What are bitcoin miners really solving?

They try to find a random nonce (a little random data) that goes into a block and makes the block have a (SHA256) hash that (in binary) starts with a certain amount of 0's. The more zeroes the more rare hash is. A good hash' outcome is not predictable, and so you have to try a lot of times to find a good nonce.

The amount of zeroes are based on how difficult it is supposed to be to find a block. In Bitcoin it adjusts to have a new block every 10 minutes (on average, given the rate at which previous blocks are found).

Interesting: because the hashes are unpredictable it doesn't matter how the nonce changes! Most of the time it's just a number counting upwards from 0!

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