait times and address the constant issue of Bitcoin scaling. It was activated on 24th August 2017 in a process known as a soft fork, which is backward-compatible with Bitcoin nodes running old software.
Functionally, Bech32 format addresses have the lowest transaction fees. The percentage of Segwit transactions has achieved roughly ~55% of the network, although majority of the wallets on the Bitcoin network are still not SegWit Bech32 addresses.
Most importantly, Bech32 addresses are NOT supported on all exchanges, nor are they compatible with legacy addresses. If you’re using a wallet that doesn’t support SegWit, you won’t be able to send Bitcoin to or from a native Bech32 address. Check with your exchange or wallet carefully before committing to a transaction made with or to a Bech32 address!
You can identify a Bech32 address by its first 3 characters, “bc1”. Here are some examples:
How do I identify Bitcoin Cash Addresses
In addition to the 3 address types shown above, hard forks of Bitcoin also exist which share addresses with Bitcoin! Due to conflict amongst the Bitcoin community about the implementation of Segwit, Bitcoin Cash, or BCH was created as a hard fork of Bitcoin that does not have SegWit implemented.
The hard forks of Bitcoin often look identical to the Legacy and Compatibility addresses, as hard forks essentially share the same wallet addresses up to the point of the hard fork. However, in order to help prevent mistakes when sending Bitcoin Cash due to the identical addresses in both networks, BCH-specific addresses or “cash address” format was created. BCH addresses start with the letter “q” or “p”.
Here are some BCH cash address examples:
Note, of course, that since BCH is a hard-fork of Bitcoin, addresses starting with 1 and 3 may also be BCH addresses.
Note that if you mistakenly send a Bitcoin from the Bitcoin network to a BCH address or vice versa, the transaction is irreversible and your coins will go to the equivalent address that may or may not be owned by your recipient. Even if its owned by the recipient, there is a significant difference in value between Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash – you will likely end up unable to get your coins back!
For other hard-forks of Bitcoin, you may refer to their respective documentation for any updated address types.
Addresses of other blockchain networks
Addresses of other blockchains such as Ethereum use their own address formatting, which may look similar or vary completely from Bitcoin. Here are some typical looking address examples of other blockchain networks:
(Please don’t send any cryptocurrency to any of these addresses as they are only for show!)
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