A version of bitcoin’s much-anticipated Lightning Network is finally ready for real users.
Announced today, California startup Lightning Labs has officially launched a beta versionof its software (LND), making available what investors and project leads say is the first thoroughly tested version of the tech to date. This means that users can now leverage LND to send bitcoin and litecoin to other users, all without settling those transactions on the blockchain.
While this software is one of several seeking to form a combined network that aims to make cryptocurrency transactions faster and cheaper, today’s development effectively takes bitcoin a step closer to new kinds of applications, such as Internet of Things payments and recurring billing.
That’s because, similar to bitcoin, the Lightning protocol isn’t managed by any one person or company. It’s a series of compatible technologies. Bitcoin-centric startup Blockstream released a candidate version 1.0 of the Lightning protocol specification in January, and ACINQ, another like-minded startup, already offers a live alpha software that works with bitcoin.
Still, the Lightning Labs software is believed to be the most mature software to date – and investors are using the launch to signal their interest.
Also revealed today, Lightning Labs has raised $2.5 million from nearly a dozen investors including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Square Capital executive Jacqueline Reses, litecoin creator Charlie Lee and former PayPal COO David Sacks.
While Dorsey and Reses declined to comment other than to confirm they invested, Sacks was vocal in his belief that the beta release marks a crucial moment in bitcoin’s history.
“Lightning is the most important protocol being built on bitcoin and Lightning Labs is the best developer of that protocol,” Sacks told CoinDesk.
Fellow investor Ben Davenport, CTO at the blockchain security company BitGo, agreed the launch is a pivotal milestone.
He told CoinDesk:
“It’s something the entire community has been focused on and working towards for the better part of two years now. It’s really the culmination of a lot of work by many people, not just Lightning Labs. … We see it as a very important piece of the scaling solution for bitcoin, and perhaps other digital currencies as well.”
To Lee’s point, thousands of people around the world contributed to today’s Lightning release, from volunteer testers who helped find bugs in the original alpha version, to developers like Jim Posen at the exchange platform Coinbase, who contributed code through GitHub.
“The community engagement around Lightning has been amazing,” Lightning Labs CEO Elizabeth Stark told CoinDesk, adding that she plans to keep the software freely accessible. “The protocol will always be open source and right now everything we are making will be open source,” she said.
When Stark asked the audience at a recent decentralization summit in Berlin who had already tested Lightning, hundreds of people raised their hands. “We have around 1,800 people on the Slack for LND alone,” she added. “We already have dozens of apps that developers have built.” […]