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A New Frontier for Bitcoin? Recursive Inscriptions Explained

BY Langston Thomas

June 14, 2023

The Bitcoin community is abuzz with the emergence of something called Recursive Inscriptions. A novel new development building upon the continued hype of the Ordinals Protocol, Recursive Inscriptions seem poised to both disrupt the growing Bitcoin NFT ecosystem and redefine the parameters of blockchain-based file storage as we know it.

But how? And why should the NFT space care? Let’s explore.

What are Recursive Inscriptions?

Recursive Inscriptions can seem a bit complex. But unsurprisingly, they have everything to do with the Ordinals Protocol. Aa s refresher, the Ordinals protocol was first introduced to the world on January 21, 2023, by software engineer Casey Rodarmor. It offered a unique way to inscribe data on Bitcoin’s tiniest unit, satoshis (or sats). The resulting Ordinal Inscription is comparable to an NFT but with the significant distinction of being completely on-chain.

Recursive Inscriptions built upon this concept, providing a potentially groundbreaking method to expand the Bitcoin NFT network. Each Ordinal can store up to 4MB of data directly on Bitcoin’s blockchain. This has long been the maximum capacity for Bitcoin, albeit one that has recently been challenged by Taproot Wizards and Smart Inscriptions.

Yet, through Recursive Inscriptions, developers are now finding it possible to create an intricate web of interconnected data sources, meaning that Ordinals no longer have to exist as closed, 4MB-capped silos.

This is because a Recursive Inscription is essentially a complex mechanism that extracts data from existing Inscriptions and utilizes it within new ones. By interlinking data through a series of calls, developers have found it possible to run software entirely on-chain. Which, needless to say, has massive potential for interoperability on the Bitcoin network.

The potential of Recursive Inscriptions

We’re already starting to see the potential of Recursive Inscriptions realized by projects like OnChainMonkey. As noted in the above tweet from self-proclaimed NFT historian and Ordinals collector Leonidas, the growing, multi-chain project inscribed a variety of data packages on Bitcoin as Ordnals, then “used recursion to make calls to those packages from the Inscriptions in their upcoming Dimensions drop, which allowed them to create beautiful 3D art in under 1KB.”

Recursive Inscriptions enthusiasts, such as Leonidas, have been championing their potential not only to grow the use cases of Ordinals but also to slash transaction costs by reducing the volume of data inscribed onto each satoshi. This ability to recycle stored data by way of recursion could very well eradicate the necessity to store duplicate file copies, leading to a significant surge in storage efficiency.

Notably, storage efficiency and interoperability achieved by recursion could even lead to the facilitating of hosting extensive files, such as video games, movies, or complex software, all directly on the Bitcoin blockchain.

But beyond IP and entertainment, proponents have also emphasized the technological opportunities the innovation of recursion could create. Namely, Recursive Inscriptions could foster the implementation of permissionless contracts, enforced by Bitcoin’s enduring storage, without requiring new cryptographic measures. This would mean that developers could call on pre-existing repositories of Inscriptions to bypass the current 4MB limit by using data already stored on another Inscription.

Recursive Inscriptions critiques

Of course, no innovation could exist without opposition. Mostly, critics of Recursive Inscriptions argue that the entire concept hinges on Rodarmor’s Ordinals theory, which isn’t embedded in Bitcoin’s core framework or agreed upon in a consensus with the network.

As reported by Protos, this dependency could potentially lead to arbitrary changes by a centralized group of developers, impacting software functionality or misdirecting file storage hashes. Furthermore, skeptics question whether Recursive Inscriptions might negatively impact data storage needs or transaction fees as popularity grows and users increase. Although this general worry has long been voiced by Bitcoin factions against Ordinals.

Despite their nascent nature and the doubts surrounding scalability, Recursive Inscriptions undoubtedly signify a key moment in Bitcoin’s evolution. At the very least, the prospects of broadening interoperability and increasing storage efficiency are more than enough to bolster the appeal of recursion. Of course, it remains to be seen how this technological advancement will shape the future of Bitcoin, but it’s clear that the stage is set for an intriguing new chapter in blockchain history.

Editor’s note: This article was written by an nft now staff member in collaboration with OpenAI’s GPT-4.

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