A Bitcoin address is a cornerstone that facilitates the exchange of cryptocurrencies between two users because it controls the destination and the source for the specific amount of Bitcoin being exchanged. 

Therefore, Bitcoin addresses are used to identify the owner and receiver of the bitcoins in question. They’re generated randomly once you create your Bitcoin wallet, i.e. a wallet where you store your cryptocurrencies (in this case Bitcoin).

In this article, we’ll explain to you what a Bitcoin address is, what it looks like, and what its typical length is. Next, we’ll acquaint you with the three Bitcoin address formats and give you information on where you can get your Bitcoin addresses from.

Let’s get started!

Physical bitcoin in between laptop keyboard and screen

What Is a Bitcoin Address?

Simply put, a Bitcoin address is a public identifier for the Bitcoin wallet, playing the role of a virtual location where the cryptocurrencies can be sent. For every Bitcoin blockchain transaction, the recipient creates a new Bitcoin address that has to be given to the sender in order to receive the money. However, in order to get a Bitcoin address, you have to create a Bitcoin wallet and get both a public and a private key.

A public key validates the ownership of the Bitcoin wallet, while the private key helps you receive the cryptocurrencies. These two keys are connected using asymmetric encryption, which means that using the private key you can obtain the public key, but the public key cannot extrapolate the private key. This is the reason why you have to keep your private key only to yourself and never share it with anyone.

The Bitcoin address is similar to the public key, but it’s not identical. Instead, a Bitcoin address is a hashed version of the public key (a public key hash). It’s anywhere between 26 and 35 alphanumeric characters (numbers and letters) long. It starts with 1, 3, or bc1, which represents the destinations for Bitcoin payments. Due to the fact that Bitcoin addresses are too long and complicated to memorize, they can be converted into a QR code format for ease of use. 

Bitcoin Address Formats

There are three kinds of Bitcoin Core addresses: Pay-to-Pubkey-Hash, Pay to script hash, and Bech32. It’s important to mention that these kinds of addresses aren’t supported by all wallets.

P2PKH Address Format

Pay-to-Pubkey-Hash, or P2PKH for short, means paying to the public key hash of the recipient. This address format is also known as legacy address format because it was the original Bitcoin address format. A P2PKH address format starts with 1, for example: 

1BvBMSEYstWetqTFn5Au4m4GFg7xJaNVN2 

P2PKH addresses aren’t compatible with P2SH; however, you’re allowed to send BTC from a legacy address to a SegWit one (more on this type of address below). There is a slight disadvantage with P2PKH addresses regarding transaction fees, because the length of the address makes the Bitcoin transaction larger, resulting in higher fees.

P2SH Address Format

P2PH, an abbreviation for Pay-to-script-hash, is the second address format that has the same structure as P2PKH addresses. The only difference is the starting character, which in this format is 3 instead of 1, as in:

3J98t1WpEZ73CNmQviecrnyiWrnqRhWNLy

This address format is primarily developed to support the SegWit upgrade to the Bitcoin protocol and reduce the Bitcoin transactions’ data size that enters the blocks on the Bitcoin network. This, in turn, leads to lower fees for the transactions for P2SH addresses.

P2SH supports P2PKH as well as BEch32 addresses. They also support multi-sig addresses – the addresses that ask for multiple digital signatures in order to verify a transaction.

BEch32 Address Format

Finally, BEch32 addresses start with bc1, for example:

Bc1qar0srrr7xfkvy5l643lydnw9re59gtzzwf5mdq

They’re longer than P2PKH and P2PSH addresses as a result of the longer prefix. They support SegWit transactions, meaning the fees are also low, but come with a disadvantage of their own: only a select number of cryptocurrency exchanges and wallet providers support BEch32 addresses.

Where Can You Get a Bitcoin Address?

When you create a Bitcoin wallet, you also generate a Bitcoin address that goes with it. There are two types of Bitcoin wallets that you can use: software (hot storage) wallets and hardware (cold storage) wallets.

Software Wallet

The most popular software wallets that you can use are offered by cryptocurrency exchanges, and they come together with Bitcoin addresses, as well. Fortunately for you, there are numerous different exchanges on the cryptocurrency market that you can choose from, such as Coinbase, Kraken, Gemini, and Binance. They also offer mobile wallets that are available for both Android and iOS devices.

Hardware Wallet

You can also use a hardware wallet, whose main advantage is that it offers higher security because it operates offline. They store your public and private keys on a device that looks like a USB drive and is not connected to the internet. The most popular hardware wallets are Trezor and Ledger, and they support not only Bitcoin, but other cryptocurrencies as well, such as Ethereum.

A Few Words Before You Go…

Hopefully, you now know a little bit more about Bitcoin addresses, their length, and the three different types that you can choose from. You can get a software wallet through cryptocurrency exchanges or hardware wallets independently of the platforms you use and transfer crypto coins in and out of them.