Depending on whom you ask, The Lightning Network is either the most brilliant invention since Bitcoin itself, or just questionable vaporware that stunts the growth of Bitcoin. Yet regardless of this technological and ideological division, everybody can agree on one idea: decentralization matters.
In order for Lightning to be successful in its attempt to build a reliable second layer for payments, the distribution of nodes must be as broad and numerous as possible. Advocates of the small block and second layer philosophy are also fervent proponents of autonomy through nodes, so in order to help the project grow it’s paramount to operate the protocol by doing validations on your own computer.
At press time, Lightning has 4228 active nodes, out of which 3022 are active. 1822 of these nodes have active payment channels, and the average node capacity is 0.248 BTC. The promise regarding fees has been kept, as the average cost of one transaction is even lower than 1 satoshi (fractions of a cent), and enthusiasts have been keeping their nodes running for an average of approximately 140 days (4 months).
The data presented is provided by the 1ML.com website and reflects the enthusiasm and interest concerning The Lightning Network. Up to this point, in spite of the optimistic publicity surrounding the early 2018 mainnet launch, only a bunch of tech-savvy folks and believers seem to have gotten on board. Only a small number of Bitcoin transactions are made through a Lightning channel settlement, and despite the constant growth of nodes and channels, we’re pretty far away from mainstream adoption.
However, thanks to the efforts of the enthusiastic community, now it’s easier than ever to ride the Lightning – it’s us the enthusiasts and adopters for whom the bell tolls, and it would be a pity to let this ambitious project fade to black.
The easiest way to run a Lightning node: Buy a Casa HODL device.
In many ways, this is the most convenient method of them all: you buy a small dedicated computing box which possesses all the specs to effectively run the operations, plug it in, and support the network without having to bother too much. It costs $300 (or its equivalent in BTC) and it’s the effortless plug and play solution.
At core, it’s just a boxed Raspberry Pi 3B+ with an attached 1TB hard disk drive. There’s nothing impressive about the hardware, but it’s the software and convenience which make it an option worth considering. First of all, it has a clean and easy interface that anyone can access. Using the Casa Node requires no coding skills or knowledge of advanced programming. With it, running a Lightning Node is as easy as booting your Mac and maintaining it through suggested updates. All you have to do is just keep it plugged and connected to the internet (as well as pay your bills to make sure that it keeps on running, as the network grows).
Secondly, it comes with the Bitcoin blockchain data pre-downloaded, so you don’t have to wait for a long time to sync the transaction data. Naturally, more blocks get added from the moment when your device gets shipped and up to the moment when you start it up. Yet you don’t have to sync 10 years of BTC transactions, which is convenient and efficient.
At press time, there is an ongoing Cyber Monday deal which adds a Trezor One hardware wallet to the deal. If the $300 price point seemed a little too high in relation to the hardware offering, then the addition of an extra device which is very useful and costs about $100 on its own is extremely tempting for winter holidays shopping.
If (or when) Lightning reaches mainstream adoption in commerce, it’s easy to imagine how devices like the Casa Node would be found in every major retail store where transactions received and sent. Therefore, such boxed solutions have a lot of potential and might as well reach the scale of the credit card terminals.
On the other hand, it’s a bad idea to rely too much on one single company to enable access to a decentralized and open-source network. Casa HODL certainly opens the door for many others to step in and build a competitive market for Lightning nodes. And while the information presented may sound like a sales pitch, the truth is that there are more inexpensive alternatives which do not require the acquisition of another device.
Before moving on to DIY solutions which follow guides, it’s worth mentioning that the review of the node has been written without actually testing the device itself. The supply is limited at this point, international shippings across the Atlantic would cost at least $50 (the website mentions this amount for “ground shippings”), and for someone who has been rekt by the recent movements of the crypto market such an expense has become a luxury. However, if grumpy critic Jackson Palmer appears to be pleased with his Casa Node, then there must be something the company is doing right.
— Jackson Palmer (@ummjackson) November 28, 2018
The harder yet cheaper way to run a Lightning node: DIY!
Why spend $300 on a new device when you can set up a Lightning node on the computer you already have and use? In theory, you reduce the cost of electricity as you have fewer devices running in your house. Also, you get to learn a little more about the Bitcoin blockchain as you manually download the Bitcoin Core client and watch every transaction in history get saved on your hard drive. It’s a slow and time-consuming process, but it can be educational in terms of helping you understand how far BTC has come and how much people have used it in its 10 years of existence.
The downside of doing it on your computer is that the process requires over 200 gigabytes of storage. You can easily plug a speedy external hard drive in a USB 3.0 port, and even if you acquire a new device it’s still cheaper than the Casa Node. What’s also great for the Bitcoin Core and Lightning clients is that they’re available for all the major operating systems. They don’t offer the same plug and play experience as Casa’s product, but they empower you with a lot more autonomy and help you learn how the system works in the whole process.
Until very recently, installing a Lightning client required some coding knowledge and the process was reserved to the tech-savvy. For instance, ecurrencyhodler’s guide to install Lightning on a Mac, which was released in April 2018, included plenty of terminal commands. In contrast, software engineer and Bitcoin Advisory proponent Pierre Rochard has recently written an article about a point-and-click experience which works on both Windows and Mac. The client that he suggests is the Lightning Power Node Launcher, and the interface looks really friendly and approachable.
If you want to build your own Casa Node in terms of hardware and struggle with the software part, it’s a good idea to run the Ubuntu Linux operating system (as it’s free, open-source, and easy to run on the Raspberry Pi). The total costs will be around $150 (considering that you’re buying a Raspberry Pi, a case, cables, a hard drive, and a small monitor) and you can use a guide like Ismail Akkila‘s or Tech Expert Tips’ to code your way to reckless success.
Easiest way to get up and running with the latest version of LND on Windows or macOS, desktop or laptop, testnet or mainnet:
— Pierre Rochard  (@pierre_rochard) November 28, 2018
Nowadays, all you have to do is install the applications and allow them to synchronize in your system – and this is the biggest step towards mainstream adoption, as complicated interfaces become friendly and accessible for the masses. If we want to step into an era where we are autonomous on the internet and own our own data, then it’s essential to make it possible for everybody to participate. This is part of the Bitcoin philosophy which Satoshi himself has left us, and further decentralizing money is part of our mission as cryptocurrency adopters.
Ultimately, the success of Lightning is essential for Bitcoin‘s success in commerce and in many ways it’s up to us to become the ones who embrace new technologies that help the king of cryptos scale and push the entire industry forward. Now we have all the means to run nodes, open channels, and contribute to the Network’s growth. Yet before you put all of your BTC in a payment channel, remember that the experimental phase is not over yet, and money can get lost. It’s good to be #reckless, but it’s always better to ensure the security of your funds. Stay safe!