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What is a bitcoin desktop wallet?

What is a bitcoin desktop wallet?

Beginner

19th December 2019
Updated: 27th June 2020

A bitcoin desktop wallet is a programme that you download and store on your computer. Once you have installed a desktop wallet, you’ll be able to access and transfer your coins using the app’s user-friendly interface. A wallet is usually necessary if you have already bought bitcoin.

How do bitcoin desktop wallets work?

Desktop wallets usually have intuitive interfaces that make it easy for you to send and receive bitcoin. Once you download and install the software, you can receive bitcoins by giving the sender your wallet address (which will be displayed in the desktop wallet), and you can pay them from the desktop app by entering theirs on the provided fields. Your balance will be displayed in the wallet, as will your transaction history and wallet details.

What other types of wallets are there?

When it comes to bitcoin wallets there are a number of options from which to choose:

  • Online wallets. Wallets that are hosted online. Also known as web wallets, these require you to sign up to an online service and access your wallet with an account name and password.
  • Mobile wallets. These are wallets stored on your mobile phone in the form of an app. They make it easy to spend and transfer your bitcoin on the move.
  • Hardware wallets. Regarded as the most secure wallets around, hardware wallets are electronic devices specifically designed for storing cryptocurrency. They allow you to store your coins completely offline.
  • Paper wallets. Like hardware wallets, paper wallets allow you to store your coins offline. These DIY wallets are literally printed on paper after you have generated a wallet address and private key through an online service.

How are desktop wallets different to online wallets?

Online wallets are hosted on the internet, whereas desktop wallets are pieces of software installed on your computer. Think of it like this: a web wallet is like an online account protected by a password, whereas a desktop wallet is a programme saved and stored on a computer that uses the internet only when the owner wants it to.

On the technical side, the private key (necessary to access the wallet and transfer bitcoin from it) of a bitcoin desktop wallet is stored on your computer. This gives you control of your wallet information and makes desktop wallets more secure than online wallets, which store your wallet details on remote servers. However, your desktop wallet can be at risk if your computer is hacked or gets a virus.

What are the best desktop wallet providers?

There are many providers of desktop wallets from which to choose. Here’s a short list of some of the best known desktop wallets:

Electrum

One of the most reputable desktop wallets around, Electrum has many fans. It is also known for its advanced features, such as allowing you to adjust the transaction fee after you have sent a payment in order to get it prioritised by miners. Electrum’s interface is not very intuitive, but once you have got used to it, it’s one of the best wallets around.

Exodus

Exodus launched in 2016 and is already a very well-known desktop wallet. In your Exodus wallet you can hold a variety of different coins (litecoin, dash, ethereum etc.). Unlike Electrum, Exodus has a very easy to use interface and is great for people new to bitcoin.

Jaxx

Launched in 2014 by one of the co-founders of Ethereum, you can get Jaxx as both a desktop and a mobile wallet. You can not only hold many different coins in Jaxx, but also take advantage of easy access to new projects and tokens – which you can hold in the wallet.

Bitcoin Armory

Armory is half way between a desktop and a hardware wallet. Only really suitable for people very proficient with wallet technology, Bitcoin Armory stores your private key on an offline computer to make it impenetrable to hackers. It’s one of the most secure ways to store bitcoin that exists, but it a little complicated.

Bitcoin Core

In order to use Bitcoin Core you will have to download the entire Bitcoin blockchain. This is a very secure desktop wallet, but probably best to be avoided unless you are already experienced with bitcoin.

Copay

Copay, like Jaxx, is available as both a desktop and a mobile wallet. It was created by BitPay and is a multisignature wallet, meaning it is controlled by two or more people who all need to approve transactions, so it is very secure.

Do I need to download any extra software to use a desktop wallet?

Usually the only software you’ll need is the wallet itself, which you can download from the provider’s website. However, for some desktop wallets you will also be required to download the blockchain data (the history of all transactions) for the coin(s) you’re holding in the wallet. This is done as a security feature so the wallet has less reliance on connecting to the internet to track the movement of coins.

Wallets such as Exodus and Electrum are lite/SPV (Simplified Payment Verification) wallets meaning that they don’t download the entire blockchain data to use them. However, others such as Bitcoin Core and Armory do rely on downloading the blockchain. Currently the size of the bitcoin blockchain is about 150GB, so this can take several hours to days, depending on the speed of your internet and computer.

Are desktop wallets free?

Yes, desktop wallets are absolutely free to download. All you need to do is choose your preferred provider, download the software, and install it on your computer.

Are there any additional fees for desktop wallets?

There are no additional fees (such as subscription fees or add-ons) for having a desktop wallet. However, when sending bitcoins from your wallet you will have to pay small transaction fees. This is not to do with the wallet, it’s a fee that goes to the miners that verify transactions on the bitcoin blockchain. It is typically around 0.2mBTC (an mBTC is a thousandth of a bitcoin, so this amount translates to under £2).

Most bitcoin wallets will also allow you to set your limits to pay higher or lower transactions fees. This is because the miner that verifies your transaction gets the fee, so a higher payment incentivises them to process your payment sooner. The fees are paid by the person sending the coins, if you’re receiving bitcoin it costs nothing.

Can desktop wallets hold multiple cryptocurrencies?

Yes, desktop wallets such as Exodus hold multiple cryptocurrencies. However, storage by such wallets is still largely limited to the biggest cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum. Many desktop wallets still only support one cryptocurrency.

Can I back up a desktop wallet?

Yes, you can back up your desktop wallet by noting down your ‘recovery seed’. Simply put, a recovery seed is a mnemonic phrase that allows you to restore a wallet when you’ve lost it or forgotten the keys. If your machine happens to get damaged or lost, you can use the 12, 18 or 24 phrases issued to restore your wallet. It is important to do this as the wallet is stored on your computer, so if it gets lost/stolen or the file becomes corrupted you could lose your coins.

How to set up a bitcoin desktop wallet

The process of setting up a bitcoin desktop wallet is simple, but each individual wallet will have slightly different steps. Generally this is what to expect:

  1. Choose the right bitcoin desktop wallet for you.
  2. Go to the provider’s site and click ‘download’ (make sure you’re downloading the right version for your operating system).
  3. Once the download is complete, open the file, choose where you would like to install the file and start the installation process.
  4. Open your wallet when it has finished installing.
  5. If not automatic, encrypt your wallet with a password.
  6. Set up and note down the recovery seed (see below).
  7. Transfer your bitcoins into the wallet.

What are the risks of using a bitcoin desktop wallet?

Desktop wallets are very secure since the private key is stored on your machine rather than by the provider. However, there are a few risks attached to this kind of wallet. Considering your computer will have an internet connection, there’s always a level of risk of hacks and viruses that could expose your private key, so make sure to take security measures such as installing antivirus software to prevent such occurrences. You should also make sure your wallet is password-protected; otherwise, anyone with access to your computer could access it and transfer your bitcoins.

And what are the advantages?

Desktop wallets offer a very good middle ground between an online wallet and a hardware wallet. Although they are considered as ‘hot wallets’, because of the machine’s connection to the internet, they usually store your bitcoins offline. They also tend to be very user-friendly, making them perfect for beginners and intermediate users. If you want to store a large collection of coins, it’s recommended that you consider other options such as hardware and paper wallets, but desktop wallets are a solid choice in most situations.

Should I get a desktop wallet?

Probably yes. If you have a fair bit of money invested in bitcoin and not looking to access it more often, then it’s advisable to have a desktop wallet instead of an online wallet. Hardware wallets are usually the most secure, but desktop wallets are very convenient and are free. Just make sure that you protect your computer from viruses and malware and choose the right wallet for you.

Where can I get a bitcoin desktop wallet?

Many places. We’ve reviewed all of the providers for bitcoin desktop wallets to help you pick the right one for your needs. Have a read through our reviews to find the right option. Otherwise, continue reading…

By Harry Atkins
Harry joined us in 2019 to lead our Editorial Team. Drawing on more than a decade writing, editing and managing high-profile content for blue chip companies, Harry’s considerable experience in the finance sector encompasses work for high street and investment banks, insurance companies and trading platforms.
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