An altcoin is any digital cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin. The term is said to stand for “alternative to Bitcoin” and is used describe any cryptocurrency that is not a Bitcoin. Altcoins are created by diverging from Bitcoin consensus rules (the fundamental rules of the cryptocurrency’s network) or by developing a new cryptocurrency from scratch.
BREAKING DOWN ‘Altcoin’
“Altcoin” is a combination of two words: “alt” and “coin”; alt is short for alternative and coin signifies currency. Thus together they imply a category of cryptocurrency that is alternative to the digital currency Bitcoin. After the success story of Bitcoin, many other peer-to-peer digital currencies have emerged in an attempt to imitate that success.
Most popular altcoins use the same fundamental building blocks as Bitcoin. This approach is relatively easy to carry out because Bitcoin is a free, open source platform. When an altcoin forks at the blockchain level, an alternate system of consensus rules must be used and the coin will have an entirely different distributed ledger. The same is true for altcoins built from scratch.
Some altcoins have different monetary policy rules built into the currency to encourage different uses and treatment. Policies such as minimum spend, or positive or negative interest on coins stored, can encourage or discourage hoarding. Policies for coin miningmay function differently from Bitcoin, as may the number of coins paid out per new block mined.
Some altcoins are made to discourage ASIC or GPU mining. This limitation is designed to reduce the advantage of specialized coin miners, as in the case of Litecoin, upon which half of all altcoins are based. An altcoin blockchain may also store different meta data about the coin’s previous transactions or may allow the coin to be repurposed as an alternate asset.
Even with many close competitors, Bitcoin is still leading the virtual currency pack. Newer and more innovative versions are getting launched that offer modifications in areas like transaction speed, privacy, proof-of-stake, DNS resolution and more. A few of them have gained popularity; the rest are lesser-known. While some altcoins can be attempts to enrich founders and offer little new, many have found niches because of way their differences encouraged new miners and uses. Since Bitcoin’s inception there have been upwards of 500 altcoins created. Examples of altcoin include Litecoin, Dogecoin, Peercoin, Feathercoin, Zetacoin, Novacoin, etc. Litecoin is seen as the closest competitor to Bitcoin.