So you’ve finally found the perfect cryptocoin and you want to start mining, investing or spending all that hard earned virtual value. How to get started?
Step 1 – Get a Wallet
Most cryptocoins have a website with download links setup for the current wallets for most major operating systems. It is usually pretty easy to install the wallet and specifics are usually available on the website or in forums or you can test out how friendly the community is by asking questions.
A word of caution here, some coins have had problems with the source code being modified and new wallets made by thieves to steal cryptocoins. Always make sure you get the wallet from a trusted source and don’t follow any links in forums from people you don’t trust that compile and release a “new” version out of the goodness of their heart. 😉
You might even use a different machine to test out and work with an unfamiliar coin as a precaution if you start collecting large values of cryptocoins. Wallet pass phrases are a really good idea in case someone gets access to the “wallet.dat” file, and it is best to set this prior to saving the wallet for a backup.
If you feel inclined the safest way to get a wallet is to use a Linux operating system and compile the wallet code from scratch. There is usually a qt wallet (GUI) to build and a daemon (text based application that runs in the background). Many communities post instructions for building them and there are text files in the “doc” directory in the Git source code. The daemon is the easiest to build and takes the least resources.
Step 2 – Download the Block Chain
If you install and run the wallet it should connect to some peers and start downloading the block chain. Some cryptocoins will provide a block chain bootstrap file that you can download to get started faster. It can take some time for a full block chain to download through a peer to peer network and you may need to restart the wallet to continue syncing if it stops for extended time.
Step 3 – Get Some Cryptocoins
Depending on the cryptocoin there can be a few different options to start earning them. There are mining programs available for some coins some will work on a computer with a good CPU but most require faster hardware like GPU’s, or ASICS. Once you have some cyptocoins you can mint more on your computer if the coin supports Proof of Stake. You can also purchase coins on an exchange using Bitcoin or fiat currency or get free coins from a Faucet or IRC channel. You might even start a Blog and hope people tip you in cryptocoins for your work 😉
Step 4 – Backup the Wallet
You really should make a copy of the “wallet.dat” file and save it as a backup, it is located in the home directory in a hidden file in Linux. (Most wallets have a command for backing up the file as well) An off-site location would be best in case something happens (fire, earthquake, floods, zombies,…) but this can open up another security issue with file access so use your best discretion, my guess it is reasonably safe if the wallet is password protected.
Details (check on specifics for your coin):
As I recall the “wallet.dat” file is seeded with an initial number of public and private address keys and as you create new address it is pulled initially from this pool. As long as you use fewer addresses than were initially created you shouldn’t have to backup this file again because all the transaction data can be recovered from the block chain, however, any addresses that you send coins to and save in the wallet would need to be backed up if you need to recover them. If you lose your public and private key for the addresses storing your cryptocoins you will be out of luck so you really need at least one good backup.
A good place to look into things, ask questions and contact people involved in cryptocoins is at the bitcointalk and CryptoCoinTalk forums. There is some great information in the forums and it is always a good idea to check on things there before investing time and effort. Sometimes problems can be solved pretty easy by posting a question and most users are good at giving honest assessments of a cryptocoin.