The holy grail of a bitcoin wallet is a string of 256 bits of information, called a private key, that is used to digitally sign your transactions and spend money to another account. Here’s a random one for example. Notice the private key will always begin with ‘5’.
It is vitally important to understand the number that represents your bitcoin private key should remain very secret. If anyone can access it, they can spend your bitcoins.
To the contrary, bitcoin addresses should be considered public so that people can spend money to it. These long numbers always begin with a ‘1’ or ‘3’ and are generally safe to give out to anyone. Here is an example of a bitcoin address:
Backup your money! Which ever wallet you chose below, please take the time to learn how to back up the private keys. If you lose your device or it stops functioning, you can restore your keys on a new device. If you don’t learn this very important function, you can lose all your bitcoins with no recourse.
- Electrum – Electrum is a free, easy to use light weight client with powerful advanced features. It works on Mac, Windows, and Linux operating systems. Electrum also supports a “seedless” rudimentary POS system. This allows you to receive bitcoins at your PC cashier system, yet store those same bitcoins in a more secure location. This client is under heavy development and is leading the way for secure, decentralized bitcoin merchant Point-Of-Sale systems.
- Multibit – This client allows you to easily manage multiple wallets to better manage your bitcoins. (i.e. Savings, Checking, etc)
- Bitcoin QT – The reference client for the bitcoin community. This client is the most secure wallet. The core bitcoin developers maintain this software and is considered the most stable. However, the requirements to run this software are very high and delays in acknowledging transactions are likely if you do not regularly keep it sync’d with the network.
- Armory – This client sits on top of Bitcoin QT and offers very powerful and advanced features. Requires extremely high resources for full functionality.
- BitcoinPaperWallet.com – A system that allows you to securely generate bitcoin addresses offline and safe from malware, spying, and theft. Supports “brain wallets” – private keys generated from a passphrase you only ever keep in your head and never stored on a computer.
- BrainWallet.org – Similar to BitAddress.org but slightly different features.