After how to get bitcoin, the most often asked question is how to get a bitcoin wallet.
New bitcoin wallets are being released all of the time and there is intense competition. That can be good and bad. New technology often means more security and ease of use but on the flip side there are other wallets that are no longer being maintained or worse, are gone altogether.
Many wallets focus on specific platforms or specific uses and some are more suitable for beginners while others are filled with features for advanced users. Choosing a wallet is highly subjective and depends on the use and user expertise. It is therefore impossible to recommend a specific brand or wallet. Instead, lets discuss the many bitcoin wallet categories so that you can decide which platform and function makes the most sense for you. One other note, you may have more than one wallet depending on your needs.
Here is a list of Bitcoin wallets by platform:
- Desktop wallet: A desktop wallet was the first type of bitcoin wallet created as a reference implementation and many users run desktop wallets for the features, autonomy, and control they offer. Running on general-use operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS has certain security disadvantages however, as these platforms are often insecure and poorly configured.
- Mobile wallet: A mobile wallet is the most common type of bitcoin wallet. Running on smart-phone operating systems such as Apple iOS and Android, these wallets are often a great choice for new users. Many are designed for simplicity and ease-of-use, but there are also fully featured mobile wallets for power users.
- Web wallet: Web wallets are accessed through a web browser and store the user’s wallet on a server owned by a third party. This is similar to webmail in that it relies entirely on a third-party server. Some of these services operate using client-side code running in the user’s browser, which keeps control of the bitcoin keys in the hands of the user. Most, however, present a compromise by taking control of the bitcoin keys from users in exchange for ease-of-use. It is inadvisable to store large amounts of bitcoin on third-party systems.
- Hardware wallet: Hardware wallets are devices that operate a secure self-contained bitcoin wallet on special-purpose hardware. They are operated via USB with a desktop web browser or via near-field-communication (NFC) on a mobile device. By handling all bitcoin-related operations on the specialized hardware, these wallets are considered very secure and suitable for storing large amounts of bitcoin.
- Paper wallet: The keys controlling bitcoin can also be printed for long-term storage. These are known as paper wallets even though other materials (wood, metal, etc.) can be used. Paper wallets offer a low-tech but highly secure means of storing bitcoin long term. Offline storage is also often referred to as _cold storage_.
Bitcoin wallets can also be classified by how they interact with the bitcoin network:
- Full-node client: A full client, or “full node,” is a client that stores the entire history of bitcoin transactions (every transaction by every user, ever), manages users’ wallets, and can initiate transactions directly on the bitcoin network. A full node handles all aspects of the protocol and can independently validate the entire blockchain and any transaction. A full-node client consumes substantial computer resources (example: more than 125 GB of disk, 2 GB of RAM) but offers complete autonomy and independent transaction verification.
- Lightweight client: A lightweight client, also known as a simple-payment-verification (SPV) client, connects to bitcoin full nodes (mentioned previously) for access to the bitcoin transaction information, but stores the user wallet locally and independently creates, validates, and transmits transactions. Lightweight clients interact directly with the bitcoin network, without an intermediary.
- Third-party API client: A third-party API client is one that interacts with bitcoin through a third-party system of application programming interfaces (APIs), rather than by connecting to the bitcoin network directly. The wallet may be stored by the user or by third-party servers, but all transactions go through a third party.
Many bitcoin wallets fall into a few of the above categories. For example, you may have a desktop full client, mobile lightweight wallet, and web third-party wallet.
Now that we’ve educated you about bitcoin wallets, how do you go about getting a wallet?
Bitcoin.org provides a directory of bitcoin wallets. This is the best place to start. If you are going for mobile read the reviews in the app stores.