2023.03 Vol.3

Bit of mints


Mints are another take on the trust-for-useability trade-off spectrum. Where hosted channels attempt to re-use as much of the lighting payment channel protocol as possible, mints do away with the protocol for a more open-ended token scheme. So like a service which offers hosted channels, mints sit on top of lightning and are custodians for user funds. But instead of just offering to send and receive lightning payments for users, mints accept lightning payments in exchange for tokens. These tokens can contain anything the service offers, for example, “I will send up to 100 sats on the Lightning Network for anyone who redeems this token – Signed, Mint A”. Each token has a cryptographic signature so the service can trust them (e.g. bad actors can’t make fake tokens). Mints are kind of a custodial form of the LSAT pattern.

Like with hosted channels, there are a lot of privacy benefits for mint users. Mints use a neat protocol where instead of users don’t have to have an account at the mint. Instead the tokens contain all account information. When the user uses a token, they get a token in return with the updated “balance” (or whatever the token enables on the service). This keeps the amount of track-able metadata in a mint to a minimum. Users of the same mint can directly transact with each other with tokens, no need to go to the Lightning Network as long as they trust the mint. Mints differ from hosted channels with their feature scope, but they also have a much broader strategy. Hosted channels can be offered by anyone running a lighting node. Mints are designed to be run by family and communities. The idea being its easier to trust your family with your funds than some random third party service on the interwebs.

There are different mint implementations out there including cashu and Fedimint, but I think they have the same general strategy.

So do mints help the “on-ramp to buy a digital coffee” scenario? They are a little more interesting than hosted channels with the target at small communities. Theoretically, this would allow one member of a family or community to take the brunt of on-ramping to the Lighting Network and then sharing that power with the rest of the family. This makes sense to me, and if mints are small enough, just might be good enough to work. But I am still curious if there is technical way out there to easily bring this power to the individual.