What Is the BRC-20 Token Standard for Bitcoin?

What Is the BRC-20 Token Standard for Bitcoin?

BRC-20 represents an innovative token standard introduced on the Bitcoin network, conceptualized in March 2023 by an enigmatic developer named Domo. Drawing inspiration from Ethereum's renowned ERC-20 tokens, BRC-20 brings its own distinct functionalities and mechanisms to the table. Unlike its Ethereum counterpart, BRC-20 does not support smart contracts but instead focuses on providing a means to create and transact fungible tokens within the Bitcoin ecosystem.

Emerging from the backdrop of Bitcoin's Ordinals protocol launch in January 2023, BRC-20 stemmed from the idea of producing fungible tokens on Bitcoin, a notable departure from Ethereum's reliance on smart contracts. This experimental token standard uses ordinal inscriptions, allowing users to associate tokens with specific satoshis by storing a script file directly on Bitcoin. These tokens embed JSON data into their ordinal inscriptions, offering capabilities for deploying, minting, and transferring tokens.

The advent of BRC-20 tokens has sparked considerable interest within the Bitcoin community, with infrastructure providers, such as wallet services and marketplaces, integrating support for them. This development underscores the power of open-source communities, where a single innovative idea can evolve and adapt as it gets shaped by various contributors. Tokens like pepe tokens, Ordi, and VMPX stand out as prominent examples crafted using the BRC-20 standard, emphasizing the uniqueness of each ordinal and their intrinsic value. However, while BRC-20 emphasizes fungibility, making each token interchangeable, its capabilities remain limited in comparison to the versatility of smart contracts.

History of BRC-20 Tokens

Diving deep into the history of the BRC-20 standard requires a journey back to its origins. In November 2021, Bitcoin experienced a pivotal update known as Taproot, expanding the data capacity within its blocks and paving the way for the innovative Ordinals. While there were prior endeavors to integrate extensive data on the Bitcoin network, it wasn't until January 2023 that Casey Rodarmor crystallized these efforts with the Bitcoin Ordinals protocol. This innovation allowed users to imprint information onto individual Satoshis, the tiniest Bitcoin units.

The immediate aftermath of this protocol saw a surge in non-fungible Bitcoin tokens (Bitcoin NFT). Renowned entities like Yuga Labs and DeGods released Bitcoin Ordinals collections to overwhelming demand, with new entrants such as Taproot Wizards and BitcoinFrogs also gaining significant traction. The intrinsic rarity of Satoshis, particularly those from Bitcoin's initial blocks or those linked to its enigmatic founder, Satoshi Nakamoto, propelled Bitcoin into the collectors' spotlight. However, this popularity came at a cost, manifesting in congested transactions and soaring network fees.

Yet, amidst these challenges, innovation flourished. The Ordinals protocol became the foundation for Domo, an Ethereum developer, to conceptualize the BRC-20 token standard. Launched experimentally in March 2023, BRC-20 initiated a cascade of novel tokens within the Bitcoin network.

Contrastingly, Binance had earlier, in September 2020, introduced its own iteration of BRC-20 within the Binance Smart Chain (BSC). This efficient and cost-effective alternative to Ethereum swiftly garnered attention, establishing itself as a haven for DeFi projects. The allure of BRC-20 on BSC revolved around its user-friendliness, affordability, and compatibility with existing Ethereum assets. Rooted in the principles of Ordinals and Inscriptions, this token standard provided users the capability to archive any file on the Bitcoin blockchain.

How Do BRC-20 Tokens Work?

To truly grasp the mechanics of BRC-20 tokens, it's pivotal to delve into the foundational technology they're built upon: the Bitcoin Ordinals protocol. This groundbreaking protocol endows each Satoshi, Bitcoin's most granular unit, with a unique identifier or "serial number" based on its mining order. This systematic numbering, known as "ordination," facilitates the attachment of diverse data types, from text and images to audio, to individual Satoshis, a method termed "inscription".

BRC-20 tokens are a manifestation of this inscription capability, utilizing JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) data to imbue Satoshis with enhanced functionality. This precise encoding allows for the initiation of token contracts, the generation of fresh tokens, and their seamless transfer within the Bitcoin network. However, it's crucial to distinguish that while all BRC-20 tokens utilize ordinals, not all ordinals adhere to the BRC-20 standard. The distinction lies in the specific JSON data inscribed, which bestows BRC-20 tokens with their characteristic features.

The inception of "ORDI," the pioneer BRC-20 token, marked a watershed moment, catalyzing the proliferation of various other tokens of its ilk. Consequently, numerous Bitcoin wallets rapidly evolved to accommodate this burgeoning token category, highlighting the transformative potential of the Ordinals protocol and the BRC-20 standard.

Top BRC-20 Tokens

Having grasped their mechanics, you might be curious about some familiar BRC-20 tokens in circulation. Presently, two BRC-20 tokens gaining traction are ORDI and WOJAK. It's essential to note that a significant portion of these tokens are crafted for instructional or recreational reasons, and their future value might be speculative.


Emerging as a frontrunner in the BRC-20 token space, ORDI stands out. An acronym for 'Ordinals', it's vital not to conflate it with the Bitcoin Ordinals protocol from which it derives its name. Pioneering the BRC-20 standard, ORDI was conceptualized in the experimental phase by @domodata and has garnered listings on multiple prominent exchanges.


Evident from its moniker, WOJAK is entrenched in the realm of memecoins. The name hearkens to the internet's "Wojak" meme – a term in Polish signifying a soldier or warrior. Depicted as a monochromatic sketch of a bald, contemplative man, this token epitomizes the essence of memecoins. For a deeper dive into such assets, consider exploring a comprehensive article detailing the nuances of memecoins.

BRC-20 vs ERC-20 Tokens: What’s the Difference?

At a glance, we're contrasting a Bitcoin-based asset with one rooted in the Ethereum ecosystem. However, the nuances run deeper.

BRC-20 tokens, while revolutionary in the Bitcoin space, inherently possess constraints not seen with Ethereum's native tokens. Most prominent blockchains employ a dedicated virtual machine capable of executing intricate smart contracts. For Ethereum and Solana, this role is fulfilled by the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). EVM's prowess lies in interpreting and running code, facilitating the creation of multifaceted assets and setting varied conditions for these assets.

Contrastingly, Bitcoin diverges significantly on this front. It forgoes the use of a virtual machine, which naturally results in certain restrictions. One salient limitation is the lack of interoperability for BRC-20 tokens, hindering their seamless transfer across diverse chains. Moreover, Bitcoin's architecture restricts the handling of intricate tokens and the ability to access ancillary information beyond its blockchain. In contrast, Ethereum's EVM can retrieve files from decentralized storage systems like IPFS, enriching its ecosystem.

Further delineating the two, Bitcoin operates on a proof-of-work consensus. This makes its network relatively sluggish, costlier, and more energy-intensive than Ethereum's transition towards a proof-of-stake model. Consequently, the inception of BRC-20 tokens demands greater resources in terms of time, capital, and energy compared to rolling out an ERC-20 token. However, a silver lining to Bitcoin's PoW model is the enhanced security and immutability it offers, attributes that often outpace those of ERC-20 tokens.

Pros of the BRC-20 token standard

BRC-20 tokens represent a pioneering step within the Bitcoin ecosystem, unlocking a plethora of potential benefits and capabilities. Here's a comprehensive look into the key advantages:

Security and Robustness:

At the core of BRC-20's strengths lies the unparalleled security of the Bitcoin blockchain. By nature of being hosted on Bitcoin, BRC-20 tokens inherit the fortified defenses of one of the most secure blockchains in the world. The Bitcoin network, underpinned by the Proof of Work (PoW) consensus mechanism and backed by a vast miner community, ensures that these tokens enjoy a level of security that's hard to rival.

Seamless Compatibility:

One of the standout features of BRC-20 tokens is their innate compatibility with the Bitcoin network. This integration facilitates a smooth interaction with existing Bitcoin infrastructure, from wallets to exchanges, propelling their swift acceptance among the Bitcoin community. Moreover, the existing developer base familiar with Bitcoin finds it convenient to adapt and innovate using the BRC-20 standard.

Unparalleled Simplicity:

The BRC-20 standard shines in its straightforward approach to tokenization. Sidestepping the complexities of intricate smart contracts seen in other standards, it offers users an intuitive experience. This simplicity ensures that even those without a deep technical background can mint and transfer BRC-20 tokens with ease.

Inherent Fungibility:

BRC-20 tokens aren't just about innovation; they bring to the table a high degree of fungibility. Their seamless tradeability makes them an attractive proposition, especially for those new to the realm of Bitcoin trading and looking for straightforward entry points.

On-chain Integrity:

A distinguishing feature of BRC-20 tokens is their complete on-chain nature. Unlike some counterparts that rely on external file systems like IPFS, BRC-20 tokens are wholly contained within the Bitcoin blockchain, enhancing their immutability and ensuring they remain tamper-proof.

Future Growth and Potential:

The BRC-20 standard, though nascent, holds immense promise. As it continues to gain traction, its versatility is likely to spur innovative applications, especially in burgeoning sectors like DeFi. The extensive and active user base of the Bitcoin network further amplifies its potential, drawing developers, investors, and everyday users to explore and contribute to its growth.

Cons of the BRC-20 standard

While BRC-20 tokens herald a new chapter in the Bitcoin ecosystem, offering exciting prospects, it's vital to weigh the inherent limitations alongside the potential advantages.

Absence of Smart Contract Functionality:

The most prominent limitation of BRC-20 tokens is the lack of smart contract support. Unlike Ethereum's ERC-20 standard, which is enriched by smart contract capabilities, BRC-20 is bereft of this feature. Smart contracts not only automate processes but also enhance transparency and security.

Dependency and Congestion on Bitcoin Blockchain:

Being anchored to the Bitcoin blockchain means BRC-20 tokens are constrained by its inherent limitations: scalability issues and slower transaction speeds. With the proliferation of Bitcoin ordinals and the rise of BRC-20 activities, the network has experienced amplified congestion, resulting in longer transaction processing times and escalated fees.

Limited Interoperability:

BRC-20 tokens were crafted specifically for the Bitcoin ecosystem, leading to challenges in interoperability with other blockchain platforms. In today's interconnected crypto world, such limitations can restrict seamless asset transfers across diverse chains.

Restricted Functionality and Utility:

BRC-20, in its current form, offers a limited range of functionalities compared to other chain tokens. It's primarily geared towards fungible asset tokenization, making it less suitable for complex token features or non-fungible assets.

Environmental Considerations:

Bitcoin's Proof of Work (PoW) consensus mechanism, while providing security, is energy-intensive. Consequently, BRC-20 activities such as deploying and transferring tokens bear significant environmental costs.

Community Sentiments and Developer Base:

The Bitcoin community's views on BRC-20 tokens are polarized. Some laud it as innovative, while others feel it deviates from Bitcoin's original vision. Moreover, the BRC-20 ecosystem, being nascent, has a smaller developer community than established standards like ERC-20, potentially affecting its pace of advancement.

Experimental Nature:

BRC-20 remains an experimental venture. Its future trajectory is uncertain, and the assets associated are deemed high-risk with limited tools supporting them currently.

While BRC-20 tokens offer intriguing possibilities within the Bitcoin framework, potential adopters must tread with caution, keeping in mind the aforementioned challenges.

Future Of BRC-20

The BRC-20 token standard, while still in its early stages, has undeniably made a significant mark in the ever-evolving crypto world. Capitalizing on the robustness of the Bitcoin network, BRC-20 tokens have showcased the potential of the Bitcoin blockchain beyond Satoshi Nakamoto's initial vision of a peer-to-peer electronic cash system.

Historically, Bitcoin has been viewed primarily as "digital gold", a decentralized store of value. However, the advent of the Ordinals protocol sparked intense discussions within the Bitcoin community about expanding its use cases. This discourse led to the emergence of BRC-20 tokens, bridging the gap between the traditional perception of Bitcoin and its potential for broader applications. The excitement surrounding these tokens isn't without merit, given their rapid proliferation and the growing market cap nearing $1 billion.

Yet, as with any budding technology, BRC-20 is accompanied by challenges. The standard, while promising and innovative, lacks the smart contract functionalities seen in other networks like Ethereum. This limitation, combined with increased network congestion and the experimental nature of BRC-20, calls for a measured approach. Investors and enthusiasts should be well-versed in the intricacies of the Bitcoin network, including managing UTXOs and using specialized third-party wallets.

Furthermore, the ever-evolving landscape of blockchain technology indicates that while BRC-20 tokens are currently gaining traction, the ecosystem is susceptible to shifts in the industry and token-economy dynamics. Innovations like the lightning network and ordinal NFTs further underscore Bitcoin's commitment to adapt and evolve. As the community continues to push the boundaries, it's essential to recognize both the potential rewards and inherent risks.

In conclusion, the BRC-20 token standard represents a significant step in Bitcoin's journey, emphasizing its adaptability and the crypto community's unwavering spirit of innovation. As the landscape continues to develop, participants are encouraged to stay informed, exercise caution, and always prioritize their own research.

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