Once you understand what blockchain is, you can begin to peer into the inner workings of a blockchain ledger. Learn how to do this with a block explorer!
What Is a Block Explorer?
Block explorers are simple enough in theory. As you may know from our what is blockchain guide, every transaction and address is assigned a unique series of numbers and letters. Decentralized ledgers such as Bitcoin send money between accounts using these unique references. Each network node stores a copy of all transactions, including transaction ids, and account ids (wallet addresses).
If you’re running a node, or have downloaded a specific blockchain’s ledger, then you can inspect each transaction. You can’t find out personal details like the name of the account holder, but you can see how many coins have been sent in the past, the status of any transaction, and the current balance.
What if you don’t have a copy of the ledger? What if you don’t want to download, store, and then sort through all 185GB for Bitcoin’s ledger?
This is where a block explorer comes in. A block explorer is a tool—usually a website—that makes it easy for you to search, inspect, and study any transaction or address on a blockchain. Block explorers go through all the hard work of maintaining a ledger, and present it in an easy to use format.
By using a block explorer, you can:
- Check if a transaction has been confirmed yet
- Check a wallet balance
- See if a specific transction happened at all, and when
How to Use a Block Explorer
There are a couple of ways to use a block explorer, as well as many different block explorers. We’ll focus on the BlockCypher Block Explorer, but the process is mostly the same regardless of the website.
When you first load this block explorer, you’ll see a search box on the top right, a cryptocurrency selection button, and three tables making up the bulk of the page. These tables show the most recently mined blocks, a rough fee estimate, and the most recent transactions. Here’s the break down.
The recent blocks table shows information about the most recently mined blocks. Block age, number of transactions, total fees, total Bitcoin transferred, and block size is all shown here. The height is the sequencial block number. Click this height to be taken to a detailed block view.
This detailed block view shows in-depth information about one block. You can see the block height and unique block identification at the top in the purple box. Underneath this, is some basic block information such as time, total transacted, and total fees. If you press the blue advanced details button, you can see in-depth information about this block—things such as the IP relay, nonce, and current depth. Most of this information won’t be needed for basic fund checking.
Finally, underneath all this information are the transactions making up the block. You can see the total Bitcoin sent, along with sender and recipient addresses. There are so many transactions making up a block that there are more than 80 pages worth of data.
At the top of this transaction is a series of letters and numbers. This combination is a unique identifier for this particular transaction. Each transaction has one, and every one is different. Click this transaction identifier to see even more information about this transaction—information like the total number of confirmations, and whether or not this transactions has been spent by the receiver already.
Inderneath this transaction information are details of the sender and recipient—just like the recent blocks table on the previous page. Clicking the Bitcoin address identifier (also unique) takes you to the detailed wallet overview.
At the top, this shows the wallet address and QR code, along with a funds summary, outlining the total amount in, out, and current balance. This is where you can subscribe to this wallet, to get notified of any and all activity.
Underneath this wallet information are the transactions. Every transaction ever made by this wallet is listed here. Once again, you can explorer these transactions further by clicking the transaction identifier, or sender/receiver addresses.
By using the search bar at the top of the page, you can instantly retrieve details for any transaction or wallet. Simply copy and paste the transaction id or wallet address into the search bar, and press the search button. If the identifier exists, the explorer will load the information for your perusal.
If you press the Bitcoin logo to the right of this search bar, you can switch the explorer to a different network, such as Litecoin. This blockchain explorer is limited in the other networks it supports, but other blockchain explorers are available—providing the blockchain you want to explore is a public blockchain.
By returning to the main page of the block explorer, you can see the current fee estimates table. This outlines a rough price/transaction fee to perform one transaction. This uses a rolling, weighted average, so it may not be 100% accurate, but it’s quite close. These fees are split into three priorities: high, medium, and low. Each figure outlines how much you should pay in fees for one transaction, based on how rapidly you require completion. Higher fees will get your transaction processed faster, but there’s no point paying more than the market rate, so use this helpful table to assess the market.
The final area is the latest transactions table. This is simple enough. It shows the latest ten transactions on the Bitcoin network. It lists the transaction hash, which you can click to see detailed transaction information, the same as outlined above. This is a great way to see a quick overview of how much Bitcoin is flowing around the network daily. Refresh the page and there will be ten completely new transctions. And yet people still say Bitcoin is dead.
What Will You Discover on Blockchains?
Now you know how easy it is to use a block explorer, what will you discover? Will you weep over the remaining balance in long lost and dormant accounts, or look in awe at the number of Bitcoins some accounts seemingly throw around like confetti? Whatever you do, let us know in the comments section below.