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Kristina for Rock'n'Block

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What Is Runes Protocol and How It Redefines Token Development

The Runes Protocol is a groundbreaking innovation in token development within the Bitcoin network. This guide explores the features, mechanics, and implications of the Runes Protocol, including its unique characteristics, the underlying UTXO structure, and the streamlined processes for token transfers and issuance.

The Emergence of Runes Protocol

Bitcoin Runes are fungible tokens issued directly on the Bitcoin network. The Runes protocol was presented in September 2023, as a simplified and more efficient alternative to the experimental BRC-20 standard for fungible tokens development.
Initially, BRC-20 tokens gained rapid popularity after their launch in March 2023, reaching a staggering market cap of $1 billion within three months. However, their widespread adoption led to an accumulation of "junk" UTXOs, causing network congestion.
In response, Runes protocol was designed to address this issue by implementing a UTXO-based approach that aims to curtail the generation of unnecessary UTXOs. Unlike other token protocols for Bitcoin, such as Taproot Assets Protocol and Counterparty, Runes operates without the need for off-chain data or a native token.
It's important to do your own research so you don't confuse THORChain's native token, RUNE, with the Runes protocol.

Features of Runes Protocol

  1. UTXO-based structure: Runes operate within Bitcoin's native UTXO model, effectively minimizing the accumulation of unnecessary UTXOs. This streamlined approach reduces the on-chain footprint and enhances network efficiency by optimizing transaction processing.
  2. Simplified token management: Unlike other protocols that introduce additional data into transactions, Runes offer a simplified method for token management. By minimizing blockchain bloat, Runes address scalability and performance concerns, ensuring smoother operation within the Bitcoin ecosystem.
  3. User-friendly protocol design: Runes prioritize simplicity in their design, making them accessible to a wider range of developers. This simplicity fosters increased engagement within the Bitcoin community and enhances the overall user experience for mainstream adoption.
  4. Flexible balance assignment and transfer: Leveraging OP_RETURN transactions and additional data pushes, Runes provide flexibility in assigning and transferring balances. This feature enables efficient management of token transactions while ensuring protocol integrity through the burning of invalid Runes, safeguarding against potential vulnerabilities.

What Are UTXOs?

Unspent Transaction Outputs (UTXOs) are crucial in Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies, tracking balances during wallet transactions. Unlike the Account/Balance model, Bitcoin uses the UTXO model. In token development, UTXOs ensure accurate balance tracking and seamless transfers within the network.
How it Works:
When initiating a Bitcoin transaction, your wallet looks for available UTXOs, akin to leftover change from previous transactions. These "unspent" UTXOs serve as inputs for new transactions, facilitating cryptocurrency circulation. Each UTXO has a fixed value, associated bitcoin address, and unique transaction ID, essential for maintaining network integrity and accounting transparency.


The Inscription technology incorporates multiple protocols like BRC-20, Atomicals Protocol, Runes, and Pipe, sharing common principles. It revolutionizes token development, offering new opportunities for data storage and NFT creation. By inscribing data directly onto the blockchain, it ensures immutability, decentralization, and security advantages over traditional NFTs, freeing from single-entity control and enhancing transparency.
This innovation democratizes token development, enabling individuals to create and own unique digital assets on the blockchain.

Runes Transfers

The protocol message decodes the first data output into integer sequences representing (ID, OUTPUT, AMOUNT) tuples. If not a multiple of three, the message is invalid. ID refers to Token ID, OUTPUT indicates the output index, and AMOUNT represents quantity. Unused tokens can be assigned to the first non-OP_RETURN output or burned.
Using witnesses, the Ordinals protocol complexity arises, especially in transactions with multiple inputs. OP_RETURN usage instead of the witness section avoids complexity with Runes, making development simpler. However, this independence from Ordinals means Runes lack the user base and decentralization benefits, making node launches more challenging.

Runes Issuance

In token development, Runes offer a distinctive method for issuing and tracking tokens using the UTXO model. A second data push in the protocol message indicates an issuance transaction, decoded into SYMBOL and DECIMALS. Any extra numbers render the message invalid. SYMBOL represents the token's identifier, while DECIMALS specifies the token's decimal precision.
Runes innovate by storing token balances within the UTXO itself, rather than linking them to wallet addresses. Upon token creation, supply, symbol, and decimal places are defined in an issuance transaction, then assigned to a specific UTXO. This UTXO can hold any number of tokens, regardless of size, serving as the balance tracker. When transferring tokens, the UTXO splits into smaller ones, each recording the transfer amount.

Recap of Key Benefits of Runes

Let’s recap key benefits of this protocol for token development:
Runes stands out due to its simplicity and ease of use compared to other protocols, offering a streamlined process for token creation and management.
Based on the UTXO model, Runes integrates seamlessly with Bitcoin's architecture, eliminating the need for off-chain data or complex interactions found in alternative protocols.
Unlike BRC-20, which relies on ordinal theory, Runes provides a straightforward system that doesn't require users to manage additional infrastructure or understand intricate mechanisms.
Runes prioritizes user experience by providing a streamlined process, contrasting with other standards that involve off-chain data or personal servers, leading to complexity and potential failure points.
Runes ensures compatibility with the UTXO model, enhancing efficiency and scalability while mitigating the proliferation of "junk" UTXOs that can congest the network.
Runes offers a less complex structure that may attract token developers and foster innovation within the Bitcoin community.

Challenges of The Adoption of Runes

  1. Lack of Unified Standard: The absence of a standardized framework for Runes leads to fragmentation, complicating infrastructure development and indexing, necessitating greater protocol consistency.
  2. Contrasting Approaches: Runes' UTXO-based model, focused on efficiency and Lightning Network compatibility, contrasts with BRC-20's established account-based approach. Despite promising advantages like reduced on-chain footprint, Runes faces challenges competing with BRC-20's widespread acceptance.
  3. Community Engagement and Adoption: Runes struggles to gain community support due to skepticism and resistance within the Bitcoin community. Concerns about the absence of a community-driven launch hinder adoption efforts.
  4. Uncertain Future: The ongoing discourse between Runes and BRC-20 reflects the evolving Bitcoin token development landscape. While synergy is possible, Runes' ability to match BRC-20's audience and traction remains uncertain. Market preferences add complexity to Runes' adoption prospects.


The Runes protocol presents both promise and threat for token development on the Bitcoin blockchain. In the changing world of Bitcoin protocols, Runes represents both innovation and controversy. Although it aims to generate transaction fee revenue, encourage token developer interest, and increase the network's user base, concerns remain about its scalability and sustainability.

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