The lightning network is a second layer payment protocol for Bitcoin designed to facilitate instant, extremely cheap transactions. To use the lightning network you need to have a few things: Bitcoin, a lightning client and a #reckless sense of adventure. Lightning is still very much a beta network so it is recommended to use small amounts for now.
Step 1: Get your Bitcoin
The Lightning network works by opening up a Bitcoin payment channel with a peer on the network. So the first step to using lightning is to get some bitcoin!
Step 2: Get a Lightning Client
There are many Bitcoin Lightning Clients and tutorials but I am going to focus on the easiest clients that do not require a full node.
Eclair Lightning wallet
The Eclair android wallet is where I did my initial testing, it’s very simple and easy to use. My one major gripe is that that you cannot do normal Bitcoin transactions. So you really need to make sure you do not lose your 24-word recovery phrase.
Once you download the app you will have to choose between a new wallet seed or recovering one.
Once your wallet is setup and you have access to some Bitcoin you need to open a payment channel. Payment channels are how payments are routed in the lightning network.
You have four options on how to open a channel.
- Paste a node URI
- Scan a node URI
- Random Node (Currently not supported)
- ACINQ Node
Routing is one of the major areas that need to be improved with lightning. A lot of merchants recommend opening channels directly with them to ensure a successful payment but I have had success in purchasing items with channels open to ACIQ or other large nodes. Read more about lightning routing here…
I have been using the excellent lightning explorer from 1ML.com to test connecting to different sized lightning nodes, large nodes like Bitrefill.com are a safe bet. It is also important to keep in mind that this network is really new, it will get easier to make payments and use wallets in time.
Once you choose a node to open a channel with, enter in the capacity and open the channel. This is an onchain Bitcoin transaction so it will take a few minutes for confirmations. You can think of this as opening a chequing account in traditional banking terms.
3. Buy something with Lightning #Reckless
Now that you have your Lightning wallet and a channel open you can get around the fun part, buying something. There are a bunch of stores accepting lightning, do a search for “Bitcoin Lightning Merchants” or check out one of the sites compiling them.
So far I have successfully tested buying from
- Blockstream – Stickers
- Billfodl – Backup Phrase Hardware
- Joltfun – Steam games
- CoinCards.ca – Gift cards
I figured for this write-up I should try something new, so I went with a #Reckless T-shirt from Wears my Liberty. The process is just like any e-commerce site, add to cart, shipping info ect. When you get to the payment screen you should see a QR code or payment id. In Eclair add go to the “Transaction History” tab and press the paper airplane (send) button in the bottom right. You can either paste that payment ID or scan the QR code. Once you scan the code it should be pretty quick depending on if the channel routing works or not. I was able to buy a T-shirt without opening a channel directly to them which is really nice to see.
Hopefully this article dispels some of the FUD around Lightning network being vapourware and inspires you to try it yourself!
Alternative Lightning Wallets
If you don’t have an android device or just want to test some other wallets out check out these Lightning wallets. ***Disclosure: I have not tested these***