The Evolution Of Tokenization On The Bitcoin Blockchain: A Guide
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Since its inception in 2009, Bitcoin has predominantly been viewed as a digital store of value, with its mysterious creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, introducing the world to a groundbreaking concept of decentralized currency. However, despite its prominence, the Bitcoin blockchain has faced limitations in facilitating complex smart contracts and fungible token creation, prompting developers to explore alternative blockchain networks like Ethereum, Cardano, and Solana.

However, the landscape shifted in 2023 with the introduction of Bitcoin Ordinals, followed by the release of Bitcoin Runes in April 2024. This guide explores the evolution of tokenization on the Bitcoin blockchain, including the introduction of Bitcoin Runes and their impact on tokenization.

Bitcoin Ordinals: A Milestone in Tokenization

In January 2023, Bitcoin developer Casey Rodarmor introduced Bitcoin Ordinals, a significant milestone in the evolution of tokenization on the Bitcoin blockchain. This protocol enabled users to inscribe various data types directly onto the Bitcoin blockchain.

Leveraging upgrades such as the 2017 Segregated Witness (SegWit) upgrade and the 2021 Taproot upgrade, Bitcoin Ordinals empowered the blockchain to handle large amounts of data, including text, images, videos, and smart contracts. Bitcoin Ordinals, also known as Bitcoin nonfungible tokens (NFTs), opened new avenues for utility and value creation on the Bitcoin network.

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Users could securely create, own, and transfer unique digital assets on the blockchain by inscribing data onto satoshis, the smallest units of Bitcoin. Ordinals laid the groundwork for exploring further tokenization possibilities on the Bitcoin blockchain.

The Rise of BRC-20 Tokens

Building upon the foundation laid by Bitcoin Ordinals, the BRC-20 token standard was launched in March 2023 by pseudonymous developer Domo. Drawing inspiration from Ethereum’s ERC-20 standard, BRC-20 tokens enable the generation and transfer of fungible tokens directly on the Bitcoin network through Ordinals inscriptions.

Within three months, BRC-20 tokens reached a market capitalization of $1 billion. However, this rapid expansion came with its challenges.

The proliferation of BRC-20 tokens led to network congestion due to the excessive production of unspent transaction outputs (UTXOs), clogging the Bitcoin network and impacting transaction efficiency. Despite these challenges, BRC-20 tokens demonstrated the demand for fungible token capabilities on the Bitcoin blockchain.

Bitcoin Runes

In April 2024, the tokenization landscape on the Bitcoin blockchain underwent a significant transformation with the introduction of Bitcoin Runes. Developed as a solution to the challenges posed by BRC-20 tokens, Bitcoin Runes aimed to simplify token creation while mitigating issues such as UTXO bloat.

At its core, the Runes protocol leverages Bitcoin’s UTXO model and the OP_RETURN opcode to streamline the creation of fungible tokens on the Bitcoin blockchain. Unlike protocols reliant on off-chain data or specialized tokens, Bitcoin Runes utilize Bitcoin’s inherent capabilities for on-chain data storage, minimizing the occurrence of undesirable “junk” UTXOs that can congest the network.

How Bitcoin Runes Work

The process of creating and managing Bitcoin Runes involves the following:

Etching: Users initiate the creation of a Rune by etching specific properties such as name, divisibility, and symbol. This step defines the characteristics of the Rune and sets the foundation for its existence on the Bitcoin blockchain.

Minting: Users can mint new tokens based on the predefined properties once the properties are etched. Minting involves generating new tokens that adhere to the specified characteristics, effectively bringing the Rune into the Bitcoin ecosystem.

Transfer: Runes can be transferred between users using Bitcoin transactions with OP_RETURN outputs specifying the transfer details. Unlike traditional token transfers linked to wallet addresses, Rune balances are tracked within UTXOs for better security and efficiency.

Bitcoin Runes vs. BRC-20 Tokens

The differences between BRC-20 tokens and Bitcoin Runes stem from their approaches to creating and administrating tokens. Although both standards facilitate the generation of fungible tokens on the Bitcoin blockchain, they adopt distinct mechanisms to achieve this objective.

BRC-20 tokens depend on specialized protocols and Ordinal inscriptions, which result in network congestion and scalability challenges. Conversely, Bitcoin Runes utilizes Bitcoin’s UTXO model and OP_RETURN opcode for on-chain data storage.

Additionally, Bitcoin Runes has introduced several innovative functionalities to simplify token creation and management. Runes are associated with UTXOs through a protocol message that includes specific details like the Rune ID, output index, and the amount, all stored in an OP_RETURN output.

This method ensures that token balances are managed within UTXOs rather than being tied to wallet addresses, thereby mitigating the risk of network congestion and enhancing transaction efficiency.


The development of Bitcoin Runes and other tokenization protocols will likely unlock new opportunities for value creation and utility on the Bitcoin blockchain. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that Bitcoin Runes are still in the early stages of development and will undergo significant changes in the future, unlocking new opportunities for value creation and utility.

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George Ward

By George Ward

George Ward is a crypto journalist and market analyst at Herald Sheets, known for his engaging articles on the latest digital currency trends. With a background in finance and journalism, he presents complex topics accessibly. George holds a degree in Business and Finance from the University of Cambridge.

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