How Do Lightning Addresses Work?

And How to Get One Through Blink

How Do Lightning Addresses Work?
January 9, 2024
Eduardo Próspero

A fresh option to the somehow cumbersome invoices and QR codes, Lightning Addresses offer a more convenient way to send Bitcoin through the Lightning Network. On arrival, the Layer 2 payment protocol introduced almost instantaneous and much cheaper transactions that rely on the robustness and security of Bitcoin’s main chain. Lightning Addresses add email-like qualities to the interoperable peer-to-peer system, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Both invoices and QR codes are still in play, and they are definitely useful for certain situations. However, they add friction. To activate them, users need a device with a camera or to copy and paste a long string of text. Plus, invoices are single-use, come with an expiration date, and usually have a specific amount hardwired. If, for example, a streamer wants to ask his or her audience for donations, invoices and QR codes are not the tools for the job. Luckily for the streamer, Lightning Addresses are here to simplify everyone’s life.

According to the project’s GitHub page: 

“The Lightning Address is an Internet Identifier that allows anyone to send you Bitcoin over the Lightning Network. No scanning of QR codes or pasting invoices necessary.”

The definition of Internet Identifier is:

“An addr-spec is a specific Internet identifier that contains a locally interpreted string followed by the at-sign character ("@", ASCII value 64) followed by an Internet domain.”

So, Lightning Addresses are similar to email addresses, which are familiar to every Internet user.

What Else Can Lightning Addresses Do?

As the Lightning Addresses official site promises, these identifiers provide “a massively simpler way for anyone to send you Bitcoin instantly on the Lightning Network.” Not only that, Lightning Addresses are interoperable, as they offer “a new standard designed to break the barriers between Lightning providers.” To send Bitcoin to a Lightning Address, just type it in the invoice field of your wallet of choice and hit send. It’s that easy.

Under the hood, Lightning Addresses provide a new way to interact with LNURL, the Lightning Network UX Protocol. LNURL is built on top of HTTP, the Hypertext Transfer Protocol that powers the whole Internet. Through LNURL, Lightning Network clients can exchange information, coordinate efforts, and perform tasks. As HTTP, it offers a blank canvas that allows for all kinds of innovation to happen and new features to constantly appear. 

Introducing The Lightning Address

As ZEBEDEE’s introductory video puts it, “a Lightning Address is another way to fetch an LNURL QR code.” Technically speaking, when someone sends Bitcoin to a Lightning Address, the wallet generates an LNURL-pay request and then a BOLT11 invoice. According to the Builder’s Guide repository, the BOLT11 standard refers to:

“BOLT stands for ‘Basis of Lightning Technology’ and covers all Lightning Network specifications. BOLT specifications are necessary to allow separate implementations to function and interact on the same network. Thus, with the specification, a Lightning invoice created by any client or tool will be understood by all other implementations.”

Of course, all of this is hidden from the user. Who, let’s face it, has no interest in all of this technical jargon. All the user needs to know is that with Lightning Addresses sending bitcoin is as easy as sending an email.

Can Someone Confuse Them With Email Addresses?

The short answer is yes, but everyone should always double and triple-check every single part of a Bitcoin transaction. Also, the risk is minimal because the sender won’t lose the funds. Since there’s no wallet attached to the email address, the operation will not go through and the funds will remain in the original wallet. 

It’s worth noting that this theoretical problem was Michael Saylor’s inspiration to transform every single Microstrategy corporate email into a Lightning Address. In April, as a guest in the Café Bitcoin Twitter Spaces, Saylor said:

"I looked at it and I though: wait a minute, we're creating enterprise software, and we're plugged into the active directory - why don't we just convert every single corporate email address into a Lightning address so that your email is your Lightning address?"

Anyone with an Internet domain can do the same thing in a noncustodial way using services like satdress, Ligess, and PHP Lightning. Alternatively, one could go the DIY route and serve “your own HTTP server with support for LNURL Pay + Internet Identifier protocols.”

In any case, for people not interested in going that far Blink offers a simple solution.

How Do I Get A Blink Lightning Address?

As easy as 1, 2, 3. Just download the app, choose your username, and Blink will automatically create one for you. Your Lightning Address will be “[username]” We’re the everyday Bitcoin wallet and aim to simplify.

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