Lightning’s First Implementation Is Now in Beta

Today, March 15, Lightning Labs announced lnd 0.4-beta, the first beta release of the Lightning software implementation spearheaded by the development company. This makes lnd the first ever Lightning implementation to be marked as beta, meaning that the development team deems it to be feature complete and safe enough for use on Bitcoin’s mainnet — though the software could still contain bugs. In conjunction, Lightning Labs has also announced a $2.5 million seed investment round, which will fund further development of lnd.

“We’re calling this lnd release a beta as it has all the necessary safety, fault-tolerance and security features that we’ve deemed necessary to feel comfortable with early users to start experimenting with small amounts of real bitcoin and litecoin,” Lightning Labs CTO Olaoluwa Osuntokun told Bitcoin Magazine.

As an open and permissionless project, the Lightning Network was already being rolled out by users eager to test the highly anticipated scaling layer — even before any Lightning implementation was released in beta. Lightning Labs, in particular, favored a more cautious approach, as the development team was still working on “breaking changes,” Osuntokun explained. He noted that users who have opened payment channels with previous lnd releases will now have to close these channels before upgrading to the latest version.

A significant step compared to previous lnd releases is that the new software is compatible with various Bitcoin implementations. Where the alpha versions of lnd relied on btcd to interact with Bitcoin’s blockchain (both lnd and btcd are written in Google’s Go programming language), the beta release gives users the option to use their own preferred backend, including bitcoind (part of Bitcoin Core, in C++), Bcoin (JavaScript) and others.

Other new features implemented in the lnd beta include a new private key seed format specifically designed for Lightning; improved fault-tolerance in case something goes wrong; and smarter pathfinding for routing payments, as well as bug fixes and other improvements.

In conjunction with the software release, Lightning Labs announced a seed-funding round of $2.5 million to fund continued development of lnd. Investors include big names in the Bitcoin, blockchain and broader tech industry, such as Litecoin creator Charlie Lee; BitGo CTO Ben Davenport; Square and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey; former PayPal COO and Yammer founder David Sacks; Tesla and SpaceX angel investor Bill Lee; head of Square Capital and Square’s People Lead Jacqueline Reses; Eventbrite co-founder Kevin Hartz; Robinhood co-founder Vlad Tenev; and The Hive, Digital Currency Group and others.

Lightning Labs CEO Elizabeth Stark hopes that, with the release of the lnd beta and the seed-funding round, development of Lightning Network technology will move to its next phase.

“Lightning is not just about scalability, it’s also an app development platform. I think a lot of people don’t get that yet,” she told Bitcoin Magazine.

Building on lnd, developers can write apps that connect to the Lightning Network. Lightning Lab’s Lightning App Directory already features several dozen such apps, not limited to apps developed by Lightning Labs itself. Examples include Lightning wallets for desktop and mobile, a blogging platform with micropayments, a gambling site and more. Although most of these apps are only available on Bitcoin’s testnet so far, this is likely to change with the release of lnd 0.4-beta.

Moving forward, Lightning Labs plans to implement a range of new features in lnd, including “watchtowers” to outsource security (channel monitoring) to third parties, atomic multipath payments to increase payment channel liquidity, routing tools for Lightning node operators and more. And while lnd is already compatible with both Bitcoin and Litecoin, the two networks are not yet interoperable; a fix for this is also planned for a future release.

It should be noted that although the lnd 0.4-beta release marks a milestone in the development of the Lightning Network, it is still in beta — so it is still somewhat risky to use.

“This is still an early beta version aimed at developers and advanced users,” Stark said. “As with any early software there will still be bugs. Users shouldn’t be putting more money on Lightning right now than they are willing to lose.”

For full details of the release, see the lnd 0.4-beta release notes.

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