This is the archived Spring 2015 version of the course. For the most recent version, see

Project 1 - Bitcoin Transactions

Due: Friday, 30 January at 11:59pm


The goal of this assignment is for everyone in the class to understand how keys, addresses, and transactions work in bitcoin. In addition, this assignment should help everyone get up-to-speed with the software tools (including the Go programming language) we will use in later assignments.

Collaboration Policy

For this assignment, everyone should submit their own assignment and should writeup their own answers to the questions as well as execute all the required transactions with your own keys.

You may, and are encouraged to, discuss all of the problems with anyone else you want (both on-line using the course web site or any other means you choose, and in person), and it is okay to share code with others so long as you understand everything in all of the code you use.

Types of Questions

There are four types of questions on this assignment (and other projects in this class):

Exercises are things you should do and learn from, but there is nothing that you are expected to turn in for these. You will often need things you should learn from the exercises or their actual results for later questions.

Discussion Questions are questions that we hope you will think about and contribute to class discussions about in the web site comments. It is not compulsory to contribute to all discussions, and better to make meaningful contributions when you have something useful to add to a conversation than to make "pseudo-contributions" because you feel you are required to. You should definitely read other students' contributions before making your own, and avoid duplication. You should be worried, though, if you are not contributing usefully to a significant fraction of the discussion questions.

Problems are questions that you will be expected to submit something for in the assignment submission. Sometimes these will involve writing programs (although it will often not be necessary to submit the program itself, only the answer you obtain by using the program).

Challenges are suggestions for things you might do to particularly impress me and your classmates (and perhaps, the rest of the world!) It is not expected that most students complete challenges (and some may be hard enough that it is not expected that anyone completes them), and you should avoid spending lots of time on these until you have finished the rest of the assignment (and any other important responsibilities you have outside of this class). (Unlike the rest of the assignment, the deadline does not apply to challenges.)

In general, you should assume the purpose of everything is for you to learn and do interesting things, not to produce something gradable. If you have ideas for doing something more interesting than what is requested, by all means pursue them!

Getting Going

You are free to use any programming language and open source bitcoin libraries and openly-licensed code you want for this assignment, but must follow the license requirements of any code you use and credit this code in your submission.

The directions we provide use the BTC Suite library for bitcoin, implemented in the Go.

Hardly any of you have experience using Go already, but it is not a difficult language to learn coming from experience with Java (which all of you have), and although its not my favorite programming language it is a language that nearly everyone who learns enjoys programming in. The main reason we are using it for this, though, is because the BTC library is the best bitcoin library we are aware of, and it is written in Go.

If you are comfortable learning a new programming language by diving right into moderately complex programs and figuring out things as you go, you should be able to jump right into this assignment. If you prefer a more structured introduction to Go, there are many tutorials available, including the Tour of Go. The Go by Example site is very helpful. For more documentation, visit

Obtain the Starting Code

Before continuing with this assignment, you should set up git and your github account and follow the directions there to set up your private repository containing the starting code for project 1. (It may seem like overkill to use git for this assignment since you will not need to write much code or work with teammates on this one. But, it is good to get experience using git and will become necessary to work effectively with teammates for later projects.)

Once you have finished setting up your project1 repository, it should contain the files:

Elliptic Curve Cryptography

The btcsuite library includes, btcec, an implementation of the ECDSC algorithm using the secp256k1 elliptic curve used by bitcoin.

Examine the btcec.go code.

Exercise 1. Find the y2 = x3 + 7 curve in this code.

Elliptic curves for cryptography needs really big numbers. The modulus for the secp256k1 curve is found on line 672:


This should be the value 2256 - 232 - 29 - 28 - 27 - 26 - 24 - 1.

Note: this has been corrected, see comments below. Thanks to Ankit Gupta for noticing the mistake.

Exercise 2. Verify that the modulus used as secp256k1.P in btcec.go is correct. You can do this either using math/big, Go's bit integer library to do computations on such large numbers, or by computing it by hand.

Challenge. Make an improvement to the library code that is accepted by the btcec developers as a pull request.

Generating a Key Pair

We have provided code in keypair.go that generates a bitcoin key pair. You can try running this by running go run keypair.go (or you can compile it with go build keypair.go and then run the resulting executable keypair). It will print out the generated private key and corresponding public bitcoin address. (Try running it a few times to see that it produces a different key pair each time.)

Keys for ECDSC are generated by choosing a random private key, k, and finding the corresponding public key by "multiplying" it by G, the generator point. (Multiplication here is not standard multiplication, but multiplication on the elliptic curve, as discussed in Class 3.) The point G is defined by lines 675-6: secp256k1.Gx, _ = new(big.Int).SetString("79BE667EF9DCBBAC55A06295CE870B07029BFCDB2DCE28D959F2815B16F81798", 16) secp256k1.Gy, _ = new(big.Int).SetString("483ADA7726A3C4655DA4FBFC0E1108A8FD17B448A68554199C47D08FFB10D4B8", 16)

The resulting point is the public key. It is easy to derive the public key from the private key, but believed to be hard to learn anything useful about the private key from the public key. (The belief that it is hard to reverse the elliptic curve multiplication is based on the assumption that it is hard to compute discrete logarithms, which is not proven, but underlies much of modern cryptography.)

The code for generating a new keypair is in keypair.go:

func generateKeyPair() (*btcec.PublicKey, *btcec.PrivateKey) {
   priv, err := btcec.NewPrivateKey(btcec.S256())
   if err != nil {
       // There was an error. Log it and bail out
   return priv.PubKey(), priv

The important work is the NewPrivateKey function.

Discussion Question. What are all the things you need to trust if you are going to send money to the key generated by running keypair.go? You should assume that you are an ultra-paranoid multi-billionaire who intends to transfer her entire fortune to the generated address. (For this question, you should think about this yourself first, or in discussions with other students, and then post your answer to the discussion page.)

Generating a Vanity Key

Anyone can have a bitcoin address like 1H7tu2qUAyyr5aX1WA17eyvbetAGyqxfKZ or 1L3iGYBD5wbiki2SYUT5wmupy4TTgmEBg3, but suppose you want a bitcoin address that includes the name of your cat or your birthday.

Problem 1. Define a function, func generateVanityAddress(pattern string) (*btcec.PublicKey, *btcec.PrivateKey) where pattern is a regular expression. It should return a valid key pair where the corresponding public address matches the pattern.

You should be able to use your function to generate an address that includes the digits of pi in sequence: generateVanityAddress("3.*1.*4.*1.*5.*9.*") or contains DAVE without any adjacent letters (generateVanityAddress("[0-9]DAVE[0-9]")) in its public bitcoin address. In deciding how vain you want to be for the next exercise, think about how the running time scales with the number of strings that match the target pattern.

Exercise 3. Use your generateVanityAddress function to create your own vanity address containing your first or last name (or if that is too long it could just be your initials). If you are extra vain, create a address where your name appears at the beginning (after the initial 1). (Note that uppercase 'O' and 'I' and lowercase 'l' are not used in any address, so if your name includes these letters you will have to be creative.)

Discussion Question. Is your vanity address more or less secure than the first address you generated? What about a service like Would some who uses such a service to generate their bitcoin address be too vain for their own good? Think about this yourself first, or in discussions with other students, and then initiate or join the discussion page.

Bitcoin Transactions

Having an address is not much fun without any funds!

You should have received some money to the address you submitted in PS0. For these questions, you will need to have actual money to transfer, so be careful to make small transfers for these questions in case something goes wrong. (In the event that you do lose all of your bitcoin, you can get a new transfer to an adress of your choosing by explaining to me what you have learned about software development and or best practices. It is not necessary to buy your own bitcoin, even if you lose all of the original transfer.)

Exercise 4. Make a small (e.g., 0.001 BTC) transfer from your wallet address to your vanity address. You can do this using MultiBit. Find the transaction in the blockchain (you can do this by searching for your vanity address at or You will need the transaction ID for the next exercise.

Hint: If you can't find your transaction look at this one. Notice that the sum of the transaction inputs (the left side of the arrow) is slightly less than the sum of the transaction outputs (the right side of the arrow). The difference is being collected as a processing fee.

Once you have located the transaction that sends bitcoin to your vanity address you should notice several things.

Your wallet most likely sent bitcoins to your address and back to a new address that only it controls. We call this second address the 'change' address. Notice that each output has an ordered position. This index (known as the vout) along with the transaction ID lets us uniquely identify transaction outputs. This is important if you want to use those outputs in a new transaction.

Exercise 5. Transfer the coin from your vanity address back to your wallet. To do this you can run spend.go in project1. You can provide the parameters needed for the transaction at the command line (it is not necessary to modify the code).

If done correctly the script should look this when executed:

> go run spend.go \

Here is your raw bitcoin transaction:
The sending api responded with:

Notice that when the command above is run with these parameters it only works once. If you tried to run it again or send the coins somewhere else the script would fail.

Exercise and Discussion. Try to double spend the same bitcoin by sending it twice to your wallet address. Figure out as much as you can about what happens when the double spend transactions are attempted. See how close you can get to obtaining two verified transactions spending the same coin (e.g., can you achieve two transactions with at least one confirmation each?)

Please don't try to actually rip anyone off; only attempt double spending with your own addresses (or those of willing classmates).

Post about your experiences on the discussion page. Include links to transactions in the blockchain to demonstrate your results.


Submit the Project 1 Submission Form (by 11:59pm on Friday, 30 January):