If you get into Bitcoin it won’t be long before someone mentions that you should be running a full node.
Don’t trust. Verify.
If you haven’t heard that phrase yet give it time. It means that you are validating every Bitcoin transaction that has, or will ever, exit. No more relying on some third-party to tell you everything is legit. It also helps your privacy because you are not giving out any information to a third party like Blockchain (IP address, and any Bitcoin address you type in to check transactions or balance).
So, it makes sense to want to run your own node but it hasn’t always been easy to set up even for techie folks. That’s why there are third parties out there that sell “plug-n-play” nodes. They have all the bells-n-whistles you need already set up. It does come at a hefty price depending on who you go with. Some have a recurring fee for external services on top of running a node (Casa) and others (various Raspberry Pi set-ups) give you all the tools to use/store your Bitcoin, but are still a little hard to set up and the UX/UI needs work.
This is where Umbrel comes in.
People in the Bitcoin space are quickly coming to the realization that if you want more people involved it has to look and run smooth. Keeping Bitcoin decentralized (meaning you store Bitcoin on a non-custodial wallet and run your own node) is very important to the health of the network. Up until this point there have been lots of options to do this, but it is still cumbersome and not visually appealing.
Umbrel is changing this in a dramatic way. Firstly they are running a lot of services in the background that the user doesn’t have to set up. Bitcoin core, LND (for a Lightning node), Electrum server (so you can connect a mobile or hardware wallet to your node (leaks less information)), and Tor (which they route everything though, for anonymity). There are other services they are currently working on so that way users will have more tools to work with. The best part is Umbrel hides all those things under the hood. You are shown the bare essentials, but in a nice visually appealing way.
The Hard Part
I mentioned that setting up a node in the past is hard. Umbrel can still be hard for some people, but they have tried to mitigate it as much as possible. The best way to run Umbrel is on a Raspberry Pi. The team even have a easy to understand set up guide on their website.
They give you links to the individual products to purchase on Amazon and then show/tell you each step to get your Pi up and running. When you do all it takes is plugging it in and waiting for about five minutes for it to start syncing the blockchain. Then, while you are on your local network, in a browser go to
umbrel.local and check out the beautiful site awaiting you.
Now if you run Linux at home you are still able to run Umbrel (this is how I use it). Follow these directions and you will be up and running soon.
At any point in time if you run into issues someone would be glad to help you in either their Telegram channel or on Twitter. They have helped me figure out issues I was having when trying to use an already downloaded blockchain. Those instructions can be found here.
What Wallets Can Connect to Umbrel?
There are lots of different types of wallets to connect to your Umbrel node. Remember that when you connect your wallet to your node it means your wallet maker will not be able to spy on your transactions. Most of these wallets are non-custodial (meaning you have the keys to your wallet, you are in total control of your Bitcoin), but if they connect to some other node the node owner will be able to see your incoming/outgoing transactions.
One Last Thing
It used to be that once you got your node up and running you would have to wait for the node to validate all the transactions that have ever occurred. This process still needs to happen (it’s called the Initial Blockchain Download or IBD for short) and its will take up a lot of space on your hard drive. Currently (as of 12/20/20) it is 360GB. So, if you decided to get a SSD it will take a few days to download and verify the IBD. If you decide to use a HDD (aka spinning rust) then it will take a couple of weeks. Can you wait around either a few days or weeks to use your Bitcoin? Well you can with Umbrel. Under the hood they use SPV and Neutrino until the blockchain is 100% synced. This way you are able to use your Umbrel node while you wait on full synchronization.
I have downloaded the Bitcoin Core GUI before and have tinkered around with it, but I haven’t been committed to running a full node until Umbrel came along. There are plenty of things still to be added, but what I’ve seen them do in this space so far is very encouraging. Bitcoin is too good a thing to pass up. It is great to see people coming into this space to try and make it available and accessible to the masses.