How the Paymail protocol improves the Bitcoin SV user experience
By Ryan Brothwell
Published: September 16, 2022

One of the most valuable features of Bitcoin is the ability to quickly and seamlessly record transactions between users around the world. While this is seen as a relatively simple task for those familiar with the Bitcoin SV protocol, users exposed to blockchain technologies for the first time may find this process slightly daunting – especially compared to how traditional online payments are made. Enter Paymail.

Paymail is a practical implementation of the family of related protocols collectively referred to as BSVAlias. Put simply, it is an identity protocol that removes Bitcoin addresses from the user experience. Instead of addresses, Paymail uses human-readable names that look the same as email addresses. Paymails are much easier to type into a device than Bitcoin addresses and can be used to identify an individual via the Paymail identifier.

The protocol describes a procedure where a wallet provider will be able to be discovered and contacted, and can respond to payments and payment requests in real-time so that payment receivers don’t have to re-use their Bitcoin addresses, thereby maintaining privacy.

As a simplified example, for Alice to send some bitcoin to Bob, Alice sends the payment to [email protected]. The paymail protocol implemented by Bob’s wallet will provide a Bitcoin script to pay for the actual Bitcoin transaction creation rather than relying on the concept of the Bitcoin address which is just a compact encoding of a script but limits the form of the script to one particular type. This is done behind the user experience. Note that the security will rely on public key infrastructure.

The existing solution originated in a Bitcoin Association Wallet Workshop and featured input from Centbee, Conify, CopPay, ElectrumSV, HandCash, MoneyButton, nChain, The Workshop and Tokenized. In its current format, the solution has already been adopted by several companies, most prominently Centbee, Handcash and MoneyButton, and the RelayX exchange.

Xiaohui Liu, Founder and CEO at sCrypt, is a member of the Technical Standard Committee’s Paymail working group. Below he outlines how Paymail helps improve the user experience and why it’s a good fit for some businesses working on the BSV blockchain.

Why do we need Paymail? 

‘When describing the Paymail protocol – I always use the analogy that it is similar to a Domain Name System (DNS),’ said Liu. 

‘Think about when you log in to a website. Under the hood, you are actually going to its IP address. Similar to a Bitcoin address, this IP address is typically this super long esoteric thing that nobody can remember and it’s just not user-friendly.’

‘Paymail, like a DNS, creates human-readable names that kind of look like an email address and then attach this to an underlying Bitcoin address – greatly improving usability.’

Improving the Bitcoin user experience

Liu noted that putting in a wallet code can lead to errors, due to how convoluted they can be. He added that accidentally sending a transaction to the wrong address can also be problematic as there is often no recourse to get it back immediately. 

‘You have to be very careful when sending. It is also not always easy to send it to a specific person – you just want to input something short and easily recognisable so that you don’t send it wrong. This is much easier when sending a transaction to a Paymail address with an identifiable name attached rather than just a random string.’

‘When Alice sends something to Bob, she sends a query to the Paymail server which then recognises the name ‘Bob’ on its systems. Then the server can say this is Bob’s latest address and it automatically does the transaction for you.’ 

This has particular benefits if you are a company or a business that frequently transacts with users on the blockchain, Liu said. He added that when businesses are transacting with consumers you want your identity to be fixed, but you also don’t want to reuse addresses. 

Paymail: It just works

As the BSV blockchain becomes more ubiquitous, some companies may not even highlight that they are using the protocol as users are only required to input their contact details and email addresses – similar to other online storefronts built on traditional fiat currencies.

Liu said this is a good application for Paymail – and that at the end of the day users are not interested in how the technology works – only that it works. 

‘I don’t know how the software works or what type of protocol it uses, it just works. I think end users should not care. It’s like magic. Of course, we as developers should figure out all the details but for anyone else, they don’t need to know what’s going on under the hood.’ 

However, Liu also noted that Paymail is not a panacea and that there will be some instances where the tool is not a good fit for users. 

‘Of course, the universal answer is that it depends and that it always comes down to a business decision. It’s still just a toolset that is built on top of Bitcoin. So whether you decide to use this tool will be dependent on whether your business, application or end users can benefit from it.

If you are a consumer-facing wallet then it seems like a good fit. But if you are developing something with very low-level tooling, you may not use it directly. So it all depends.’ 

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