Cryptocurrency mining is painstaking, costly and only sporadically rewarding. Nonetheless, mining has a magnetic appeal for many investors interested in cryptocurrency because of the fact that miners are rewarded for their work with crypto tokens. This may be because entrepreneurial types see mining as pennies from heaven, like California gold prospectors in 1849. And if you are technologically inclined, why not do it?
However, before you invest the time and equipment, read this explainer to see whether mining is really for you. We will focus primarily on Bitcoin (throughout, we'll use "Bitcoin" when referring to the network or the cryptocurrency as a concept, and "bitcoin" when we're referring to a quantity of individual tokens)
The primary draw for many Bitcoin miners is the prospect of being rewarded with valuable bitcoin tokens. That said, you certainly don't have to be a miner to own cryptocurrency tokens. You can also buy cryptocurrencies using fiat currency; you can trade it on an exchange like Bitstamp using another crypto (as an example, using Ethereum or NEO to buy bitcoin); you even can earn it by playing video games or by publishing blog posts on platforms that pay users in cryptocurrency. An example of the latter is Steemit, which is kind of like Medium except that users can reward bloggers by paying them in a proprietary cryptocurrency called STEEM. STEEM can then be traded elsewhere for bitcoin.
The bitcoin reward that miners receive is an incentive which motivates people to assist in the primary purpose of mining: to support, legitimize and monitor the Bitcoin network and its blockchain. Because these responsibilities are spread among many users all over the world, bitcoin is said to be a "decentralized" cryptocurrency, or one that does not rely on a central bank or government to oversee its regulation.
What Coin Miners Actually Do Miners are getting paid for their work as auditors. They are doing the work of verifying previous bitcoin transactions. This convention is meant to keep Bitcoin users honest and was conceived by bitcoin's founder, Satoshi Nakamoto. By verifying transactions, miners are helping to prevent the "double-spending problem."
Once a miner has verified 1 MB (megabyte) worth of bitcoin transactions, known as a "block," that miner is eligible to be rewarded with a quantity of bitcoin (more about the bitcoin reward below as well). The 1 MB limit was set by Satoshi Nakamoto, and is a matter of controversy, as some miners believe the block size should be increased to accommodate more data, which would effectively mean that the bitcoin network could process and verify transactions more quickly.