Over the last few years I have keenly followed the rise of Bitcoin from its early days trading at around $8USD. I watched with interest when it made its sharp rise to $1200USD and then felt dismay with more recent decline back to around the $200USD mark.
As a whole I think Bitcoin and the Blockchain are both game changing technologies that are yet to see their full potential. So over the last few months rather than just watching the Bitcoin exchange rate bounce around the place.
I sought to get a deeper understanding of how the underlying technology works and how it can be extended further. As part of this learning process I decided to set up a Bitcoin node both to act as learning resource for myself and to help contribute something back to the larger Bitcoin network.
In this article I am going to run through the process of turning a VPS running Debian Wheezy into a fully fledged Bitcoin node.
Unfortunately at the time of writing the Bitcoin software is not available for Debian Wheezy in the standard repositories. So we are going to use a Ubuntu PPA to get the source code and build a package from that instead.
Before we get started though please be aware the Blockchain is huge, will use upwards of 30GB of storage and it will only continue to grow. So keep this in mind if you are going to run your node on a VPS or similar to get one with enough disk space.
Okay now that the initial warnings out of the way lets get started. Login to your system an add the following line to the /etc/apt/sources.list file and then save the changes.
deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/bitcoin/bitcoin/ubuntu precise main
First we need to add the key for the new repository you added to the sources.list. Then its time to update the package list and upgrade the existing libraries and packages that are installed on the system.
apt-key adv --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com --recv-keys 8842CE5E apt-get update apt-get upgrade
Before we get too carried away though we need to install some supporting packages that the Bitcoin software requires to function.
apt-get install dpkg-dev qt4-qmake libdb5.1++-dev libqt4-dev libqrencode-dev libminiupnpc-dev libboost-test1.49-dev zlib1g lib32z1 libc6-i386 debhelper devscripts bash-completion libboost-system-dev libssl-dev pkg-config libboost-filesystem-dev libboost-program-options-dev libboost-thread-dev libboost-test-dev dh-autoreconf libboost-chrono1.49.0 libboost-chrono-dev libboost-all-dev libprotobuf-dev protobuf-compiler
Next we grab the source code for the Bitcoin project and get it ready to compile into a .deb package.
cd /usr/src apt-get source bitcoin cd bitcoin-0.9.4/
NOTE: The exact name of the Bitcoin directory will of course change over time as newer versions of the project are released.
Open the file debian/changelog with a text editor and add the following lines to the top of the file:
bitcoin (0.9.4-wheezy1) wheezy; urgency=low
* Mark for wheezy.
— Matt Corallo <email@example.com>
Then close the changelog saving the changes. Now clean the source tree by running the command below from the root of the project code base.
Side Note: If your system is like mine you may get some complaints back from the cleaning process about the locale not being set. To fix this issue run the commands below to regenerate the system locales. Selecting the appropriate locales that you want on the system for your location then run the clean process again.
locale-gen en_AU en_AU.UTF-8 hu_HU hu_HU.UTF-8 dpkg-reconfigure locales ./debian/rules clean
Berkeley DB Version Issues
If you run the build script as it stands you will get an error from the build process complaining about the version of Berkeley DB installed on the system.
You can find out what version you have installed on your system by executing the following snippet.
cat /usr/include/db.h | grep DB_VERSION_STRING
This will display something similar to the output below.
#define DB_VERSION_STRING “Berkeley DB 5.1.29: (October 25, 2011)”
My system had version 5.1.29 which is newer than the build process is requesting so I am just going to get it to ignore the issue. If you really want to use Berkeley DB v4.8 you will have to compile it as well which is outside of the cope of this article.
Continuing on, lets add a parameter for the build process to just use the newer version of Berkeley DB we already have. Edit the debian/rules file go down to line 21 and append the flag to the configure command, so it looks like the following.
The flag above will allow the binary to compile but any wallets created on the system will not be portable.
If you are not planning on using the wallet functionality and simply want to run a P2P node. You can go one step further and simply disable the functionality altogether by appending the flag below instead.
Building the Package
With the Berkeley DB issue fixed its time to run the actual build process. This step can be time consuming depending on the speed of your system taking anywhere from 10 – 30+ minutes to complete.
On completion of the build process you should have a freshly made .deb file that can be easily installed with the Debian package manager.
cd ../ dpkg -i bitcoind_0.9.4-precise1_amd64.deb
Up to this point you have probably been logged into your machine as root either natively or using sudo to elevate you privileges for the build process. For the sake of security you obviously don’t want to run the Bitcoin node under a user with so many systems privileges. So lets add dedicated user account to run the service under so its not running with root privileges:
Configuring the Service
Create a new configuration file for the Bitcoin service.
In this file at a minimum add two lines ( see below for example ) defining a user and password for the JSON RPC web service that allows you to interact with the node.
For an example file config file showing some of the other possible parameters I recommend taking a look at the Bitcoin Wiki to see all of the options available.
Starting the Daemon
Finally you are ready to start the service.
If you look in the same directory as the config file you created for the service you should also see a log file named debug.log. If you use the tail command to follow the log file ( i.e tail -f debug.log ) now that the node is running.
The log will show your node syncing with the blockchain, running through all the old blocks to bring itself up to speed with where things are now. This is a slow process and could take up to a few days to fully sync with the network depending on the connection speed.
Hardening your new node with some firewall rules is also a pretty good idea to help things secure. Create yourself a script in an editor, with some iptables rules similar to below. If you are not planning on running a web server on the node then I recommend removing the two rules that allow HTTP traffic through on port 80.
#! /bin/sh # Flushing all rules iptables -F iptables -X # Setting default filter policy iptables -P INPUT DROP iptables -P OUTPUT DROP iptables -P FORWARD DROP # Allow unlimited traffic on loopback iptables -A INPUT -i lo -j ACCEPT iptables -A OUTPUT -o lo -j ACCEPT # Allow incoming SSH iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 22 -m state --state NEW,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT iptables -A OUTPUT -p tcp --sport 22 -m state --state ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT # Allow incoming http iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 80 -m state --state NEW,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT iptables -A OUTPUT -p tcp --sport 80 -m state --state ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT # Allow incoming 8333 iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 8333 -m state --state NEW,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT iptables -A OUTPUT -p tcp --sport 8333 -m state --state ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT # Allow outgoing 8333 iptables -A OUTPUT -p tcp --dport 8333 -m state --state NEW,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --sport 8333 -m state --state ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT
After entering your firewall rules save the file, add change the file permissions so it can be executed. Then simply run to activate your firewall rules.
Watching Bandwidth Usage
If you want to see how much bandwidth your node is using I also recommend installing the vnstat package. This will give you some basic information on the amount of traffic your node is consuming on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.
Replace eth0 with the interface you would like to track on your machine. The last command will just display a brief summary of what is happening traffic wise. But you can pull this information in a number of different formations for the full options run vnstat –help.
apt-get install vnstat vnstat -i eth0 vnstat -u -i eth0
Are you still awake after reading all that? Are you feeling rich? Beer money is always greatly appreciated!
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Mastering Bitcoin a solid book containing most of the things you need to know about Bitcoin and the Blockchain while still remaining easy enough to read.
A map of the Bitcoin nodes across the globe