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What Are Bitcoin Mining Pools?

By Brian Nibley · November 10, 2022 · 7 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What Are Bitcoin Mining Pools?

Bitcoin mining pools provide a way for multiple parties to “pool” their efforts when mining Bitcoin. Over time, mining Bitcoin has become increasingly difficult and resource-intensive. As such, pooling resources can make it easier and cheaper to become a Bitcoin miner.

In a Bitcoin mining pool, many network participants combine their computing power into one collective effort. The block rewards are then split among the pool members in proportion to the amount of computing power they contributed.

How Does a Mining Pool Work?

The mining process for a proof-of-work cryptocurrency like Bitcoin involves numerous miners attempting to find and solve a block on a blockchain network. The first miner to find a block receives the rewards for that block in the form of newly minted Bitcoin. Currently, the block reward is 6.25 BTC. It also takes around 10 minutes to mine one Bitcoin as a part of a pool.

💡 Recommended: Proof-of-Work: How It Works

As more and more miners join the network, however, mining difficulty rises. This is thanks to one of the ingenious aspects of the Bitcoin protocol, known as the difficulty adjustment.

Approximately every two weeks, mining difficulty will rise or fall according to how much hashing power is currently on the network. If the hash rate is higher, difficulty will rise, and the lower the hash rate, difficulty will fall.

In general, a high hash rate is good because it helps keep a crypto network secure. But with today’s hash rate hovering near record highs (and tending to rise higher over time), finding a block as an individual miner has become difficult for all but the largest of miners with the most powerful equipment.

That’s where Bitcoin mining pools come in.

A crypto mining pool gathers together connections from miners, potentially around the world, that could be all over the world and pools their hash rate together. This way, they are all mining at a higher level, giving them better odds of solving a block.

After a block has been solved, the rewards are split up among mining pool participants according to how much computing power each contributed.

This calculation is made using a set “Share Difficulty” for each miner and a “Share Time” for the pool. Basically, pools establish a time when hashes will be submitted by all participants, while also assigning a difficulty to each individual miner (more powerful miners have a higher difficulty).

All miners will automatically send a “share” of their hashes at set intervals, e.g., every five seconds, with miners who contribute more receiving a larger number of shares each time according to their higher difficulty rate. Pool participants are then paid out with block rewards proportional to their shares.

Is a Bitcoin Mining Pool Worth it?

For the average person looking into mining Bitcoin, a miner pool may be the only feasible option if you hope to earn a return. But when it comes to asking “is a Bitcoin mining pool worth it,” it all depends on how the term “worth it” is defined.

For those who believe in Bitcoin technology and simply want to help the network thrive by processing more transactions, mining might be worth engaging in, even if it’s not profitable.

For those who are looking to make a profit, however, the answer is more complicated.

Mining is a complex and difficult process for all but the most technical of crypto users. While there are services that help make the process easier for the average person to get into, there are still many nuanced factors that contribute to whether or not mining will be a profitable endeavor.

Those factors can include, but are not limited to:

•   Cost of equipment

•   Cost of electricity

•   The amount of time it will take to recoup equipment costs

•   How difficulty adjustments might impact profitability

•   How BTC price fluctuations might impact profitability

•   When it will become necessary to upgrade to new computers or machines

These considerations have to be calculated and recalculated if a miner wants to stay profitable. There are a lot of unknowns, particularly concerning the fluctuation of Bitcoin prices and difficulty adjustment, which are constantly changing.

When Bitcoin was first created, the calculations involved in mining were so simple they could be accomplished by the average laptop computer.

But over time, the calculations became more complex, eventually requiring high-powered graphics-processing units (GPUs). Today, the majority of mining is mostly done with advanced Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) machines. These are computers created for the express purpose of mining Bitcoin.

The hardware required is constantly evolving. Every so often, existing machines become obsolete due to difficulty adjustments. An ASIC that was powerful enough to be profitable six months ago might not be able to produce enough coins to match the cost of electricity needed to run that same ASIC today. When this happens, miners must acquire new, more advanced hardware.

Finally, it should be noted that mining is perhaps the most difficult way to acquire Bitcoin or any other mineable cryptocurrency. The easiest way is to simply buy cryptocurrency on a crypto exchange.

💡 Recommended: How Does a Crypto Exchange Work?

Functions of a Bitcoin Mining Pool

The primary function of a Bitcoin mining pool, or any cryptocurrency mining pool, really, is to make mining more accessible to prospective miners no matter what resources they have at their disposal.

Secondarily, mining pools can serve as a sort of introduction to mining for beginners who don’t have the know-how to try and get started on their own. In effect, pools may help you learn the ropes of mining without making too much of an investment in equipment and resources.

What Is the Best Bitcoin Mining Pool?

There are dozens of Bitcoin mining pools out there, and for the most part, there’s not a whole lot of difference between them. Besides the small fee they may charge participants, pools only differ based on whether or not they are open to the public and what proportion of the network’s total blocks they mine on average.

Some of the world’s largest Bitcoin mining pools are located in China and include names like F2Pool and Antpool. Together, those two pools mine 36.5% of all Bitcoin, as of 2022. The biggest pool is Foundry USA, which mines almost 25%.

How to Join a Bitcoin Mining Pool

Bitcoin pools allow users to get started mining with any amount of mining power. The process of joining a Bitcoin mining pool involves programming mining software to direct its efforts to a particular pool, which can be done in a few simple steps:

1.    Choose which pool you want to join.

2.    Add the stratum addresses of the selected mining pool to your mining software client.

3.    Connect the wallet you wish to deposit mined coins into.

4.    Configure your mining client for your chosen mining pool.

Finally, the information needed to complete this process will be provided by the pool itself.

What to Consider When Choosing a Cryptocurrency Mining Pool

Joining a Bitcoin mining pool will have its pros and cons, so there are some considerations to make before diving in.

First, there are some clear positives to joining a mining pool. The most obvious, as discussed, is that they are beginner-friendly ways to get into mining, and you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to get started. And since you’re pooling your resources, there’s probably a better chance that you’ll end up seeing rewards in some shape or form, which may be much more difficult to do if you’re flying solo.

On the other hand, a key consideration is that you likely won’t make much, if any, money. Any coins you do mine will get divided up, and you could be disappointed with what you take home. There may also be fees to join a pool, so you’ll want to do some research on any pool you’re thinking of joining.

Finally, don’t forget that mining isn’t free. You’re using resources, like electricity, to contribute your computational power to the pool. Even if you don’t take home any coins, you may still be burning money.

Mining Pools Beyond Bitcoin

There are numerous types of mining pools out there, not just for Bitcoin. For example, there are pools for mining Ethereum; but note that Ethereum has recently moved to a proof-of-stake model, so you can no longer mine it.

If you’re interested in joining a mining pool, an internet search will yield some results. But know that many cryptos are moving away from mining-based protocols due to their resource demands. So, it may be more difficult to find a pool today than it was a couple of years ago.

The Takeaway

A cryptocurrency mining pool provides a way for multiple smaller miners, or even beginners, to pool their resources and combine their hashing power. Mining at this higher collective hash rate benefits everyone in the miner pool as it increases the odds of earning rewards, and allows miners to leverage whatever level of computing power they have at their disposal.

Those interested in learning about the mining process first-hand could consider experimenting with smaller mining machines and joining a mining pool. But for the average person looking to acquire Bitcoin, buying cryptocurrency from an exchange might be a lot simpler.

SoFi Invest® lets you trade popular cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, Cardano, and Litecoin, starting with as little as $10.

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FAQ

Can I mine Bitcoin without joining a pool?

You can mine Bitcoin without joining a pool, but most individual miners likely lack the equipment and computing power to effectively turn a profit through mining. As such, many people may benefit from joining a pool to increase their chances of actually realizing a return.

Can anyone join a mining pool?

Yes, anyone can join a mining pool, as they’re designed to be open to miners with all sorts of “rigs,” or no matter where they’re physically located in the world.

How do mining pools share rewards?

In simple terms, a pool that is rewarded for its mining activity divides up the reward (or coin) into shares, and doles it out based on how much work each member contributed to the pool. The more work your computer puts into the mining pool, the bigger your share, in other words.


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