What Is A Blockchain Node (And How To Run One)
13 Dec 2023 by Harry Newman 5 min read
What Is A Blockchain Node (And How To Run One)

In the world of blockchain technology, nodes are fundamental to both the functionality and security of the blockchain network. 

They play a crucial role in maintaining the decentralised and transparent nature of the blockchain, ensuring its integrity and trustworthiness.

A blockchain node is a participant in the blockchain network that possesses a full copy of the blockchain ledger. 

Nodes are responsible for maintaining the blockchain's integrity by storing, verifying, and broadcasting new transactions and blocks to other nodes.

Each node acts independently, following the rules and protocols of the blockchain without central oversight. 

This decentralised nature is key to the security and resilience of the blockchain.

This guide aims to provide a greater understanding of what is a blockchain node, detailing their function, importance, and the different types of nodes that exist within various blockchain networks.

What Is A Blockchain Node

A blockchain node is a critical component of blockchain technology. A blockchain node is a participant in the blockchain network that possesses a full copy of the blockchain ledger and plays a vital role in keeping the network operational and secure.

A node in a blockchain network holds a copy of the entire ledger or a portion of it, depending on its capacity and role in the network.

Nodes participate actively in the blockchain network by validating and relaying transactions. This process is essential for maintaining the integrity and consensus of the blockchain.

Nodes are key to ensuring the decentralised nature of the blockchain. 

By distributing the blockchain across numerous nodes, the network avoids reliance on a central authority. They enhance the security of the network by validating transactions and blocks. 

This validation process ensures that the data on the blockchain is accurate and free from fraud, including preventing double-spending.

Each transaction is verified by nodes based on predefined rules. Valid transactions are added to the blockchain, while invalid ones are rejected.

The resilience of a blockchain increases with the number of nodes in the network. 

The more nodes there are, the harder it becomes to tamper with the network.

In popular blockchain networks, the concept of needing to control over 51% of the nodes to carry out a successful attack makes it practically impossible due to the vast number of nodes that would need to be controlled. 

This concept is known as the 51% attack and is a testament to the robustness of well-distributed blockchain networks.

Overview Of Node Types

Blockchain nodes are the foundation of a blockchain's infrastructure. 

To fully understand the question: ‘what is a blockchain node?’, it's essential to understand the various types of nodes and the specific roles they play within the blockchain ecosystem.

Without nodes, there would be no structure to support a blockchain network. 

They collectively maintain and update the blockchain, making it a dynamic, living system.

Full Nodes 

Full nodes maintain a complete copy of the blockchain ledger, which includes all the transactions ever made on the network.

They validate incoming transactions for legitimacy and compliance with the network's rules before they are added to the blockchain. 

This validation process is fundamental to the network's security and trustworthiness.

Full nodes also participate in submitting new blocks to the blockchain, playing an essential role in the consensus process and the continuous growth of the blockchain.

There are two types of full nodes, pruned and archival full nodes.

  • Pruned nodes have a set limit on the number of blocks they can store. Once this limit is reached, they begin to delete the oldest blocks to make room for new ones. Despite not storing the entire blockchain history, pruned nodes are still capable of verifying transactions and actively participating in the network's consensus process. They can still verify transactions and participate in the network's consensus.

  • Archival nodes are the more common type of full node. They store the complete history of the blockchain and do not delete old blocks. Archival nodes can be further categorised into several subgroups: authority nodes, miner nodes, staking nodes and master nodes.

Authority Nodes

Authority nodes are the same as full nodes but a community elects them to act as moderators of a blockchain, this can be through developers or the community voting on this decision. 

These nodes are often used in private or consortium blockchains to oversee the governance and operation of the network.

Mining Nodes 

In networks that use a Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus mechanism, mining nodes compete to add new blocks to the blockchain by solving complex cryptographic puzzles. They play a critical role in maintaining network security.

Master Nodes 

These nodes perform specific functions in certain blockchains, like facilitating private or instant transactions. They do not generate new blocks but still validate and maintain records. They often require a significant investment in the network's cryptocurrency to operate.

Validator Nodes

In Proof of Stake (PoS) and other consensus models, validator nodes sometimes called staking nodes are responsible for validating transactions and creating new blocks. These nodes are often chosen based on the number of coins they hold and are willing to "stake" as collateral.

Lite Nodes 

Lite nodes only store part of the blockchain, relying on full nodes for complete information. 

They are designed for less resource-intensive environments, providing essential functionalities without the need for full ledger storage requirements. 

Running A Node 

Understanding what is a blockchain node is essential for grasping how to operate one. 

Running a node has several benefits and implications for both the individual operator and the blockchain network as a whole.

Running a node significantly contributes to the decentralisation of the blockchain network. The more nodes there are, the more distributed the network becomes, enhancing its security and making it more resilient against attacks and failures. 

A well-distributed network of nodes is crucial for maintaining the integrity and trustworthiness of a blockchain.

Setting up and managing a node offers a valuable hands-on learning experience about blockchain technology, its workings, and its challenges.

For blockchains that use a Proof-of-Stake (PoS) consensus mechanism, running a node can provide financial rewards. 

Participants stake their cryptocurrency to become validators and, in return, receive rewards for participating in validating transactions and creating new blocks.

The cost of setting up a node can be substantial, particularly for blockchains that require significant computational power. 

This includes the costs of hardware, software, and a stable internet connection.

Operating a node 24/7 involves ongoing electricity costs, which can be considerable depending on the energy requirements of the blockchain.

Running a node also demands continuous monitoring and maintenance to ensure smooth operation. 

This task can be time-consuming and requires a certain level of technical expertise.

Operating a node exposes individuals to cybersecurity risks. Robust security measures are essential to protect the node against cyber threats, such as hacking attempts and malware.

Once you decide on which blockchain you want to support, you can set up a node using a computer or dedicated server. 

This process involves downloading the blockchain's software and syncing with the network, which can take some time depending on the size and age of the blockchain.

A guide to running a full node on the Bitcoin blockchain can be found here.

What is a Blockchain Node - Final Thoughts 

Blockchain nodes are integral to blockchain networks, ensuring a decentralised, secure and reliable function of the blockchain.

There are many different types of nodes that all play a distinct role.

Understanding these nodes, and how they operate whilst also maintaining the blockchain ecosystem is important when answering the question: ‘what is a blockchain node?’.

Without nodes, a blockchain would not be able to function properly. 

All nodes work together to provide a more secure and reliable way to verify and record transactions without the need for a central authority.

FAQ - What is a Blockchain Node

Can running a blockchain node be profitable?

Yes, running certain types of nodes can be profitable, such as mining nodes, it also depends on the specific blockchain economics and the node's operational costs.

How can you run a node?

First, you need to choose the blockchain and then running a node requires the use of hardware or software to run a node 

Do you need a lot of technical expertise to run a blockchain node?

Setting up and running a basic blockchain mode can be straightforward, operating more complex nodes like mining nodes requires an understanding of blockchain technology, all you need is a computer to be able to run a node.

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This article is intended for educational purposes and is not financial advice.