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What Is a Private & Public Key?

In this guide, we'll discuss all details and differences between private and public keys. Here is what you should know about these forms of cryptography!
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Private and public keys are essential components of crypto transactions. They are crucial to accessing your digital assets but also confirming transactions when trading crypto. In this guide, we’ll discuss all details and differences between private and public keys. Here is what you should know about these forms of cryptography!

What Is a Private Key?

We’ll start with the private key since it’s the most important thing in the cryptography world. For starters, none of these is an actual “key.” Instead, it’s a string of symbols that helps to confirm or “unlock” something. A private key is what allows you to access the crypto funds in your possession and prove you are the owner. 

The private key is a type of code that involves a string of symbols. It can be a binary code with 256 characters or a hexadecimal code with 64 digits. Some platforms even create a QR code to make managing private keys easier.

As you might assume, this is something you need to consider a “top secret.” You need to keep your private key secure, which is why experts recommend never sharing it with anyone. Think of it as strictly business, and don’t trust anyone with it. Even your close ones could make an honest mistake and give away the key possession to someone.

It’s imperative to use reliable crypto wallets and keep your private keys in a secure location. The process of retrieving a lost private key isn’t simple, which is why you need to manage it wisely.

What Is a Public Key?

A public key primarily serves for receiving crypto funds. It’s typically a wallet address that is presented in this form. This key type is paired to the private key of a specific wallet. That means anyone can use the public key to send funds to a particular wallet, but only the owner can unlock it with the private key.

Here is how a typical transaction works:

  1. You unlock the transaction with a public key.
  2. It’s only possible to confirm or “sign” the transaction with a suitable private key. That paired key is a guarantee that the transaction is authentic. If there’s no verification, the network can reject the transaction.
  3. Once you enter the private key, the network processes the transaction. This is irreversible.



Difference Between Private and Public Keys

The obvious difference is that you need to take much bigger care of your private keys. You can create a public key with a private one, but the other way around isn’t possible. Check out this table to learn more about the key differences.

Private Key Feature Public Key
Used for encrypting and decrypting, but also sharing with the receiver/sender of funds. Algorithm Used for encrypting and decrypting the data.
It’s faster than public keys. Speed It’s slower than private keys.
It uses the symmetric mechanism since there is one key between both parties. Type They use an asymmetric mechanism since the two keys have different purposes.
You need to store it securely and share it only with the receiver/sender. Secrecy It’s free to use, and you don’t have to worry about hiding it.
You can share it with other participants in the transaction. Sharing Anyone can use this key.

Other Types of Common Keys

You’ll find keys have many different functions in cryptography. Here is a brief overview of the potential types and purposes of these keys:

  • Data encryption. This is the primary function of these keys, and we’ve described it above.
  • Authentication. Thanks to this function, you can use keys to authenticate a transaction or prove ownership of a particular wallet.
  • Key encryption. If you need to transport a secret key, you can “wrap” it with separate encryption.
  • Master key. This type uses the symmetric approach to encrypt multiple other keys.
  • Root key. It’s the highest in the cryptography infrastructure. You can use it to sign and authenticate digital certificates. 


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