On 3 January 2009, the bitcoin network was created when Nakamoto mined the first block of the chain, known as the genesis block.[25][26] Embedded in the coinbase of this block was the text "The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks".[16] This note references a headline published by The Times and has been interpreted as both a timestamp and a comment on the instability caused by fractional-reserve banking.[27]:18
Ethereum was initially described in a white paper by Vitalik Buterin,[10] a programmer involved with Bitcoin Magazine, in late 2013 with a goal of building decentralized applications.[11][12] Buterin had argued that Bitcoin needed a scripting language for application development. Failing to gain agreement, he proposed development of a new platform with a more general scripting language.[4]:88
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On 25 March 2014, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that bitcoin will be treated as property for tax purposes. This means bitcoin will be subject to capital gains tax.[62] In a paper published by researchers from Oxford and Warwick, it was shown that bitcoin has some characteristics more like the precious metals market than traditional currencies, hence in agreement with the IRS decision even if based on different reasons.[63]

As with other cryptocurrencies, the validity of each ether is provided by a blockchain, which is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography.[30][31] By design, the blockchain is inherently resistant to modification of the data. It is an open, distributed ledger that records transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.[32] Unlike Bitcoin, Ethereum operates using accounts and balances in a manner called state transitions. This does not rely upon unspent transaction outputs (UTXOs). State denotes the current balances of all accounts and extra data. State is not stored on the blockchain, it is stored in a separate Merkle Patricia tree. A cryptocurrency wallet stores the public and private "keys" or "addresses" which can be used to receive or spend ether. These can be generated through BIP 39 style mnemonics for a BIP 32 "HD Wallet". In Ethereum, this is unnecessary as it does not operate in a UTXO scheme. With the private key, it is possible to write in the blockchain, effectively making an ether transaction.
The first wallet program, simply named Bitcoin, and sometimes referred to as the Satoshi client, was released in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto as open-source software.[16] In version 0.5 the client moved from the wxWidgets user interface toolkit to Qt, and the whole bundle was referred to as Bitcoin-Qt.[112] After the release of version 0.9, the software bundle was renamed Bitcoin Core to distinguish itself from the underlying network.[113][114]

Transactions are defined using a Forth-like scripting language.[7]:ch. 5 Transactions consist of one or more inputs and one or more outputs. When a user sends bitcoins, the user designates each address and the amount of bitcoin being sent to that address in an output. To prevent double spending, each input must refer to a previous unspent output in the blockchain.[81] The use of multiple inputs corresponds to the use of multiple coins in a cash transaction. Since transactions can have multiple outputs, users can send bitcoins to multiple recipients in one transaction. As in a cash transaction, the sum of inputs (coins used to pay) can exceed the intended sum of payments. In such a case, an additional output is used, returning the change back to the payer.[81] Any input satoshis not accounted for in the transaction outputs become the transaction fee.[81]

China banned trading in bitcoin, with first steps taken in September 2017, and a complete ban that started on 1 February 2018. Bitcoin prices then fell from $9,052 to $6,914 on 5 February 2018.[40] The percentage of bitcoin trading in the Chinese renminbi fell from over 90% in September 2017 to less than 1% in June 2018.[64] On August 1, 2017 a fork of the network created Bitcoin Cash.
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