Decentralized digital assets, such as Bitcoin, run transactions without any bureaucracy. Your transaction is being processed instantly after sending it. Going through a number of processes before it arrives in your receiver’s wallet.
But sometimes, the automated system can delay your transaction, and your Bitcoin (or another altcoin) transaction can take ages to come through.
A delayed transaction can be very stressful for both the sender and receiver. Especially if the Bitcoin payment is particularly important.
“Where did my Bitcoin go?” or “I haven’t received my cryptocurrency” are the most asked questions by users of all kinds of crypto wallets and exchanges.
And quite unnecessary, as there is a number of aspects that influence the transaction speed of your Bitcoin transaction, none of which can be affected by customer support.
In this article, we’ll address the factors that can drive up your Bitcoin transaction times and what you can do to fasten your transaction. Let’s dive in!
How Bitcoin Transactions Work
To properly understand why is Bitcoin your transaction taking so long, we need to understand the Bitcoin network first.
A blockchain is a complex network of computers that are used to record transactions and store data in blocks that are linked together.
So every time you buy or send a piece of Bitcoin (satoshi), something is written onto the blockchain. This written entry includes three main pieces of information:
- Inputs – The Bitcoin address of the sender.
- Outputs – The Bitcoin address of the receiver.
- Amounts – The amount of bitcoin the sender wants to send.
The transaction is then sent to a waiting room called Mempool. All the transactions are collected there first. However, unlike in the doctor’s office, transactions don’t go to the confirmation phase in the order they came in.
Your transaction is waiting there to be picked up by miners. But the miners are rather picky, so the choose higher-reward transactions first.
Once a miner picks up your transaction and adds it to a block, the confirmation phase begins.
The miner that completes a complex puzzle in the Proof of Work mechanism is rewarded your gas fee. At this stage, your transaction has been validated but not confirmed.
For security purposes, each wallet requires a certain number of confirmations. At least 6 confirmations are typically needed. And one confirmation represents one mined block.
You can watch the progress of your Bitcoin transaction on any block explorer by pasting in your wallet address or transaction ID.
Bitcoin Transaction Time
On average, Bitcoin transactions are fully processed within an hour. That’s when you need 6 confirmations.
However, some exchanges and wallets might require only two or three confirmations. In that case, the confirmation time decreases proportionally.
On average, it takes ten minutes to mine a block. That’s why six confirmations mean an average time of one hour to transact Bitcoin.
However, it’s only the case if your transaction is prioritized and added to the first block possible. If not, your transaction will be delayed.
But there are also other factors that significantly affect the transaction time.
What Affects the Speed of Bitcoin Transaction
You Set the Transaction Fees too Low
The Bitcoin network works on the Proof of Work mechanism that involves solving a complex puzzle using powerful hardware.
As you can tell, there is quite an expense involved in confirmation transactions that requires payback. After all, no one would work for free.
And if you set the reward too low, your transaction might be “ignored” by the miners and spend more time in the queue.
Each block can include around 500 transactions. So sometimes, when the network is very busy, if you set your fee very low, it can take a while.
What you should take away from this paragraph is;
Higher transaction fee = Higher reward for miners = Faster transaction
If your transaction is stuck in the mempool, you might consider canceling your transaction using a technique called Replace by fee and highering the transaction fee.
RbF means that you’ll replace one version of an unconfirmed transaction with a new one with a higher fee.
The Network is Overloaded
Cryptocurrencies have become vastly popular, and the network has to process hundreds of thousands of transactions daily.
This can affect you in two ways.
Firstly, traffic peaks can cause errors, as the Bitcoin blockchain can only accept around seven transactions per second. For comparison, the Cardano network can handle up to 250 transactions per second.
Thus if a hundred people send a transaction at the exact moment, you may receive an error, and your transaction will be rejected by the mempool.
But even if you make it to the mempool, you have not yet won. Not all transactions can be fitted into one block, and some have to wait longer to be included in a block.
Not Enough Miners
While some digital assets with billions in daily trading volume, like Bitcoin, will always attract swarms of miners, other cryptocurrencies might not.
If the transaction volume is too low or the rewards are overly small, it might not be profitable for miners, and the transaction speed can be slow.
Spam or Dusting Attacks
From a view of transaction speed, spam attacks and dusting attacks are the same.
During a spam attack, the bad actor will send thousands of small transactions between his wallets, filling up the mempool and slowing the network.
On the other hand, a dusting attack is when a hacker sends thousands of small transactions to public addresses to glean information about the owner and use it for phishing attacks.
Slow Internet Speed
Although your internet speed doesn’t influence the transaction speed that much, the internet speed of miners does.
Due to the high electricity costs, big Bitcoin mining centers are located in remote rural areas that might have worse internet speed, slowing the transaction speed down.
Occasionally, there might be several bigger transactions included in the block, which can make the transaction take longer.
Fortunately, Bitcoin’s block size is limited to 1 MB, and that’s good. But other networks might try to faster their transaction speed by highering the block size limit, which can also make it slower.
Orphaned Blocks & Accidental Fork
Mining Bitcoin is essentially a race with thousands of racers. And sometimes, there might be two apparent winners.
This temporary inconvenience can cause delays, as one of the blocks must be discarded.
The miners will accept the first block that was broadcasted to them. Thus, some will accept block A and start mining blocks on top of block A, and some will accept block B and start mining blocks following on chain B.
This situation creates two somewhat separate blockchains. That’s why we refer to this as an accidental fork.
Now it’s a matter of whether the racers in team A or B wins.
If the next block is mined on the A chain, the miners on the B chain will go back to the now main chain. And B blocks become orphaned.
This process can circulate if the two “teams” finish a block at the same time again. That’s also why wallets and exchanges require a higher number of confirmations.
Bitcoin Transaction Time FAQ
On the Bitcoin network, the average confirmation time is ten minutes.
Thus, if a Bitcoin transaction requires six confirmations, it takes one hour on average. However, that’s only the case if there are no issues along the way.
A transaction can stay unconfirmed indefinitely. Which transaction is confirmed is decided by miners.
So, in theory, if the network stays busy and everyone chooses a lot higher transaction fee than you, it can stay stuck in the mempool forever.
When it comes to the confirmation itself, it will likely take around one hour. However, according to recorded timestamps based on a 26-month analysis, the maximum time was 6:02 hours.
If your Bitcoin transaction is still pending on the chain, it means that it wasn’t picked up to a block yet and is waiting in the mempool.
This can take some time, especially if the network is busy. Wait for a few hours. If the transaction is still pending, you can try to cancel it using a Replace by fee method.
Each wallet or exchange will require a different number of Bitcoin confirmations. But it’s usually six.
However, some wallets might require only two or three confirmations.
But that’s relatively rare, as a lower number of confirmations represents a huge security risk, primarily because of a technique called Double spending.
In conclusion, the time it takes for a Bitcoin transaction to be processed can vary depending on a number of factors, such as network congestion and the size of the transaction but mainly transaction fees.
So next time you send Bitcoin, set higher transaction fees than the lowest possible.
Even the best things in life take time. And there is no need to freak out if you haven’t received the transaction an hour after it was sent.
That’s completely normal, and watching your transaction in the block explorer will unfortunately not fasten the process.
Don’t rush the process, good things take time.