Before holding any bitcoin, you need somewhere to store it. Just like in the physical world, you store your bitcoin in a wallet.

Similar to a bank account number, your wallet comes with a wallet address that shows up in a ledger search and is shared with others so you can make transactions. This address, which is a shorter, more usable version of your public key, consists of between 26 and 35 random alphanumeric characters, something like 1A1zP1eP5QGefi2DMPTfTL5SLmv7DivfNa. Keep in mind that every letter and number in that address is important. Before sending any bitcoin to your wallet, double-check the entire address, character by character.  

Also tied to your wallet address is one or more private keys, which as the name suggests should not be shared with anyone. Keys are used to verify you own the aforementioned public key, and to sign off on transactions. Some wallets create a secure seed phrase, a set of words that will allow you to unlock your wallet if you lose your keys. Print this phrase out and keep it in a safe place.

The unfortunate truth is your bitcoin wallet is akin to your physical wallet. If you lose the private keys to your wallet, you’re most likely going to lose the currency in it forever.

Your wallet generates a master file where your public and private keys are stored. This file should be backed up in case the original file is lost or damaged. Otherwise, you risk losing access to your funds.

You can store your private keys on your computer, mobile device, on a physical storage gadget or even on a piece of paper. It’s crucial that you keep your private keys safe by generating backups both online and offline

Remember: Your wallet does not reside on any single device. The wallet itself resides on the Bitcoin blockchain, just as your banking app doesn’t truly “hold” the cash in your checking account.

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