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Every 10 minutes, a new block is added to the chain. These blocks contain Bitcoin transactions. But transactions in itself are not final as soon as they are made. Blockchain needs to verify and confirm these transactions. Of course, I have told you before that these transactions sit in an unconfirmed pool of transactions called Bitcoin mempool.
Bitcoin confirmations are simply the number of blocks added to the blockchain with your transaction also being added to it. For example, you will see one confirmation on your transaction when the block containing your transaction is added to the blockchain. Similarly, as the next block is added after this block, you will see 2 confirmations on your transaction.
This way the number of confirmations on your transaction will keep increasing as more blocks are added. Just to go to one of the Bitcoin block explorers. For example, in this, go to Blockchain. Note: I have used this TXID for this example: abcfbbd40dbf45b7ffb1d15a4. As you hit search, you will see this screen showing you the number of confirmations on this transaction:. Now that you have learned this, it is only natural to think, how many confirmations are sufficient before considering a transaction successful.
Every blockchain has a different number of suggested confirmations for which you should wait before considering a transaction successful and infeasible for double spend. However, it is theoretically possible to double spend the transaction, but it would be economically very costly for anyone trying to do so. Instead, it would be economically rewarding for the attacker to join the network and mine the blocks in an honest way with the amount of hashing power it is contemplating to attack it.
But there is no standard measure of it; different blockchain follows different practices. But if you want an idea as to how many confirmations you should wait with other blockchains when you are waiting for six confirmations in Bitcoin. Bitcoin miners mine Bitcoin blocks in every 10 minutes and keep adding them to the blockchain. This is the same way blockchain confirmations work in other proof of work or proof of stake blockchains too.
After a transaction is broadcast to the Bitcoin network, it may be included in a block that is published to the network. When that happens it is said that the transaction has been mined at a depth of 1 block. With each subsequent block that is found, the number of blocks deep is increased by one.
To be secure against double spending , a transaction should not be considered as confirmed until it is a certain number of blocks deep. Note that unconfirmed transactions do not expire. Merchants and exchanges who accept bitcoins as payment can and should set their own threshold as to how many blocks are required until funds are considered confirmed. When potential loss due to double spending as nominal, as with very inexpensive or non-fungible items, people may choose not to wait for a transaction to be confirmed, and complete the exchange as soon as it is seen on the network.
Most exchanges and other merchants who bear the risk from double spending require 6 or more blocks. There is nothing special about the default, often-cited figure of 6 blocks. Freshly-mined coins cannot be spent for blocks.
It is advisable to wait some additional time for a better chance that the transaction will be propagated by all nodes. Some older bitcoin clients won't show generated coins as confirmed until they are blocks deep.
Note that in the reality of bitcoin mining today, more than 6 confirmations are required. Some mining enterprises may hide their hash power across several mining pools. Also mining ASICs can be temporarily overclocked to increase their hash power. This is less power-efficient but could be used for a brief burst of hashrate. See also: Irreversible Transactions.