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Who Invented the Lightning Network?

Bitcoin Education

The question of who invented the Lightning Network is being asked more and more often lately. Those bitcoiners who are just getting comfortable with Bitcoin inevitably have the Lightning Network door opened for them. They may be directly onboarded onto Lightning with mobile wallets such as Muun or Wallet of Satoshi. Regardless, while Bitcoin’s inventor is widely known and, in some cases, deified, the Lightning Network’s isn’t.

The original Lightning Network white paper dated as January 16, 2016, is credited to Jospeh Poon and Thaddeus Dryja. The White Paper is very well written and lends ideas that have inspired Lightning spec development as it continues today. The chances are high you have not heard of either of these two gentlemen. So, who are they?

Thaddeus Dryja is a research scientist at the digital currency initiative lab at MIT. Joseph Poon is a researcher focused on the scalability of blockchains. Thaddeus Dryja also wrote the first code in the original repository that would later be used as a foundation for the popular Lightning Network implementation LND, built by Lightning Labs, as well as a foundation for the BOLT ruleset. This original repository can be found here.

If we go back even further, we will discover that the idea of off-chain scalability of Bitcoin was discussed as early as the time of Satoshi and Hal Finney. In fact, it would not be outlandish to say that Hal Finney was thinking of the future scalability issues and their possibly solutions as early as Nov 2008.

The early users of Bitcoin knew that the block size limit may prove to be a bottleneck someday, but they also knew that the small block size was very important to the wide distribution of the network nodes. Hardware would be more expensive, and network throughput more restricting if the Bitcoin block size was higher. Bitcoin must run on as many devices as possible to maintain its distribution property.

Somewhat surprisingly, if we go back even further to 2005, we can see cryptographers discussing the idea of using onion routing methods to send encrypted messages between nodes:

While not exactly the Lightning Network, it’s important to make note that cryptographers have been researching and playing with the technology that enables the lightning network for a very long time. The idea of moving value through onion messages would never have crossed anyone’s mind before the invention of Bitcoin. For the original Sphinx white paper: here. Do not mistake this for the Lightning Network messaging app known as Sphinx. The Sphinx discussed in this paragraph and in the abstracted paper above is not the Sphinx Lightning messaging app.

Thaddeus Dryja and Joseph Poon authored the original Lightning Network white paper, and Thaddeus Dryja even developed the original lightning network concept, available on github. After that, the Lightning Network protocol and spec was developed including the BOLT ruleset, and teams at Lightning Labs, Blockstream, and ACINQ began working on making the Lightning Network more robust as the premier payment layer on Bitcoin.

Today hundreds if not thousands of developers work on all aspects of the Lightning Network. Some developers focus on the core spec, and BOLTs. Some focus on user experience enhancements, wallets, apps, and even browsers with lightning capabilities built into them. 2021 was the year of Lightning node growth. 2022 looks like it is shaping up to be the year of the Lightning service. The foundations cemented by Thaddeus Dryja and Joseph Poon have sprouted into an amazing ecosystem on the fast track to world adoption and innovation.

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