What Is Runes Protocol? Bitcoin’s Latest Fungible Token Standard

What Is Runes Protocol? Bitcoin’s Latest Fungible Token Standard

The Runes Protocol is a new fungible token standard on the Bitcoin network that utilizes the UTXO model and OP_RETURN data fields to create and manage digital tokens efficiently. Here’s an in-depth guide on the Runes Protocol, its functionality on the Bitcoin network, its efficiency in token creation, and its innovative technology.

Launched on the significant day of Bitcoin's fourth halving on April 20, 2024, the Runes Protocol marks a pivotal innovation in the Bitcoin network by introducing a new fungible token standard. This advancement not only signifies a major leap in blockchain functionality but also represents a commitment to enhancing Bitcoin's utility without compromising its core principles of decentralization and security.


What Are Bitcoin Runes? 

Runes represents a groundbreaking step forward in the evolution of Bitcoin by introducing a new fungible token protocol that leverages the unique aspects of Bitcoin's architecture. Unlike previous token standards, which often relied on complex and resource-intensive methods, Runes simplifies the process, making it more accessible and efficient. Runes Protocol was founded by Casey Rodarmor, who is also known for creating the Ordinals protocol. 


Runes new etching/deployment - hour | Source: Dune Analytics


The Importance of Runes’ Launch at Bitcoin Halving 2024

Runes are more than just another digital asset; they are a transformative protocol that enhances the utility of the Bitcoin network. By enabling the creation of fungible tokens, Runes opens up new possibilities for developers and users alike, from creating community-driven meme coins to launching more complex financial instruments directly on Bitcoin's secure and decentralized platform.


The launch of Runes was timed to follow the event of the fourth Bitcoin halving in April 2024, an occurrence that typically heightens attention on Bitcoin due to the reduction in miner rewards. This strategic timing leveraged the increased focus on Bitcoin's economic changes to introduce a technological enhancement to broaden Bitcoin's utility. The introduction led to a notable increase in transaction fees, reflecting the heightened activity and interest in the new protocol, underscoring its immediate impact and potential long-term significance in the ecosystem.


How Does Runes Protocol Work? 

The Runes Protocol on Bitcoin utilizes a UTXO-based system to enable the creation and management of fungible tokens directly on the Bitcoin blockchain. This approach allows you to embed data directly into Bitcoin transactions, streamlining the process and making it more resource-efficient. Unlike traditional methods that can inflate the blockchain's size and complexity, Runes uses minimal space—up to 80 bytes of data with OP_RETURN—reducing the strain on the network while maintaining transaction integrity.


  1. OP_RETURN Usage: Runes utilizes the OP_RETURN output in Bitcoin transactions. This output allows for the inclusion of a small amount of arbitrary data in transactions without affecting the spendability of outputs, thus avoiding blockchain bloat. The data stored in OP_RETURN includes all necessary token information, such as the token ID, supply, and transaction details.

  2. UTXO Model: Unlike traditional account-based systems, the Runes Protocol integrates with Bitcoin's existing UTXO model. Each transaction involves outputs from previous transactions as inputs, creating new outputs that can be tracked through UTXOs. This model is beneficial for tracking token balances and ensures that tokens are not double-spent.

  3. Token Operations: The creation of a new token, or "etching," involves setting specific token properties such as name, divisibility, and supply. The blockchain records these properties via a Runestone, a protocol message stored in a transaction output. Minting and transferring tokens also utilize these Runestones, with specific instructions for how tokens will be distributed or transferred between addresses.

  4. Enhanced Scalability and Efficiency: By minimizing the data footprint on the blockchain, Runes aims to reduce network congestion issues often seen with other token standards like BRC-20. Using OP_RETURN and UTXO helps manage the on-chain space more efficiently, potentially leading to faster and cheaper transactions, especially when integrated with solutions like the Lightning Network.

  5. Minting and Transferring: Tokens are minted and transferred through commands embedded in Bitcoin transactions. This includes specifying the amount of tokens to mint or the details of how tokens are to be transferred from one party to another.

Bitcoin transaction fees over the past three months | Source: Bitinfocharts


Runes Protocol marks a significant step forward in how fungible tokens are managed on the Bitcoin blockchain. Its introduction, coinciding with the fourth Bitcoin halving on April 20, 2024, brought not only a new technical standard but also a substantial rise in transaction fees due to the surge in network activity. This spike highlighted the growing interest and the practical implications of integrating a new token system into Bitcoin's existing framework.


Use Cases of Runes Protocol

Runes Protocol introduces a streamlined way to create and manage fungible tokens on the Bitcoin blockchain. One of the standout features of Runes is its ability to host a variety of projects, particularly meme coins, which have become a popular form of community-driven projects within the cryptocurrency market. Memecoins often start as fun, less serious ventures but can grow significantly in popularity and value, drawing mainstream and crypto-savvy investors alike.


Some examples of tokens and projects created using the Bitcoin Runes Protocol include Rune Pups, Runevo, and Runestone. 


  • Runestone: Runestone spans over 112,000 Ordinals assets. These assets were airdropped for free to collectors who met specific criteria during the first year of the Bitcoin protocol's existence. Runestone has become popular due to its large collection size, and holders have been promised up to three token airdrops once the Bitcoin Runes protocol officially launches.​ 

  • RSIC•GENESIS•RUNE: Another notable example within the Runes ecosystem is RSIC•GENESIS•RUNE, which quickly gained traction with a market cap surpassing $325 million. 

How to Get Started with Runes Protocol on Bitcoin 

You'll need to follow a few key steps to get started with the Runes Protocol on Bitcoin. Here’s a general overview of what you need to do:


  1. Understand the Runes Protocol: Familiarize yourself with how Runes utilizes the Bitcoin blockchain’s UTXO model and the OP_RETURN output for token operations. Runes tokens are designed to be simple and efficient, reducing the blockchain's load by minimizing the data used in transactions.

  2. Set Up a Compatible Bitcoin Wallet: Choose a Bitcoin wallet that supports the UTXO model and the specific functions of the Runes Protocol, such as ME Wallet or other wallets that provide necessary compatibility.

  3. Acquire Bitcoin: Ensure you have some Bitcoin in your wallet, as you'll need it to create transactions and potentially pay for transaction fees associated with minting or transferring Runes. You can buy Bitcoin on KuCoin and transfer it to your wallet to fund it. 

  4. Prepare for Minting and Managing Runes: Learn about the process of "etching" (creating new tokens), minting (producing tokens within the defined parameters), and transferring Runes. Each Rune token can be defined with specific attributes like divisibility, symbol, and cap, which are set during the etching process.

  5. Stay Informed About Latest Developments: Follow updates from the development team or community leaders on platforms like Twitter or the official Runes channels to get the latest information and updates about the protocol’s development and implementation.

Runes vs. BRC-20 vs. SRC-20 vs. ARC-20: Comparing Bitcoin Token Standards 

Runes stands out when compared to other Bitcoin token standards like BRC-20 and SRC-20, particularly in terms of efficiency and simplicity. The Runes, BRC-20, and SRC-20 token standards each offer different methodologies and features for the creation and management of tokens on the Bitcoin blockchain, tailored to distinct needs and technical approaches. Here's a comparison of the Bitcoin Runes, BRC-20, SRC-20, and ARC-20 token standards based on their characteristics in data storage, flexibility, scalability, and adoption:


Data Storage

  • Bitcoin Runes: Utilizes Bitcoin’s UTXO model with data embedded via the OP_RETURN output, allowing for efficient and flexible data management that does not permanently affect the blockchain's data layer.

  • BRC-20: Employs the Ordinals inscription mechanism to embed data onto satoshis within the witness part of transactions, separating it from the UTXO model and potentially leading to more blockchain bloat.

  • SRC-20: Similar to Runes, SRC-20 also uses the UTXO model but focuses on immutable storage, meaning the data, once written, cannot be changed or removed.

  • ARC-20: Operates under the Atomicals protocol, tying each token to a satoshi, which ensures that data is backed by actual Bitcoin value and is permanently recorded on the blockchain.

Flexibility and Scalability

  • Bitcoin Runes: Offers high flexibility and scalability by minimizing the data footprint on the blockchain and not requiring additional tokens for operations, making it easier to integrate into existing Bitcoin infrastructure.

  • BRC-20: Less flexible due to the lack of smart contract functionality and reliance on the Ordinals protocol, which can lead to inefficiencies and higher transaction fees.

  • SRC-20: Provides flexibility in terms of data usage and permanence but may face scalability issues due to the immutable nature of data storage, which could increase transaction costs.

  • ARC-20: Highly flexible in terms of token issuance and management, allowing for both decentralized and direct minting processes that can be tailored to the specific needs of projects.

Adoption and Use Cases

  • Bitcoin Runes: The Bitcoin Runes Protocol can support a variety of innovative use cases on the Bitcoin network, primarily by facilitating the creation and management of fungible tokens. These tokens can range from community-driven memecoins, which are known to attract both niche and mainstream interest, to more structured financial instruments like stablecoins or utility tokens. Additionally, because Runes simplify the creation process and improve resource efficiency compared to older protocols, they enable developers to launch and manage tokens more easily, thus potentially expanding the user base and diversity of applications within the Bitcoin ecosystem​. 

  • BRC-20: Has seen wider adoption thanks to its earlier introduction and integration with existing Bitcoin infrastructure, appealing to a broad range of use cases from digital collectibles to more traditional asset tokenization.

  • SRC-20: While offering unique advantages for use cases requiring permanent record-keeping, its adoption is still limited compared to BRC-20.

  • ARC-20: Although newer, it introduces features like decentralized minting and permanent file storage, which could expand its use cases and adoption in areas requiring verifiable authenticity and long-term data retention.

Runes vs. Bitcoin Ordinals 

Both Bitcoin Ordinals and the Runes Protocol utilize the underlying Bitcoin blockchain to facilitate the creation of digital tokens, but they approach it in different ways. A key similarity between the two is their use of on-chain data storage within Bitcoin transactions. Both protocols make use of the Bitcoin blockchain's ability to store arbitrary data. Ordinals embed data directly onto individual satoshis, while Runes uses the OP_RETURN output to store data about token operations without affecting the spendability of outputs. 


The introduction of Runes, especially evident in the surge of activity and transaction fees post-Bitcoin's halving, marks a significant evolution in the management and utilization of tokens within the Bitcoin ecosystem. This sets a new standard for efficiency, user engagement, and practical application across the broader cryptocurrency market, promising a more streamlined and scalable future for Bitcoin-based digital assets.


Learn more about Bitcoin Ordinals.


Challenges of Bitcoin Runes Token Standard

Adopting Runes for token creation on the Bitcoin network presents several challenges and technical considerations. One major challenge is the integration with Bitcoin's existing infrastructure, which is predominantly tailored for handling simple transactions, not complex token operations. This means that while Runes simplifies token creation, it still faces hurdles in terms of widespread node and wallet support, which are essential for its operation and user adoption.


Technical Considerations

  • Scalability: While Runes aims to minimize blockchain bloat by using efficient data storage methods, the overall impact on Bitcoin’s scalability as more tokens are issued remains a concern. The protocol must prove that it can handle a high volume of transactions without significantly impacting network performance.

  • Security: New protocols often face scrutiny regarding their security measures. Ensuring that Runes tokens are secure from attacks and vulnerabilities is crucial, especially given Bitcoin's high-profile nature.

  • Bitcoin’s High Transaction Fees: High transaction fees on the Bitcoin network present another significant hurdle. Immediately after the Bitcoin halving, Bitcoin transaction fees soared to as high as $170 before crashing down. The popularity of novel token standards like BRC-20 has previously led to increased transaction fees due to the added network load and congestion. As these tokens become more widely adopted, similar spikes in transaction fees could occur with the Runes Protocol, especially during periods of high demand. This can make the cost of creating and transferring tokens prohibitively high for users and could potentially limit broader adoption. 

What Does the Future Hold for Bitcoin Runes? 

Since its launch, Runes has received mixed reactions from the Bitcoin community. The innovative approach of Runes has been praised for its potential to broaden Bitcoin’s use cases. However, some community members express concerns about complicating Bitcoin’s simple transaction model and the potential risks associated with new and untested features. Ongoing development efforts focus on addressing these concerns by enhancing protocol stability and security features.


Looking forward, Runes could significantly expand Bitcoin's utility by enabling it to compete more directly with other blockchains that support complex financial instruments and decentralized applications. This expansion could attract a new wave of developers and users looking to leverage Bitcoin's robust security and liquidity for token-based projects.


As more developers begin experimenting with and adopting Runes, we can expect to see deeper integration with Bitcoin’s main infrastructure, potentially including improvements in wallet interfaces and user experiences that make interacting with Runes tokens as straightforward as traditional Bitcoin transactions. 


Further Reading