If you’ve delved just a layer deeper into the world of Bitcoin, you’ve no doubt come across the word ‘Satoshi’. Without context, this would usually refer to Satoshi Nakamoto – the mysterious and widely-believed creator of Bitcoin. It was his name, albeit thought to be a pseudonym, that signed off and published a white paper in 2008 that kick-started the development of the Bitcoin crypto-currency. While no-one is 100% sure on whether there was indeed ever someone named Satoshi, or if he worked alone, the name will certainly live on. And one of the reasons is that ‘a’ Satoshi is quite simply the name used for the smallest unit of measurement a Bitcoin.
While Bitcoin differs from traditional currencies like the Pound Sterling and the American dollar in its economics, exchangeability and of course, tangibility, it can still be represented in it’s lowest form. As the penny and cent are the smallest units of their respective currencies, a Satoshi, represents Bitcoin’s smallest. Or if you really want to be in on the colloquialisms – it is sometimes referred to as a ‘sat’.
So how many Satoshis are there to one Bitcoin? In a nutshell: 100 million. That’s right, 1 Satoshi would equal 0.000000001, or 1/100,000,000, or even one-one-hundred-millionth of a Bitcoin. Or if you want to compare it to fiat currency, at the time of writing: one-hundredth of a British penny. Whichever way you wish to say it though, you can see that it’s quite a mouthful and rather impractical to use in everyday conversation, even in online chat. That’s why most chop off all the preceding zeroes and simply talk in ‘sats’. This is especially true in trading, as there is no other digital currency that is worth more than 1 bitcoin in a 1:1 ratio, so the price is 20 sats, or 200 sats, or 4500 sats – far easier.
This wasn’t always the case though. When the name Satoshi first came up for a label of denomination, in November 2010, it was suggested to use its name to represent 1/100 (one hundredth or 0.01) of a Bitcoin, and what a Satoshi is now (1/100,000,000) was actually called an ‘austrian’. Half a year later though, somehow Satoshi made it’s way forward, or should we say backwards, to be the preferred name of choice for the lowest denomination.
However, the plot thickens. While a Satoshi will always be fixed as the 100th million unit of Bitcoin, there is always the chance that the divisibility of Bitcoin changes. There is no reason why an extra couple of zeroes could be added to help divide up an ever-growing asset. So what then? Well there are talks about some possible terminology: dSatoshi (1/10th of a Satoshi), cSatoshi (1/100th of a satoshi), and mSatoshi (1/1000th of a Satoshi). Of course these are just ideas, the reality will probably be is that they adopt the BTC ticker: nBTC. Either way, we at present have enough decimals to account for the supply and demand, but there will always be the what ifs.
And its also worth noting on this, that there is still not an official currency symbol for 1 satoshi. Bitcoin has it’s famous ‘B’ intersected by two vertical lines, a symbol that finally made it into Unicode in 2017 thanks to Ken Shirriff, a (very patient) software engineer). You’ll usually see the symbol denoted against various gold or financially related backgrounds to help drill home it’s usage as a currency ticker. But still no Satoshi symbol. Have their been any suggestions at least? Actually yes. In fact, Shirriff also went to the Bitcoin community and asked for suggestions and was bombarded with creative symbols. A quick search will show you some wonderfully creative ideas. In the end though, he declared it far easier to use an existing Unicode symbol. This hasn’t deterred people though. And to no surprise, they have mostly adopted the Japanese form due the origin of the name. Here are four commong symbols which have started being used amongst various channels:
里 – This symbol actually has no meaning on it’s own, but when it’s combined with other Kanji in both Chinese and Japanese, the product is usually something related to idea, or theory. Some examples: 理想 (ideals), 理論 (theory), 理性 (reason), 理科 (science), and 量 (quantity).
シ – This is Katakana for the sound ‘Shi’, paying homage to the suffix to Nakamoto’s first name. This could have been a good idea, but unfortunately, the sound also means ‘death’ in Japanese, so understandably has some issues in being adopted!
㋛ – This is simply the above symbol with a circle around it. Perhaps some believed making is look more like a smiley face would take away some of the morbidity.
し – Also the sound ‘shi’ but in Japanese Hirigana.
サ – This is the sound ‘Sa’ (Satoshi) in katakana. Again, a good idea, but unfortunately far too common a symbol in the Japanese language to stand out.
So, as you can see, there is plenty to know about this tiny, minute, nearly unimaginably small denomination. However, it’s still yet to be solidified in both technology script and amongst peers as an ‘official’ denomination, and it very well may be replaced by a derivative of BTC eventually. Or then again, perhaps another persistent developer will campaign for it to be officially recognised, have a symbol made, and it makes it way into Unicode as with Bitcoin. For now though, it’s all we have. And just in case the maths earlier has been lost already, here’s a simple chart to help explain the Bitcoin denominations in full:
1 Satoshi = 0.00000001 BTC
10 Satoshi = 0.00000010 BTC
100 Satoshi = 0.00000100 BTC (also known as 1uBTC now)
1000, 10000, 1000000 we can skip as I’m sure you see the pattern!
1,000,000 Satoshi = 0.01000000 BTC
10,000,000 Satoshi = 0.10000000 BTC
100,000,000 Satoshi – 1 Bitcoin!