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I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 9:47 am

I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum (https://electrum.org). I
am a computer scientist with a PhD in machine learning and neural
networks. I heard about Bitcoin for the first time in December 2010,
after it was mentioned on Slashdot.

Long before Bitcoin, I got involved in one of the first Distributed
Hash Table projects, called Circle https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Circl ... _system%29.
One of my goals with Circle was to create a peer-to-peer digital currency,
and I spent some time trying to find a solution to the problem of
distributed consensus. This is why I became particularly excited when,
I read Satoshi's paper, 10 years later.

I decided to write Electrum in September 2011, after the mybitcoin.com
fiasco severely damaged the Bitcoin economy. I thought that the only
way to prevent such a disaster from happening again was to provide a
secure and easy to use wallet, that filled the gap between Bitcoin
Core and web wallets. I work now full time on Electrum.

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 10:35 am

Welcome Thomas,

thanks for all the good work so far.

1. What are your future plans for Electrum?

2. Compared to (for example) Copay, Electrum feels a little bit (too) geeky. Do you plan to add a "average joe" mode some day :) ?

3. What part of the bitcoin development is the most exciting one ?

4. Please share you opinion about Hardware Wallets.



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ThomasV
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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 11:05 am

1. What are your future plans for Electrum?
Thank you for that question :-).

Here are my short term plans:
- release the new Kivy GUI (for Android) and deploy it on Google Play. (I am working on that now.)
- add a plugin that will let users register names and bitcoin addresses in the DNS (using the Netki protocol, or OpenAlias)
- integrate with third-party services, such as money exchangers.
And of course, long term plans:
- add proof of completeness to the Electrum protocol. (as described here http://people.csail.mit.edu/nickolai/pa ... versum.pdf).
- make Electrum users more anonymous (eg connect to Electrum servers using Tor and one connection per Bitcoin address)
2. Compared to (for example) Copay, Electrum feels a little bit (too) geeky. Do you plan to add a "average joe" mode some day :) ?
Well, developing user interfaces is difficult.
The Electrum GUI that most users are familiar with is the Qt GUI.
As mentioned above, we are now developing another GUI, the Kivy GUI, for mobile devices.
I hope that it will be much less geeky; the constraints of mobile devices force us to make it simple.

3. What part of the bitcoin development is the most exciting one ?
As we all know, Bitcoin currently does not scale well.
I am looking forward to new developments in the direction of scalability, e.g. Lightning Network.
If the Lightning Network turns out to work, integrating it with Electrum will be an exciting challenge.
4. Please share you opinion about Hardware Wallets.
I believe Hardware wallets are great; Electrum supports all major hardware wallets (Trezor, Ledger, Keepkey)

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 1:03 pm

Hallo Thomas,

thank you for doing this AMA and for providing and maintaining the great wallet Electrum.

I have a few questions.

Did electrum invent HD Wallets? It was the first HD Wallet I know.

Can you comment on some of the security / privacy problems with HD wallets?

I have the feeling the newer versions of electrum are a bit slower than the older. But maybe it relates to the daily micro-transactions from cloud-mining. What do you think?

Electrum has a infrastructure for plugins, but I heard it is very complicated. Are there plans to make it easier for developers? And what plugin do you think is the best?

Do you have plans to integrate some privacy-enhancing features like coinshuffle?

Ist the number of electrum-servers also decreasing like bitcoin-clients? Are there some incentives for people to run an electrum server?

Thank you!

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 1:11 pm

Hi Thomas, thanks for coming and doing the AMA!

Can you can tell us your thoughts around the block size debate? This has been one of the biggest topics in bitcoin for quite some time now.

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 1:32 pm

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for Electrum and for doing the AMA.

I have a project which uses Electrum to receive bitcoins by importing private keys. It's currently a bit awkward to get it set up because you have to open the gui, close the gui, paste into a wallet file and so on. You can see the gruesome details here.

So my question is: Do you have any plans to further develop the command line interface?

It would be ideal for me to have a text-only way to configure everything and get it running (e.g. inside docker).

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 1:56 pm

Why are there not Electrum apps on Google Play for Android and on the App Store for iOS?

Is this because you are concerned that those binaries could be altered without your knowledge? Or is it more of a time/cost to develop problem?

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 2:56 pm

hi!
what is your opinion regarding the blocksize issue(BIP101/BIP100)? Will you maybe make a electrum app for iOS in the future(for both Bitcoin and Litecoin)?

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 3:11 pm

Did electrum invent HD Wallets? It was the first HD Wallet I know.
I guess what you mean is deterministic wallets. HD simply means "hierarchical deterministic", but few wallets use the hierarchical aspect of it.

No, Electrum did not invent deterministic wallets. Electrum was not even the first deterministic wallet. (BitcoinSpinner existed before Electrum)

I believe Gregory Maxwell is the one who invented deterministic wallets, or at least the idea of having a separation between public and private derivations (he called this 'type 2' deterministic wallets).

Electrum was the first wallet to use the concepts developed by Greg Maxwell. This idea has been used in HD wallets and BIP32. Electrum was also the first wallet to come with a seed phrase (sequence of English words) that allows you to restore your wallet (later used in BIP39).
Can you comment on some of the security / privacy problems with HD wallets?
These issues are well known.

In terms of security, you must not leak any of your private keys; leaking a single of them, plus your master public key, will compromise your entire wallet. (even the private keys that you will derive in the future). In terms of privacy, the privacy of your wallet is the privacy of your master public key.

My opinion is that these problems are real, but not as big as the problem of users repeatedly losing their bitcoins because they are not able to do proper backups, which is the situation you have without deterministic wallets.
I have the feeling the newer versions of electrum are a bit slower than the older. But maybe it relates to the daily micro-transactions from cloud-mining. What do you think?
Newer version are actually faster. However, if your wallet is old, it may contain a lot of addresses, which slows down the synchronization. If that is the case, I suggest to create a new wallet every year or so.
Electrum has a infrastructure for plugins, but I heard it is very complicated. Are there plans to make it easier for developers? And what plugin do you think is the best?
The most popular Electrum plugin is probably the LabelSync plugin. Plugins used to be simpler in the past. I am planning to modify the plugin architecture, in order to handle various GUIs. I hope that this will also make them easier to write.
Do you have plans to integrate some privacy-enhancing features like coinshuffle?
Not for the moment. My understanding is that this might be considered as money laundering in some regulations, and that promoting this could jeopardize the entire project. I might change my position if there is some clarification of the legal situation.
Ist the number of electrum-servers also decreasing like bitcoin-clients? Are there some incentives for people to run an electrum server?
The number of Electrum servers has been increasing recently, because the code has become more efficient and easier to run.
We now have about 40 Electrum servers simultaneously active at any moment. I will have a party when/if we reach 1% of the Bitcoin network. (that should be 65 servers)

The people who run Electrum servers get donations, and some visibility. These are the main incentives at the moment. Maybe in the future we will also see some commercial Electrum servers, for businesses with heavy needs (currently Electrum servers have anti DOS measures in their default setup, that prevent users from querying Electrum servers for large scale operations)

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 3:26 pm

I want to get your opinion on this:

Why can smartphone be a hardware wallet? I know the security risk involving network connections such as wifi and cellular data. But what if we disable both, and only allow the phone communicating with a client phone via other methods; such as: audio, QR codes, bluetooth. If it's possible, it could be huge since smartphones nowadays are cheap and easy to get one anywhere in the world.

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 3:29 pm

Can you can tell us your thoughts around the block size debate? This has been one of the biggest topics in bitcoin for quite some time now.
This is a very complicated issue, and I do not have a clear opinion on that. I understand the arguments of both sides, and they are both reasonable. However, I find it unfortunate that this debate has turned into a personal dispute for some people.

I like Jeff Garzik's proposal (BIP100), because it is moderate. I also believe that new solutions might be found, so we should make irreversible changes too quickly. For example, the Lightning Network idea did not exist one year ago. I find it brilliant, although lots of uncertainties/problems remain. Maybe some new ideas will emerge, that fix the current problems with it.

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 3:33 pm

I have a project which uses Electrum to receive bitcoins by importing private keys. It's currently a bit awkward to get it set up because you have to open the gui, close the gui, paste into a wallet file and so on. You can see the gruesome details here.

So my question is: Do you have any plans to further develop the command line interface?

It would be ideal for me to have a text-only way to configure everything and get it running (e.g. inside docker).
With the latest version, you can restore a wallet from the command line by passing a list of private keys, using the 'restore' command.
you can also inport keys with the 'importprivkey' command.

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 3:39 pm

Why are there not Electrum apps on Google Play for Android and on the App Store for iOS?
Is this because you are concerned that those binaries could be altered without your knowledge? Or is it more of a time/cost to develop problem?
The current version of Electrum for Android uses a set of bindings provided by Google, that is not maintained anymore by Google, and is not user friendly. In addition, it is difficult to create an apk from it, so I never published it on Google Play.

We are developing a new version for Android and iOS, that uses Kivy (see kivy.org).
The Kivy version will soon be available on Google Play.

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 3:46 pm

hi!
what is your opinion regarding the blocksize issue(BIP101/BIP100)?
answered above.
Will you maybe make a electrum app for iOS in the future(for both Bitcoin and Litecoin)?
For iOS: yes, definitely (see above).

For Litecoin: No. I did not create Electrum for Litecoin, nor for any other altcoin. My opinion is that most altcoins are scams, and I do not want to be associated with them. Of course there are exceptions; some altcoins are real innovations (eg Ethereum). But that is definitely not the case of Litecoin.

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 3:53 pm

HI Thomas :) Thanks for coming on to do this AMA.

Some time ago, Coinapult released their own Electrum client, with a plugin for their Locks service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZZWSZwONaM

Has Electrum considered adding the Locks plugin to the official Electrum client?

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 4:00 pm

HI Thomas :) Thanks for coming on to do this AMA.

Some time ago, Coinapult released their own Electrum client, with a plugin for their Locks service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZZWSZwONaM

Has Electrum considered adding the Locks plugin to the official Electrum client?
I have been contacted by Coinapult.
Negociation is still ongoing, and I cannot disclose more.

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Tue Nov 17, 2015 4:35 pm

I want to get your opinion on this:

Why can smartphone be a hardware wallet? I know the security risk involving network connections such as wifi and cellular data. But what if we disable both, and only allow the phone communicating with a client phone via other methods; such as: audio, QR codes, bluetooth. If it's possible, it could be huge since smartphones nowadays are cheap and easy to get one anywhere in the world.

if you install the current Electrum for Android, you will see that there it an 'authenticator.py' script, that does pretty much what you describe.
it reads an unsigned (or partially signed) transaction presented as QR code, sign it, and displays it as another QR code.

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Wed Nov 18, 2015 6:34 pm

Hello Thomas,

So nice of you to participate in the AMA. I have some technical questions related to backend.

1. How does Electrum wallet learn the server list? I know servers are peer to peer advertised via IRC, but how exactly does the process work? How does a server make itself known and make its way into the server list of a wallet? Is there something like a hardcoded list which is never updated?

2. Your GUI is amazing. How long can I keep a single Electrum wallet (a single seed)? Is there a limit on the maximum number of transactions I can have historically? Can I use the same electrum wallet for my entire life?

3. The servers have limits. Does refer to spent tx per address, right? The utxo set of an address will never be pruned, even it exceeds the server's limit (e.g. 10.005 utxos for a single address).

4. Does Electrum ever removes an address? Like the fist address generated by electrum, will it be removed after much time goes by and I generate 10.000 new addresses after it?

5. Do you plan to add support for multisig? not the multisig already supported which is electrum-to-electrum, multisig with other non-electrum wallets (simple pubkeys which cannot be computed deterministically).

Thanks in advance.

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Wed Nov 18, 2015 6:55 pm

I want to get your opinion on this:

Why can smartphone be a hardware wallet? I know the security risk involving network connections such as wifi and cellular data. But what if we disable both, and only allow the phone communicating with a client phone via other methods; such as: audio, QR codes, bluetooth. If it's possible, it could be huge since smartphones nowadays are cheap and easy to get one anywhere in the world.
If you disable both is it still a smartphone? And if you turn those back on ever, you have opened a window for all of your previously private data to be copied from the device.
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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Thu Nov 19, 2015 2:06 pm

1. How does Electrum wallet learn the server list? I know servers are peer to peer advertised via IRC, but how exactly does the process work? How does a server make itself known and make its way into the server list of a wallet? Is there something like a hardcoded list which is never updated?
Some servers are hardcoded.
Servers learn about eachother on IRC, and they maintain a list of active peers.
When a client connects to a server, it gets the list of other servers from that first connection.
2. Your GUI is amazing. How long can I keep a single Electrum wallet (a single seed)? Is there a limit on the maximum number of transactions I can have historically? Can I use the same electrum wallet for my entire life?
Each new transaction creates a new address. There is no limit in the client, but most servers put a limit on the number of addresses that a client can request, in order to prevent DOS attacks (the default limit is 10000 addresses). Another practical limit is that your client will become slow if it has too many addresses. If you do a lot of transactions, it might be a good idea to archive your wallet and create a new one, every couple of years.

3. The servers have limits. Does refer to spent tx per address, right? The utxo set of an address will never be pruned, even it exceeds the server's limit (e.g. 10.005 utxos for a single address).
that's correct. we prune spent inputs. UTXOs cannot be pruned, obviously.
4. Does Electrum ever removes an address? Like the fist address generated by electrum, will it be removed after much time goes by and I generate 10.000 new addresses after it?
Not for the moment. This might be the case in a future version, but only if we can make sure that the user has never been exposed to addresses.
So, again, archiving your wallet after some time might be a good idea (also for privacy).
5. Do you plan to add support for multisig? not the multisig already supported which is electrum-to-electrum, multisig with other non-electrum wallets (simple pubkeys which cannot be computed deterministically).
yes, see here: https://github.com/spesmilo/electrum/issues/1519

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Sun Nov 29, 2015 3:14 pm

I am new to Electrum Wallet, but I have it downloaded on a Linux laptop. Today I tried to download it onto a Mac using a different VPN IP address, proxy and Tor browser, but it still knew instantly who I was and appeared just as it does on my laptop, open and without the need for a password or anything, which freaked me a bit.
Can you tell me how it could do that?

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Sun Nov 29, 2015 3:58 pm

Why can't I import a private key into an existing Electrum wallet?
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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Thu Dec 10, 2015 12:53 am

it is very nice to meet you. ive been using electrum, i love how the wallet is programmed not online so it can be used forever. I lost my seed though, and got a new phone , i still have my password. i deposited 300$ in bitcoins from libertyx and im trying to send them out again and cannot because the auth. please is there anything you can do?

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Thu Dec 10, 2015 2:04 am

Why can't I import a private key into an existing Electrum wallet?
You can, go to Wallet > Private Keys > Sweep

If you are importing from a paper wallet here is a guide: http://www.thecleverest.com/importing-b ... -electrum/

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Thu Dec 10, 2015 9:54 am

I am new to Electrum Wallet, but I have it downloaded on a Linux laptop. Today I tried to download it onto a Mac using a different VPN IP address, proxy and Tor browser, but it still knew instantly who I was and appeared just as it does on my laptop, open and without the need for a password or anything, which freaked me a bit.
Can you tell me how it could do that?
Did you check that it was the same addresses or same balances? I can't imagine how that would be possible you need to either import a private key, or use a wallet file generated by electrum. By default, for me, it opens with the wallet and requires authentication for sending transactions.
We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.
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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Thu Dec 10, 2015 9:56 am

Hi Thomas,

Simple question. Is there a way for me to force electrum [linux] to require password on startup rather than just for signing transactions. I suppose they are simply public addresses but it seems like an anonymity issue, allowing anyone on the machine to see addresses.

Thanks for such a great piece of software
We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.
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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Fri Dec 11, 2015 1:34 am

Hi, I love Electrum.

I'd like to request a feature which does the following:

1. Completely destroys my private keys, by overwriting them 7 times or whatever.
2. Deletes those keys from any other places they may be hiding (computer's RAM, temp files, or whatever).
3. Prompts me to re-enable my internet access (my electrum computer usually is not internet-connected).
4. Updates Electrum to the latest version.
5. Prompts me to (disable my internet access, and then to) re-enter the passphrase which defines my private key(s).

I don't think this would be particularly hard or controversial, but obviously there'd need to be a lot of testing.

Thanks for all of the hard work you've put in so far,
Paul

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:22 am

Hi Thomas,

Simple question. Is there a way for me to force electrum [linux] to require password on startup rather than just for signing transactions. I suppose they are simply public addresses but it seems like an anonymity issue, allowing anyone on the machine to see addresses.

Thanks for such a great piece of software
Not with the current latest version of electrum. If you really wanted to prevent someone with access to your wallet file to be able to open your wallet then you could GPG encrypt your wallet file, then decrypt it prior to opening electrum, then reencrypt it once you close electrum (and be sure to dispose of the previous decrypted file).

IMO the bigger "risk" to privacy is the fact that whichever electrum server you connect to will know all of the addresses contained in your wallet up to the addresses at your gap limit (this will reveal much of the same information that your xpubkey will contain, although it will not leak your future addresses and is not a security risk). I don't think this is much of a risk for anyone except the most privacy minded person and the most paranoid person.
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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:23 am

@Thomas, Thanks for all you do in the space!! Electrum was the first light weight wallet I used and referred to our "ilk".

Questions:

In the future, people won't realize they are even using bitcoin. I hear this all the time. What do you think is at hand for the future of wallets? We'll they be predominately hot wallets tethered to a centralized account i.e. facebook etc.?

I am seeing rapid changes in commerce as we speak... Do you have any predictions for percentages of adoption?

Do you want to create another wallet? Start a new project that could be drastically different? And if so in what way?

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Re: I am Thomas Voegtlin, creator of Electrum. Ask me Anything!

Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:37 am

Hi Thomas,

First I would like to thank you for maintaining such a great piece of software. Second I would like to thank you for doing this AMA.

You mentioned in the OP that you work full time on electrum, however I have been luck enough to be able to use the latest version of electrum for free. How do you/electrum make money?

On a related subject as above, are there any plans on implementing a forced fee structure that MultiBit uses, eg. forcing electrum users to pay a small fee for every transaction they use with electrum?

I am currently spending (a small amount of) my own money to run a full Bitcoin node to support the network, and was able to setup a full node because of the somewhat easy to follow step by step instructions to setup a full Bitcoin node. My technical abilities seem to not be strong enough to be able to figure out how to get an electrum server up and running. Are there any plans to have more "dumbed down" instructions to setup an electrum server? or do you prefer to only have those with more technical abilities running electrum servers?

What is your stance on BitcoinXIT? Would you consider creating an XT version of electrum to show your support of BIP101 (or another BIP)?
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