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Bitcoin Header Node

A lightweight node for syncing header data w/ as little data as possible from the Bitcoin network


A bcoin spv node is already very lightweight, around 160MB of chain data on mainnet as of block 568,134. However, it also stores some extra metadata with the headers. This helps for PoW verification but makes the headers a little heavier than the minimum 80 bytes per header (in fact bcoin stores a data structure internally called the ChainEntry for spv sync rather than just the headers).

This Bitcoin Header Node implementation reduces the size of the data stored on disk for header syncing by using an in-memory chain to sync with peers and a separate indexer database to store the headers. This brings the db size down to 76MB though further optimizations may be possible. The Header Indexer is based on a new feature for bcoin that separtes out the indexers (Tx, Address, and Compact Filters) into their own databases and exposes utilities for creating your own custom indexers.


Configuration options are the same as with bcoin. See more information here.

System Requirements:

  • Linux, OSX, or Windows (*)
  • node.js >= v11.12.0
  • npm >= v6.4.1
  • python2 (for node-gyp)
  • gcc/g++ (for leveldb and secp256k1)

If running on a fresh VPS with Ubuntu, you can run sudo apt-get install build-essential to get the necessary build tools and then run the following commands.

(*): Note that bhn works best with unix-like OSes, and has not yet been thoroughly tested on Windows.

Using from GitHub

$ git clone
$ cd bitcoin-header-node
$ yarn install
$ ./bin/bhn

Mainnet should take between 1-2 hours for initial sync from genesis, less with a custom start height

You can also install from npm

$ npm install -g bhn
$ bhn [...options]

Or use it as a library

const BHN = require('bhn')

async function startNode(config) {
  let node = new BHN({
    network: 'testnet',
    startHeight: 1045000

  process.on('unhandledRejection', err => {
    throw err

  process.on('SIGINT', async () => {
    if (node && node.opened) await node.close()

  // you can even set event listeners!
  node.on('connect', entry => console.log('new block connected!:', entry))

  try {
    await node.ensure()
    await node.connect()
    await node.startSync()
  } catch (e) {

  return node


Since BHN is just an extension of a normal bcoin full node, configuration works the same as well. You can add config options to a config file bhn.conf, which by default is searched for in the ~/.bhn prefix data dir. Command line args and env vars, prefixed with BHN_ are also supported.

Read more at the bcoin Configuration docs.

Fast Sync with a custom start block

About Custom Start Blocks

Header Node supports the ability to start syncing from a custom start height rather than syncing a new header chain from scratch. This can have the advantage of saving space and sync time if you don't need the full history of previous headers.

This can be a little tricky however since a blockchain by its nature relies on the fact of an unbroken chain of history connected by hashes going back to the Genesis Block. Make sure that you trust the block data you are starting with. Even if you have an incorrect start block however, unless you're connecting to and eclipsed by malicious peers, the sync should just fail with a bad starting block.


You need to tell your node you want to start with a custom start point. There are two ways to do this on mainnet and testnet: with the start height or with the raw header data for the start block and its previous block (this is needed for contextual checks). These should be put in order, block at index 0 in the array should be the prev block, and the last block in the array (index 1) will be saved as the actual starting block.

For a contained testing network like regtest or simnet, only the raw data will work since the height functionality works by querying the API for the target blocks (you can see how to set the raw block data in the bhn tests for startBlock).

Both options, start-block or start-height, can be passed as with any bcoin Configuration.

For example, to start from block 337022, you can pass in the following at runtime:

$ ./bin/bhn --start-height=337022

Alternatively, adding it to a bcoin.conf configuration file in your node's prefix directory or as an environment variable BCOIN_START_HEIGHT will also work. For a start-block, you must pass in an array of two raw block headers (i.e. as Buffers).

Header Node Client

The Header Node comes with a built-in HTTP server that includes both a REST API and RPC interface (on the backend it uses an extended instance of the bweb object used in bcoin) You can use the bclient package to interact with your header node, either installed as a global package with npm and used via CLI or used directly in a script. Authentication is also supported on the node. A client that wishes to connect will need an API key if this is enabled.

(Read the bcoin API docs for more information on installing and setting up a client).

New Endpoints

All instances of client in the following examples are references to the bclient package, available on npm. Read more about using bclient here.

GET /block/:height

GET /header/:height

;(async () => {
  const height = 450000
  // these two requests are equivalent
  await client.getBlock(height)
  await client.get(`/header/${height}`)
HTTP Response
  "hash": "0000000000000000014083723ed311a461c648068af8cef8a19dcd620c07a20b",
  "version": 536870912,
  "prevBlock": "0000000000000000024c4a35f0485bab79ce341cdd5cc6b15186d9b5b57bf3da",
  "merkleRoot": "ff508cf57d57bd086451493f100dd69b6ba7bdab2a0c14254053224d42521925",
  "time": 1485382289,
  "bits": 402836551,
  "nonce": 2972550269,
  "height": 450000,
  "chainwork": "00000000000000000000000000000000000000000036fb5c7c89f1a9eedb191c"


The RPC interface is also available

;(async () => {
  const height = 450000
  await client.execute('getheaderbyheight', [height])
  "hash": "0000000000000000014083723ed311a461c648068af8cef8a19dcd620c07a20b",
  "confirmations": 121271,
  "height": 450000,
  "version": 536870912,
  "versionHex": "20000000",
  "merkleroot": "ff508cf57d57bd086451493f100dd69b6ba7bdab2a0c14254053224d42521925",
  "time": 1485382289,
  "mediantime": 1485382289,
  "bits": 402836551,
  "difficulty": 392963262344.37036,
  "chainwork": "00000000000000000000000000000000000000000036fb5c7c89f1a9eedb191c",
  "previousblockhash": "0000000000000000024c4a35f0485bab79ce341cdd5cc6b15186d9b5b57bf3da",
  "nextblockhash": null

getstartheader and getStart

This endpoint is for getting the header of the starting block for when you have a custom start height set. Useful for when you need to check how far back you can get headers for.

;(async () => {
  await client.execute('getstartheader')

For a node that started on block 337022, the rpc will return:

  "hash": "00000000000000001324bcae72265c48b69328266afffe0d4a526ca400942550",
  "confirmations": 243410,
  "height": 337022,
  "version": 2,
  "versionHex": "00000002",
  "merkleroot": "63fec4d1079d12855590ddd99b5a94035fd6a30fcbe8581be7ed862fa7582ae2",
  "time": 1420156149,
  "mediantime": 1420156149,
  "bits": 404426186,
  "difficulty": 40640955016.57649,
  "previousblockhash": "00000000000000001591acd927bff8a122aeb6fea74cb7aff3ba535fa431a3c2",
  "nextblockhash": "00000000000000000b2622fab43b722df811c28b64005c82f56285a46aa9605c"


;(async () => {
  await client.get('/start')


  "hash": "00000000000000001324bcae72265c48b69328266afffe0d4a526ca400942550",
  "height": 337022,
  "version": 2,
  "prevBlock": "00000000000000001591acd927bff8a122aeb6fea74cb7aff3ba535fa431a3c2",
  "merkleRoot": "63fec4d1079d12855590ddd99b5a94035fd6a30fcbe8581be7ed862fa7582ae2",
  "time": 1420156149,
  "bits": 404426186,
  "nonce": 2449800613


NOTE: The api is the same as for normal bcoin/bitcoin nodes and takes the block hash as input. However, when using against a header node, this will only work on recent blocks. Since the bhn indexer only indexes by height and all other chain data is saved in memory, older blocks will not be found. Use getheaderbyheight method above instead when possible


Tests are available and can be run with the following command:

$ yarn test


  • If the initial sync is interrupted and restarted, you may notice your logs (if they are on and set to level "spam") spitting out a bunch of messages about blocks being re-added to the chain. This is the in-memory chain getting re-initialized from the headersindex. This is necessary for blocks after the network's lastCheckpoint since the chain db is used for certain contextual checks when syncing a node, for example handling re-orgs and orphan blocks. We take the header index data that is persisted and add these to the chain db so that they are available for these operations.

  • The HeaderIndexer takes the place of the chain in several places for the Header Node to avoid some of this reliance on the chain that is not persisted. The custom HeaderPool is extended from bcoin's default Pool object to replace calls to methods normally done by the chain that won't work given that there is no chain (or in the case of a custom start point, not even a proper genesis block). The best example is getLocator which normally gets block hashes all the way back to genesis on the chain, but in our case will run the checks on the header index, and stop early if using a custom start point.

  • In the unlikely case that you are using a header node on regtest or simnet (such as in the unit tests), it is not recommended to use a custom start height. The reason is that there are some different PoW checks that are done for testing networks to account for variance in mining hash power. So in a situation where there are no checkpoints or you're starting your node after the lastCheckpoint (which is zero for regtest/simnet), the chain will search backwards for old blocks to confirm proof of work even if not in a new retargeting interval. Start height initialization will typically account for this on testnet and mainnet for example, but since regtest does not have a lastCheckpoint, this can make behavior a little weird. For the tests, to confirm that the start height functionality works with checkpoints, we adjust the retarget interval down in some cases and set a custom lastCheckpoint rather than having to mine over 2k blocks which would slow the tests down.


  • Investigate other performance improvements such as compressed headers
  • Fix or avoid tedious process of re-initializing chain from headers index when past lastCheckpoint
  • Add support for later start heights, after lastCheckpoint.


Apache License, Version 2.0

Copyright (C) 2019 Tierion

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License");
you may not use this file except in compliance with the License.
You may obtain a copy of the License at

Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software
distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS,
See the License for the specific language governing permissions and
limitations under the License.

See LICENSE for more info.


A lightweight node for syncing only bitcoin block headers from a specific height







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