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The Rise of Bitcoin Layer 2

Layer 2 solutions have been working to solve scalability issues for blockchains for years. Now, with innovation booming on Bitcoin, layer 2s are becoming a lynchpin.
Read Time 7 min
Bitcoin Layer 2: Depiction of  RSK, Liquid, Stacks, and Lightning on the BTC L2
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The arrival of memecoins on Bitcoin hasn’t just been a fun time and a volume surge. It’s also catalyzed some serious changes in the Bitcoin ecosystem — namely the proliferation of layer 2 solutions. 

In July 2023, Binance announced the exchange had completed its Lightning Network integration. This means Binance users can now use the layer-2 scaling solution for BTC withdrawals and deposits. This is big news because Binance, the largest exchange in the world, is actively integrating new Bitcoin technologies.

Let’s talk about what layer 2 solutions mean for the Bitcoin ecosystem in 2023.

What is Layer 2 on the Bitcoin Blockchain?

Layer 2 solutions (L2s) aim to improve scalability and reduce transaction costs. They allow users to create off-chain channels for transactions instead of processing everything on the main blockchain. L2s operate on top of the base blockchain layer or the layer 1.

The Bitcoin network itself is a layer 1 and solutions like Lightning Network, which uses state channels for transactions, are layer 2 solutions. Users can open payment channels outside the main blockchain. They can then conduct multiple transactions within these channels without directly adding each one to the blockchain.

These off-chain transactions allow many more payments to be conducted without bogging down the network. Gas fees are also reduced because multiple payments can be settled with a single transaction fee.

Crypto Layer 2 Scaling Solutions: Why are they Needed?

As adoption increases, blockchain technology has struggled with scalability. Because blockchains are decentralized, this makes speed and volume a trouble spot and, as a result, can hinder the development of applications and additional use cases on blockchain base layers.

L2s work to alleviate network congestion on main chains and lower gas fees by processing transactions off-chain. During peak transaction volume times, blockchains like Bitcoin can experience skyrocketing transaction fees as cryptocurrency and digital asset transactions are taking place. 

With the explosion of BRC-20 tokens and NFTs on Bitcoin, Binance even had to temporarily pause BTC withdrawals. This surge of activity on Bitcoin is what caused Binance to integrate the Lightning Network, applying a Bitcoin layer 2 protocol to accommodate for those transactions.

An Overview on the Differences of Layer 0, Layer 1, and Layer 2

Today, blockchain architecture consists of several layers. At each layer, different technologies serve different purposes. 

  • Layer 0 refers to the blockchain infrastructure. It consists of the components of the blockchain including hardware and internet. Blockchains don’t exist without a Layer 0.
  • Layer 1s are the implementation layer that define the blockchains protocol and how it operates. Consensus mechanisms like proof-of-work and proof-of-stake are part of Layer 1. Native tokens like BTC are also part of this layer.
  • Layer 2 solutions are built on top of the main blockchain (just like how network is built on top of Bitcoin) and introduce off-chain methods to handle transactions. Blockchain layer 2 is also referred to as the execution layer. Their goal is to increase scalability and throughput.

What are Some Examples of Bitcoin Layer-2s?

Of course, Lightning Network isn’t the only scaling solution for Bitcoin. There are many different layer solutions that use different methods of scaling Bitcoin, including sidechains, merge-mined chains, proof-of-stake chains, layer 2s, and other layer 1s that connect to Bitcoin.

In addition to Lightning, some other examples of layer 2 solutions include:

  • Stacks: A blockchain protocol that utilizes the Bitcoin blockchain as its settlement layer, enabling smart contracts and decentralized applications (dApps) to be built on top of Bitcoin while maintaining its security and stability. 
  • Liquid Network: A solution developed by Blockstream for Bitcoin. It allows for faster and more confidential transactions between participating exchanges and institutions by creating a separate blockchain with its own native asset (Liquid Bitcoin, L-BTC) pegged to Bitcoin, providing enhanced privacy and scalability features.
  • Rootstock: A smart contract platform that enables the execution of smart contracts using a Turing-complete virtual machine, enhancing Bitcoin's capabilities by supporting decentralized applications and enabling more complex programmable transactions on the Bitcoin network.

Additional L2 projects are also being developed for the Bitcoin base layer, with new emerging projects like the Ark protocol appearing more recently.

What Are Some Use Cases for Bitcoin Layers?

Until recently, most people believed that blockchain innovation would happen mostly on Ethereum and other layer 1s. However, the Bitcoin ecosystem has exploded. The technologies and use cases on the Bitcoin network are growing by the day, and much of it is thanks to layer 2 networks that are built on top of the Bitcoin blockchain, and hence secured by the Bitcoin blockchain.

While layers unlock many other use cases that could lead to the widespread adoption of Bitcoin, here are two examples of what layer-2 solutions have been used for:

Bitcoin DeFi

One big example of what how Bitcoin layer 2 solutions can add to the blockchain network is enabling DeFi capabilities. Unlike Ethereum, Bitcoin doesn’t use smart contracts natively. But L2s like Lightning Network and smart contract platforms like Stacks are opening the world of Bitcoin DeFi.

These new DeFi platforms enable a whole host of functionalities like asset management, atomic swaps, borrowing and lending, and trading on Bitcoin.

Solving the Blockchain Trilemma

One of the recurring difficulties for blockchain is called the blockchain trilemma. The trilemma is that layer 1s cannot achieve decentralization, security, and scalability. One or two of these always come at the cost of the third.

The Bitcoin network is both highly decentralized and very secure — but it’s not scalable. This is where layer 2 solutions have become game changers.

Is 2023 the Year of Bitcoin?

Just in 2023, many new protocols and projects have injected excitement into the ecosystem, and each one is making Bitcoin layer 2s more vital by the day.

  • Bitcoin Ordinals let users inscribe data directly on the blockchain, creating NFTs and digital collectibles.
  • Bitcoin Stamps use the Bitcoin L1 to mint digital collections, while the BRC-20 token standard allows semi-fungible tokens on Bitcoin.
  • The BRC-20 token standard allows users to inscribe JSON code in an Ordinal,creating programmable assets on Bitcoin.
  • The BRC-721E token standard bridges NFTs from Ethereum to Bitcoin.
  • The RGB protocol leverages the Lightning Network for private smart contracts and tokenization.
  • SRC-20 tokens, or Bitcoin Stamps, are digital collectibles stored as unspent transaction outputs on the Bitcoin blockchain, making them more secure and immutable.

The explosion of NFT trading with Ordinals and BRC-20 tokens pushed Binance and other crypto exchanges to integrate L2s like Lightning Network.

All this building on Bitcoin has sparked great enthusiasm, excitement, and even controversy in the ecosystem. But whether a person loves or hates the emergence of memecoins and experimental projects on Bitcoin — it’s undeniable that Layer 2s are becoming a key part of the ecosystem growth.

What is the Future of Bitcoin Layer 2s?

Going forward, Bitcoin layer 2s promise immense potential as the ecosystem continues to evolve and innovate. 2023 has been an unprecedented year for the Bitcoin ecosystem. And as quickly as it’s all happening, the complete ramifications remain to be seen.

In just a few months, possibilities for building on Bitcoin have blown the doors off possibilities in the crypto and blockchain world. But while the experimentation will continue, the philosophical disagreements will likely continue as well. 

With every new use case that emerges, Bitcoin continues to cement itself as the father of all blockchains. Soon, whole platforms, subcommunities, and ecosystems will exist completely on Bitcoin.

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