Gareth Johnson
Gareth Johnson
Updated on November 30, 2021

The Bitcoin (BTC) blockchain can often be very busy, especially during high Bitcoin volatility periods, when the price is fluctuating and cryptocurrency brokers are buying or selling BTC at high volumes. This can lead to network congestion when transactions take considerably longer than the average 5 to 10 minutes traders are used to. 

In such cases, when a transfer is taking much longer than usual, users might experience a lot of stress, especially if their transaction can make the difference between gaining huge profits and experiencing a serious loss of funds due to market volatility. In these situations, users may want to stop or reverse their transaction in order to adjust the transaction fee and attempt a new transfer with a higher fee and success probability.

Let’s take a look at how the BTC blockchain and the transaction process work, so you can understand the possible reasons for unconfirmed transactions and how to stop or reverse them. 

The Bitcoin Blockchain

The Bitcoin blockchain is the first crypto blockchain, launched back in 2009 by BTC developer Satoshi Nakamoto as a fully decentralized, public ledger of Bitcoin transactions. The blockchain can be viewed through the explorer at Blockchain.com and anyone can track their BTC transaction’s progress through the blockchain confirmation process. 

3D rendering of block in blockchain

Essentially, the blockchain is a decentralized transaction network that depends on network nodes, which are actually miners and their computers that validate all transactions. This way, there’s no need for any centralized authority on the blockchain and the network can’t be shut down because there’s no central server. The structure of the blockchain is in the form of a linear chain of data blocks that are set chronologically from first to last. 

Each Bitcoin block contains 1MB of transaction data and a block can only be added to the chain once all the transactions within it are approved by multiple, independent miners. 

Blockchain transactions can’t be interrupted once they have received at least one confirmation, so if your transfer has been confirmed once, then you can’t stop it or reverse it. The BTC protocol doesn’t allow any altering of confirmed data blocks and transactions so that no scams or data manipulations can happen. This makes the Bitcoin blockchain very secure and reliable because users know that once a transaction has been processed, it can never be reversed.

Numerous altcoins such as Ethereum (ETH), Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Litecoin (LTC), and others have taken all the best aspects of the original BTC blockchain technology and implemented them in their programming code. 

How Do BTC Transactions work?

A Bitcoin transaction is basically a cryptographic message sent out through the blockchain, signaling the transfer of funds between one location on the blockchain to another one. When users initiate a transaction, it needs to go through a complex process to get verified before it’s allowed to reach its final destination. 

The transaction verification process is a key part of the BTC blockchain because it ensures the security of all transfers and it also contributes to the production of new bitcoins. Multiple BTC miners have to verify the validity of each transaction by finding the appropriate 64-digit hash for a transaction, confirming that it’s not a scam and that the funds are spent only once. This is called proof-of-work and it’s an integral part of the transfer verification process. 

Miners use their computing power to find the 64-digit hash, which can take quite some time if only one miner is working on a transaction, but thousands of miners combine their hash rates into online mining pools that are responsible for validating a transaction in just a couple of minutes. 

Bitcoin icons in network concept

Once a transaction is validated, it’s added to the next block of the blockchain. When the block is filled with 1MB of confirmed transactions, the block is created and added to the chain. The miners that contributed to the validation of the transactions and the creation of the new block get a block reward of freshly mined BTC. This is how new bitcoins are created and this block reward is the main incentive for miners to validate transactions. 

BTC transfers also need to include transaction fees, which are modest sums of Bitcoin, counted in satoshis, that are offered as another form of incentive for miners. When a transaction starts its journey through the blockchain, it first goes into a mempool (memory pool) from which it is selected by miners based on the included transaction fee. The higher the fee, the faster the transfer will get processed. 

Reasons BTC Transactions Stay Unconfirmed

Bitcoin transfer delays aren’t something uncommon and they often happen when the network is very busy, during highly volatile periods of BTC price changes. Since every BTC transfer needs to get confirmed by multiple, independent miners when there’s lots of traffic, the network gets jam-packed and transactions wait longer in the mempool before being selected by Bitcoin miners. In such circumstances, your Bitcoin transfer can stay unconfirmed longer.

A misspelled destination address can also be a common reason behind a transaction remaining unconfirmed. This is why it’s highly recommended to never type Bitcoin addresses manually. Copy them and paste them into the destination address field instead and you’ll never make a spelling error. If you’ve entered a non-existing BTC address, your transaction will just remain unconfirmed, but if you’ve entered one that exists, your funds will go to the wrong address and you won’t be able to recover the coins.

Low transaction fees are one of the most common reasons behind unconfirmed Bitcoin transfers. Miners choose transactions from the mempool based on the included transfer fees, so if your transfer has a lower than average miner fee, it might take much longer to get a confirmation. In times of high network traffic, users pump up transfer fees because they want to get their funds transferred as soon as possible. It’s best to always include at least an average transfer fee. You can check the average Bitcoin fees on Bitcoinfees.net just to be sure that you didn’t select a low fee.

Stopping/Reversing BTC Transactions

If your transaction has at least one confirmation, you can’t stop it or reverse it, because the BTC protocol doesn’t allow approved transactions to be altered in any way. However, if your transaction hasn’t received any confirmation for some time, you can stop the transaction and attempt a new one with the same funds.

3D gold bitcoin on top of mobile with trends on red screen

Before attempting to stop or reverse a transfer, check your transaction on a block explorer with your transaction ID just to be sure it isn’t confirmed. Then you can use the Replace by Fee (RBF) protocol to reverse your transfer and resend it through the blockchain with a higher transaction fee, to make sure it gets selected by miners and verified. 

You can only use the RBF protocol if your wallet supports it, so it’s best to choose a Bitcoin wallet with RBF support for all of your Bitcoin transactions. This is the only way to stop and reverse your transactions.

If your wallet doesn’t support the RBF protocol, then you’ll, unfortunately, have to double spend your BTC. This means you need to simply create a new transaction with the same amount of bitcoins as the original transaction and send it through the Bitcoin network once again, but with a higher fee. This is called a higher fee double-spend transaction. This way you’ll spend twice the original amount of BTC you wanted to send. It’s much better to simply find a wallet with RBF features such as Bitcoin Core or Samurai Wallet.

A Few Final Words…

Bitcoin transactions are the most basic daily operation for active BTC traders, but they can sometimes be the source of much stress when urgent Bitcoin payments just stay unconfirmed for a long time. To avoid stressing yourself with unconfirmed Bitcoin transactions, it’s best to just use the RBF protocol to save your time and coins.