Lightning Labs, one of the prominent companies working to realize the lightning network, announced this week the alpha release of the open-source lightning daemon they’ve been spearheading: LND. While only compatible with Bitcoin’s testnet so far, the software is relatively feature-complete and operational.
“We’re now looking for the wider community to test the software,” Joseph Poon, Lightning Labs developer and co-author of the lightning network white paper, told Bitcoin Magazine. “To get it ready for widespread use, but also to explore new use cases this enables.”
The Lightning Network
The lightning network is a highly anticipated second-layer protocol to be rolled out on top of Bitcoin’s blockchain. Cleverly utilizing Bitcoin’s programmable elements (like multisignature and time-locks), lightning users should be able to make a virtually unlimited number of off-chain transactions with instant confirmations and at low cost. This should boost Bitcoin’s micropayment-ability, overall scalability and even privacy.
The release of LND v0.1-alpha, written in the Go programming language, signifies that development of the protocol is on track. The implementation developed by Lightning Labs, but also BitFury and others, can open and close channels with counterparties to transact, route payments over the network, forward transactions from other users and more.
“Things are progressing very well,” Poon acknowledged. “We now mainly need to finalize the specification, work on cross-compatibility with other implementations and improve various components like payment receipts and multi-hop payments. Additionally, we’ll focus on optimizing performance over the next couple of months.”
That said, the lightning daemon is not very user-friendly yet, as it’s mostly intended for developers and experimentation. It doesn’t include a user interface — though that will soon change, the team noted — and is so far only compatible with Bitcoin’s testnet.
Lightning Labs will also publish a walk-through post soon, and open a channel faucet for anyone to get their hands on some testnet coins in lightning channels.
The big question, of course, is when everyday users will be able to send and receive lightning transactions on Bitcoin’s main net.
Earlier estimates suggested that the lightning network could be operational this winter, which from a technical perspective doesn’t seem far off now. Different lightning teams met in Milan after the Scaling Bitcoin workshops in October of 2016, where they agreed on shared specifications now known as “BOLT.” At least two other companies, Blockchain (Thunder) and Blockstream (Lightningd), have released early iterations of lightning software as well, while ACINQ, Amiko Pay and MIT’s DCI are also working on implementations.
With the exception of Thunder, most lightning software cannot yet be used on Bitcoin’s main net, however, as it is built with Segregated Witness in mind. The soft fork protocol change proposed by the Bitcoin Core development team requires 95 percent hash power support from miners to activate — but has so far remained stagnant around 25 or 30 percent.
While Segregated Witness is not strictly necessary for the lightning network to work, Lightning Labs pointed out it would significantly benefit the protocol.
“It would allow users to outsource channel monitoring, which means they won’t have to constantly keep an eye on the Bitcoin blockchain. Meanwhile channels could be kept open longer and closed quicker. It would offer a better user experience overall,” Lightning Labs developer Laolu Osuntokun said.
Lightning Labs Co-Founder Elizabeth Stark added: “One of the reasons why we wanted to put our software release and blog out there is to show how much better all of this could work with Segregated Witness activated.”
If the Segregated Witness soft fork does activate, the LND alpha software could immediately be tested on Bitcoin’s main net. Though for security reasons, as the team pointed out, preferably only with tiny amounts at first.