Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of headlines and new wallets created for the notorious Lightning Network — The second layer payment protocol that’s being touted as a solution to the BTC chain’s scaling issues. The project is in its very early stages as the technology is still in beta, but people are actually using the protocol on main-net with real funds. So far this technology still seems very far away, and some people looking beyond the hype are finding individuals and groups who are testing this second layer are running into problems.
Lightning Network Tipping Turns Out to be Not So Easy
For a while now in the cryptocurrency space people have been hearing about the Lightning Network (LN), new LN wallets, and areas on the internet that allow users to test the technology using both Bitcoin Core’s (BTC) testnet and mainnet. A percentage of individuals and cryptocurrency users have been using the second layer protocol on the main BTC network as there are 2,307 LN nodes today, and 5,036 open channels. According to statistics, the Lighting Network shows over $142,000 USD worth of BTC locked in channels or being used on the network right now. There has been a lot of noise about using LN and posts can be seen on social media channels and forums almost every day with people demonstrating the LN protocol. However, even though there seems to be a lot of action on the pixelated graphics website ‘Satoshi’s Place’ people are experiencing lots of issues with this protocol and there are many LN problems without solutions.
Lightning Network June 25, 2018.
For instance on a Reddit post stemming from the subreddit r/bitcoin called “Lightning Network Submarine Swaps,” shows an interesting interaction between two LN users. One user named ‘Windsok’ wants to tip another Reddit user with five bucks worth of BTC, and he asks the recipient to create an LN node and send him an invoice for $5 worth of BTC.
“Oh goody, a tip! You made me finally download and install a lightning node,” explains the hopeful recipient. “Now I’ve got it up and running and some funds in a channel for the first time — but, alas, I can only receive $5 via that channel once I’ve spent $5.”
The Common Answer to LN’s Problems: Custodial Services, Watchtowers, and Centralized Hubs
The problems get worse for the two as the invoice expires for the user trying to receive the money. Then he creates an invoice with a longer expiry which also has issues. But one problem observers took issue with was the fact that a new user must use some of the BTC on the LN network, before being able to receive funds. Further, the person trying to receive the BTC explains he never got the tip and users may have to utilize a custodial service to benefit from LN.
“I never got the tip because his node couldn’t find a route to mine,” explains the user.
Partly this is likely due to my node being often offline, as it is on my laptop. For tips and receiving small amounts I think laptop users like myself will need to use custodial wallets once they are available, and withdraw from them to a self-hosted node whenever we have an opportunity.
An interesting post on trying to receive an LN tip.
Sorry This Channel Has Closed, Try Again Another Time
This isn’t the only time people are seen on the internet complaining about the LN protocol not working correctly. With a quick Google search, anyone can find lengthy studies about LN’s topology concerns, discussions about centralized hubs, watchtowers, and routing problems. For instance, downloading an LN node is a long process and for the non-technical people in the world, it is difficult and a hassle. Alternatively, using light client wallets like Eclair and others also have connection issues, and people are always losing access to their channels that are constantly opening and closing.
LN users using the ‘lnd’ client will find issues with Satoshi’s Place (SP) because SP uses ‘c-lightning’ and there are issues with incompatible fees. LN Nodes have difficulties finding routes so then some people recommend connecting to more centralized nodes like Yalls or Acinq’s nodes in order to find a route. And even with these methods channels close often, usually after 10-15 minutes and sometimes immediately.
The problems and bugs revolving around LN most definitely begs the question — Will the Lightning Network provide a solution to network congestion if it happens again? When will LN help with the rising network fees? Some skeptics believe even from the current vantage point that this second layer protocol is way more than “18 months away,” and even further than that when it comes to non-technical users otherwise known as mainstream adoption. Even worse is the theoretical chance that LN could lead to significant centralization, and KYC/AML regulations because major hubs in this hub & spoke environment could end up being the very banks we tried to avoid.