Published Jun, 09 2022

Public Key Vs. Private Key: What's The Difference?

Cryptocurrency terms can be confusing because they share the same name with physical materials we use daily in the real world.

Cryptocurrency terms can be confusing because they share the same name with physical materials we use daily in the real world. In crypto terms, a whale isn’t a mammal swimming in the deep blue sea but a person who holds and hoards a large percentage of a cryptocurrency. And a dip is a temporary downturn in a crypto price and not something you dunk your chips into. So when crypto enthusiasts use the words public and private key, they are not talking about the little pieces of metal you use to open a door. They are alluding to the more crypto-esque meaning of the word keys—the things that provide a means of gaining access. 

When you start a digital wallet, you get issued two keys: a public key and a private key. The public key can be compared to your email address. Like an email address, you can share your public key with other crypto users and businesses to receive crypto like you would receive an email. Most public keys are made up of a string of letters and numbers. Your wallet’s public address is a shortened version of the public key.

Your wallet’s private key is like your email address password. You can’t log in to your email account or read any emails sent to you without using your password to access your account. When you log in to your email account, you’re verifying it’s you since you should be the only person with the email address password—similarly, a private key acts like a password for your digital wallet. You can’t access your wallet or the cryptocurrency inside without the private key. Your private key can take different forms depending on the blockchain on which it operates. 

Why Keys Are Important

Like physical keys, your private and public keys serve a critical purpose in the cryptocurrency world. Your keys give you access to your crypto wallet and the crypto inside. Maintaining your own keys and access to your account takes control away from central banks and other financial institutions and puts it in your hands. When you control your public and private keys and thus the rights to your crypto wallet and cryptocurrency, you alone are in charge of your assets. 

Where to Store Private and Public Keys

It’s essential to keep track of both your public and private keys to maintain access to your digital wallet. 

Storing your public key to keep a record of it is as easy as writing your public key down in a safe place or saving a copy of it on your phone or computer. Remember, your public key is what you give to crypto users and operators to send and receive money, so you don’t need to hide it or keep it secret. 

You can keep your private keys in a number of different places. The important thing is that your private key should be known only to you and not made public. Some crypto users choose to store their private key offline, written on a piece of paper, on a portable device like a USB drive, or by committing it to memory. Unlike with major exchange websites, with the Bitcoin Depot app, you maintain control over your private keys, which means Bitcoin Depot doesn’t maintain custody of your crypto; you do. 

Now you know what public and private keys are and the difference between the two. Remember, using your keys is the only way to access your crypto wallets. It’s important to keep them safe and secure. 

Right now, you can stop by any of our Bitcoin ATMs to buy your own digital currency just like you would at a cash ATM. With over 7,000+ locations (link) across the U.S. and Canada, it’s easy to find a Bitcoin Depot ATM to use wherever you are. If you’re new to crypto, check out our user guide and videos (link) to learn more. You can also download our mobile app on the App Store or Google Play to send, receive, and store crypto through your mobile device.

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