The bitcoin blockchain is a public ledger that records bitcoin transactions.[79] It is implemented as a chain of blocks, each block containing a hash of the previous block up to the genesis block[d] of the chain. A network of communicating nodes running bitcoin software maintains the blockchain.[36]:215–219 Transactions of the form payer X sends Y bitcoins to payee Z are broadcast to this network using readily available software applications.
In 2016 a decentralized autonomous organization called The DAO, a set of smart contracts developed on the platform, raised a record US$150 million in a crowdsale to fund the project.[25] The DAO was exploited in June when US$50 million in ether were taken by an unknown hacker.[26][27] The event sparked a debate in the crypto-community about whether Ethereum should perform a contentious "hard fork" to reappropriate the affected funds.[28] As a result of the dispute, the network split in two. Ethereum (the subject of this article) continued on the forked blockchain, while Ethereum Classic continued on the original blockchain.[29] The hard fork created a rivalry between the two networks.

Because of bitcoin's decentralized nature and its trading on online exchanges located in many countries, regulation of bitcoin has been difficult. However, the use of bitcoin can be criminalized, and shutting down exchanges and the peer-to-peer economy in a given country would constitute a de facto ban.[176] The legal status of bitcoin varies substantially from country to country and is still undefined or changing in many of them. Regulations and bans that apply to bitcoin probably extend to similar cryptocurrency systems.[177]
Transactions are verified by network nodes through cryptography and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain. Bitcoin was invented in 2008 by an unknown person or group of people using the name Satoshi Nakamoto[15] and started in 2009[16] when its source code was released as open-source software.[7]:ch. 1 Bitcoins are created as a reward for a process known as mining. They can be exchanged for other currencies, products, and services.[17] Research produced by University of Cambridge estimates that in 2017, there were 2.9 to 5.8 million unique users using a cryptocurrency wallet, most of them using bitcoin.[18]