Just about every man-made thing can be stopped somehow. We can slam on a vehicle’s brakes, or at least put an obstacle in its way. We can cut a machine’s power. We can order an organization stopped by the courts or the armed forces if necessary.
It seems like you can stop anything with some force that counters whatever keeps that thing going.
So how could a thing like Bitcoin become unstoppable?
Bitcoin employs two countermeasures to ever being stopped.
Flawless Replicas Everywhere
Bitcoin’s first defence from being stopped is that you can’t actually locate it. It’s hard after all to stop something that you can’t find.
A Bitcoin node is an instance of the Bitcoin program running on some computer. And each and every Bitcoin node is an exact replica of every other Bitcoin node (in every way that matters at least). Each node contains all the programming necessary to run Bitcoin along with all the information about who can spend every single bit of every bitcoin.
If someone wanted to stop Bitcoin, they’d have to stop each and every node, everywhere in the world, all at once, and keep them all stopped forever.
However, Bitcoin isn’t hard to run. It can operate on the simplest of computers available today. Bitcoin can also hide behind encrypted services so that nobody can see where it’s running. It is impossible to find all the computers in the world running Bitcoin. If someone were hunting down Bitcoin in an attempt to shut it down, they might find some nodes, or maybe even a lot of them, but as long as Bitcoin is running somewhere on some computer it is running for everyone and anyone that can reach that computer. And reaching a computer is pretty easy considering the Internet connects just about every computer in the world to every other one.
Even if someone managed to stop every node, as soon as any one of them restarted, Bitcoin would resume where it left off. If in fact someone was hunting down the world’s Bitcoin nodes, any of them could go into sleep mode when the hunter came near and thus become completely invisible until that hunter moved on to find other prey . The first thing it would do when it awoke would be to turn itself into a precise replica of all the other nodes out there.
There’s tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands of nodes running everywhere all over the world right now. There’s no way to know how many Bitcoin nodes are running. That makes it impossible to even know how hard a task it would be to try to stop Bitcoin.
Flexible Energy Requirements
Most things require some minimum amount of energy to operate. Bitcoin doesn’t. Yes, Bitcoin uses energy. It uses energy to ensure that no node can trick any other node into becoming different from any of the others. This energy use is what prevents any node from ever mistaking which is the true record to replicate — the true record is the one with the most energy used.
But exactly how much energy Bitcoin needs depends only on how much energy is actually being used. If someone managed to cut the power to even all but one of the nodes, eventually the energy requirements of Bitcoin would diminish so that just that last little node’s power would be all that was needed to keep the network ticking along just fine. So Bitcoin can’t be starved of the energy it needs, because it can operate on very little energy if that’s all it can get.
UnFindable + UnStarvable = UnStoppable
Put it all together and you get unstoppability. Since nobody can physically find all the necessary parts they’d need to to shut down Bitcoin and nobody can starve Bitcoin of the energy it needs, nobody can stop it!
Want more? This entire series (plus a 26th bonus article) is available as a pdf or kindle ebook at https://swanbitcoin.com/whybitcoin.
This is article 9 of “Why Bitcoin” — a series of articles I am writing that are all short, accessible to newcomers and still interesting to long time Bitcoiners.