The Number Of Bitcoin Nodes Has Declined To 9,500; How To Run A Full Node And Contribute To The Network
Bitcoin full nodes are one of the most critical pieces of the Bitcoin network. Each node scans every block and transaction and checks it against the consensus rules, including whether the block reward is appropriate, transaction signatures are correct, data format is correct, and that transaction outputs are not being double-spent. If a node finds that a block or transaction is violating the consensus rules, then that block or transaction is rejected. This ensures that the rules of the Bitcoin network do not change without a consensus agreement, and also ensures that transactions are immutable.
Each node is independent of other nodes, so even if other nodes do something incorrectly, the node still validates according to the consensus rules that it is programmed with. Nodes are one of the primary pieces of infrastructure that makes the Bitcoin network decentralized.
Despite the critical importance of nodes, there are only 9,500 in the entire world. This is down from the over 12,500 nodes during the peak of the 2017 Bitcoin bull run, and the same amount of nodes as 2 years ago.
This seems to indicate that new users are choosing to run lite wallets rather than full nodes. This is likely because the size of the Bitcoin blockchain has grown to 237 GB, and a full node is required to download the entire blockchain in order to function. It can take a couple of months with regular internet to download this much data, and at least a few weeks even with fast internet.
Therefore, new Bitcoin users are choosing to download lite wallets like the Blockchain wallet and start using Bitcoin immediately, rather than wait weeks or months to download Bitcoin Core. This is unfortunate since Bitcoin Core offers the highest level of security, since it is fully self-sufficient and does not require a connection to any 3rd party servers, versus lite wallets which require connections with 3rd party servers, and sometimes even store the private keys on a server which is a security risk. Also, even if keys are not stored on a 3rd party server, if the server for a lite wallet goes down then the wallet will not work.
Additionally, the lack of new users choosing to run the full nodes is resulting in a less decentralized network. It is certainly stunning that there is only a single Bitcoin node for every 800,000 people in the world. Fortunately, for all intents and purposes 9,500 nodes is enough to make the network sufficiently decentralized.
That being said, the Bitcoin network would certainly be healthier if there were more full nodes. In general, it is important to increase awareness that running a full node is one of the best ways to contribute to the Bitcoin network, as well as mining. If you want to contribute to the Bitcoin network and run a full node there are several options to choose from, including Bitcoin Core, Bitcoin Knots, Armory, and mSigna, although Bitcoin Core is the most highly recommended since it is the official wallet built by the Bitcoin developers.
It might take weeks or months to get your full node running, but once you do it will be quite satisfying to know that your computer is one of less than 10,000 in the world that is keeping the Bitcoin network afloat.