Litecoin has yet to achieve volume of Bitcoin and Ethereum, but it remains one of the oldest, largest, and most accessible cryptocurrencies. As a direct descendant of Bitcoin, Litecoin has also been a crucial testing ground for many of BTC's network upgrades. Due to Litecoin's close ties with Bitcoin, both projects are very similar. However, Litecoin isn't just a carbon copy of the Bitcoin blockchain. There are many unique features and use cases Litecoin offers to crypto holders.
Anyone interested in the history of cryptocurrency should learn what Litecoin is and its role in the crypto ecosystem.
What is Litecoin?
Litecoin (LTC) is a cryptocurrency that aims to be a faster and cheaper version of Bitcoin. While some investors buy Litecoin as a long-term investment, it's more often associated with peer-to-peer (P2P) payments. Since Litecoin's founding, many have compared it to "silver" in contrast to Bitcoin's status as "digital gold."
Computer programmer Charlie Lee is the primary force behind Litecoin. While working as a software engineer at Google, Lee heard about the Bitcoin whitepaper and started investigating blockchain technology. Lee's brother Bobby Lee also launched one of China's largest Bitcoin exchanges (i.e., Bitcoin China) around this time. After months of experimenting with Bitcoin's code, Charlie created his own cryptocurrency modeled on BTC. In 2011, he "forked" the Bitcoin blockchain to create Litecoin. When developers "fork" a blockchain, they make a modified chain related to the original network.
Litecoin uses the same proof-of-work (PoW) consensus mechanism on the Bitcoin network. Anyone can validate blocks of transactions on Litecoin's blockchain through crypto mining. Every 2.5 minutes, Litecoin miners have to solve an advanced algorithmic puzzle to add a transaction to the blockchain. Whenever someone successfully solves this puzzle, they receive LTC rewards.
Although Litecoin’s PoW architecture is similar to Bitcoin’s blockchain, LTC uses a consensus algorithm called Scrypt rather than Bitcoin’s SHA-256. Scrypt is less energy-intensive than SHA-256, which helps Litecoin achieve faster transaction speeds and lower network fees.
Today, Singapore-based nonprofit Litecoin Foundation coordinates development on the Litecoin blockchain.
What is Litecoin used for?
Litecoin's primary use cases are the same as Bitcoin's: P2P payments and a store of value investment. However, LTC is more closely associated with day-to-day transactions. The faster speeds and lower fees on Litecoin's blockchain make it better suited for micro-purchases like groceries or gas. However, since LTC has a limited supply, some investors believe what Litecoin is worth today will rise as crypto adoption increases.
From a development perspective, Litecoin has been the primary testnet for the Bitcoin blockchain. Since Litecoin and Bitcoin are similar, many BTC developers first test code upgrades on Litecoin's network. For instance, Litecoin was the first blockchain to use the layer-2 lightning network, which allows users to make fast and cheap microtransactions on Bitcoin.
What are the advantages of Litecoin?
Litecoin has many attractive traits that have helped it become one of the most traded altcoins.
- Fast transactions: Litecoin has a block time of 2.5 minutes versus Bitcoin's 10 minutes. This shorter confirmation speed allows Litecoin to process more than 50 transactions per second (TPS).
- Relatively low fees: Litecoin has cheap transaction costs. You only need to spend a few pennies in fees to send Litecoin’s virtual currency.
- Easily accessible: Thanks to Litecoin's size and reputation, it's available on all major crypto exchanges. Even brokerage sites, Bitcoin ATMs, and fintech apps such as PayPal offer access to Litecoin.
- Private transactions: In 2022, Litecoin unveiled an optional privacy feature known as MimbleWimble, which allows Litecoin holders to make their transactions private. Using advanced cryptographic technology, MimbleWimble disguises blockchain transactions, so only the sender and receiver know where the LTC is going.
What are Litecoin's drawbacks?
Although Litecoin is a top-tier cryptocurrency, it has a few potential downsides.
- Competition in the P2P crypto space: Litecoin isn't the only coin competing to be a premier P2P crypto. Digital currencies such as Bitcoin Cash and Dash have already made inroads in this niche. The rise in stablecoins and the Bitcoin Lightning Network also make people question what the future is for Litecoin.
- Potential issues with LTC's anonymity feature: After Litecoin introduced the MimbleWimble upgrade, a few centralized crypto exchanges (CEXs) banned LTC trading. Companies such as Bithumb and Upbit cited security concerns with Litecoin's privacy protocol. Government regulators may also be looking into Litecoin's MimbleWimble protocol.
- Charlie Lee's 2017 LTC sell-off controversy: At the height of the 2017 crypto bull market, Lee decided to sell all the LTC he owned. According to him, he wanted to remove centralization risk from the Litecoin network by selling off his position. However, critics question whether Lee was manipulating Litecoin's price.
- Energy consumption and pollution: PoW cryptocurrencies consume a lot of electricity. Many environmentalists have raised concerns over the energy cost and pollution put out by projects such as Litecoin, Bitcoin, and Bitcoin Cash.
- Concerns about coin supply’s centralization: Recent blockchain analytics suggest Litecoin’s supply is highly centralized, with about 13% of LTC wallets holding more than 1 million coins and another 32% carrying more than 100,000 LTC.
What is ‘merged mining’ on Litecoin?
Merged mining occurs when two separate blockchains join forces using the same consensus algorithm. This topic is significant for Litecoin because Dogecoin (DOGE) is merge mined on the LTC network.
Launched on a separate blockchain in 2013, Dogecoin is a PoW cryptocurrency inspired by the Shiba Inu meme. About one year after its founding, Charlie Lee suggested merge mining Dogecoin with Litecoin’s Scrypt algorithm for enhanced security. The DOGE community agreed to Lee's proposal, and the two cryptos have been linked ever since.
How are Litecoin and Bitcoin similar?
As Bitcoin and Litecoin have nearly identical designs, here are some of their similarities:
- No pre-mine at launch: Although Litecoin's launch was more publicized than Bitcoin's, Charlie Lee didn't pre-mine LTC and distribute them to team members. Like Bitcoin, every LTC that enters circulation has to be created by miners on the network.
- PoW consensus mechanism: Litecoin and Bitcoin rely on miners to run nodes to validate transactions. To incentivize participation, Charlie Lee wrote LTC crypto rewards into Litecoin's code for miners who solve each algorithm.
- Capped coin supply: Both cryptos have hard-cap supplies. Once Litecoin and Bitcoin reach their max circulating supplies, they’ll have 0% inflation rates.
- Open-source code: Bitcoin and Litecoin have open-source code, so anyone can review these projects and submit improvements on GitHub.
- Four-year halving schedule: The coin rewards on Litecoin's blockchain decrease by half every four years, similar to Bitcoin’s halving event, which occurs on the Bitcoin network.
- Lowest unit set at eight decimal places: In homage to Bitcoin, Charlie Lee made Litecoin's smallest unit the same as BTC's. One photon of LTC and one satoshi of BTC are both 0.00000001.
How is Litecoin different from Bitcoin?
Despite all of Litecoin's similarities to Bitcoin, it has a few noteworthy features that set it apart.
- Scrypt mining algorithm: Charlie Lee created Litecoin to allow more people to mine cryptocurrency. With the invention of expensive ASIC mining rigs, many feared Bitcoin's hash power would become centralized to just a few large mining pools. To address this issue, Lee used Scrypt. However, there are now ASIC rigs that work on the Scrypt network.
- Higher coin supply: Although the total supply of Litecoin is capped, there’ll be four times as many Litecoins once the last one is mined. Bitcoin's max supply is 21 million coins, while Litecoin's is 84 million.
- Faster speed and cheaper fees: Litecoin is known for its faster transaction speeds and more affordable fees than BTC. While the Bitcoin blockchain can process about six TPS, Litecoin can handle 54. In terms of fees, it’s a few pennies on Litecoin but usually a few dollars on Bitcoin.
- Clearly identifiable leader: Nobody knows who Bitcoin's founder Satoshi Nakamoto is, but everyone knows Charlie Lee created Litecoin. To this day, Lee plays an active role in coordinating improvements to Litecoin through the Litecoin Foundation.
- Optional privacy features: The MimbleWimble upgrade anonymizes transactions on LTC's blockchain. To date, Bitcoin doesn't have a privacy feature.
Litecoin may not be as revolutionary as Bitcoin or Ethereum, but it has played a notable role in the history of crypto. In addition to its use as a P2P currency, Litecoin has been a testing ground for notable upgrades such as the Bitcoin Lightning Network. While it's unclear what the future holds for Litecoin, it’ll likely remain a central currency in the crypto economy.
Worldcoin is another crypto project interested in bringing blockchain technology into more people's lives. We aim to put a share of our crypto in everyone’s hands for free. We’re also airdropping DAI stablecoins to anyone who downloads our app. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to learn more.