Now that I've got this blog going, I'm starting to go back through my GitHub repositories that oversee my personal BCH infrastructure. I feel it's important that any serious developer in the Bitcoin space run their own infrastructure. It's not expensive, but it is time consuming. However, achieving it is a bit of a right-of-passage. Installing your own infrastructure shows that you truly understand how Bitcoin works, at least from a pragmatic standpoint.
I like running Bitcoin infrastructure on small, cheap computers (like the Raspberry Pi or the Libre Mini-Computer, because of the 'appliance' factor. I set them up to run a single application, like a Bitcoin full node, indexer, or web server. I set them up to run automatically at startup. I like knowing a specific, physical thing provides a specific, digital service.
But it's not required to run Bitcoin infrastructure on an appliance. I always start by getting it running on my beefy Linux developer laptop, or a dedicated desktop. After I've got the software running successfully in that more friendly environment, I'll go the extra step to get it running on a Raspberry Pi. As a result, most of the code I write will have a separate repository targeting each platform.
Bitcoin Cash Full Node
The first step in becoming a Bitcoin developer is to install and run your own full node. The blockchain is always growing, but currently the BCH mainnet blockchain takes up about 170 GB and the testnet takes up about 17 GB. A $50 Raspberry Pi is capable of running a full node, but it will take several weeks to sync. The best approach is to sync the blockchain on a normal desktop or laptop, then copy the blockchain over to a USB flash drive, if one truly desires to run it on a Raspberry Pi.
docker-abc will create a full node inside a Docker container, running the latest version of the ABC implementation. The
run-image.shshell script can be modified to easily specify the location of the blockchain. This makes it easy to use a USB flash drive or exernal hard drive.
- The testnet branch is configured to run on testnet3.
- docker-abc-rpi is a customized copy of the above, but targeted for a Raspberry Pi.
The most important piece is the full node. Instead of using the awkward JSON RPC interface to talk with a node directly, the more natural REST API can be used.
This video gives a quick overview of what rest does, the problems it solves, and how it fits with the developer ecosystem.
- Here is the documentation
While rest.bitcoin.com is a free, public service, it is also rate limited and represents a central point of failure in the event of a government crackdown or business mishap. Running your own, local copy of this service is great to maintain self-sufficiency and avoid rate limits.
The only basic requirements to run a rest server is a full node and an Insight API. Bitpay provides a public API, but it is rate limited and breaks frequently. You can still use rest without it, but some endpoints won't be available. Blockbook is something I'm investigating to run as a replacement.
There is no special requirements when running this software on a Raspberry Pi. You can run the Docker version, or the regular version after installing node.js and npm on the RPi.
Blockbook is a blockchain indexer that is almost identical to Insight API. It is maintained by Trezor, the maker of hardware wallets. The fact that it is open source, has a good reputation, and Trezor has a clear financial reason to maintain the software, makes this project stand out from all the other options. I'm currently exploring the use of this indexer, including as a replacement for the unwieldy Insight API.
Indexers are needed because full nodes do not keep track of addresses. Full nodes only keep track of transactions, UTXOs, and blocks. But people often want to query balances at an address, or other types of metadata. This is the service an indexer provides.
- blockbook-docker is the current prototype that I'm playing with and actively working on. It is automatically configured for the BCH chain. But you need to point it at a full node. It communicates with the full node over its RPC interface to download blocks and index all the addresses.
SLPDB, BITDB, and more
I'm currently focused on building reliable Docker containers around the infrastructure mentioned in this post. Once I get the basics of a full node, rest, and an indexer in place, I'll expand into dockerizing some of these additional services: