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LearnCrypto 101

What are Ordinals (Bitcoin NFTs)?

Zac Glover
ordinals bitcoin NFTs

    Key takeaways

    1. Ordinals are Bitcoin NFTs.
    2. Through a logical ordering system, known as ordinal theory, each satoshi receives a unique number, allowing it to be identified and tracked. These “ordinal numbers” are given based on the order of its creation, hence, the name Ordinals.
    3. On January 20, 2023, developer Casey Rodarmor launched Ordinals on Bitcoin mainnet, which led to a robust ecosystem of NFTs on Bitcoin.

    When people first think of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), they often think of Ethereum and Solana. But long before these blockchains developed thriving NFT ecosystems, people experimented with NFTs on Bitcoin. In fact, the term “NFT” didn’t even exist yet. Since those early experiments, the Bitcoin network has evolved, through various upgrades, which has led to the development of Ordinals.

    What are Ordinals (Bitcoin NFTs)?

    Ordinals are Bitcoin NFTs. Unlike previous versions, which existed on layer-2 blockchains, Ordinals are Bitcoin native. Each ordinal is created by attaching—or “inscribing”—data, such as images, videos, and more, to an individual satoshi (aka sat), which is the lowest denomination of bitcoin (BTC).

    Through a logical ordering system, known as ordinal theory, each satoshi receives a unique number, allowing it to be identified and tracked. These ordinal numbers, known as inscriptions, are given based on the order of its creation, hence, the name Ordinals.

    Ordinals (Bitcoin NFTs) history

    So, how did Ordinals come about? Early NFT experiments paved the way...

    First, in 2012, the president of the Israeli Bitcoin Association Meni Rosenfeld released a whitepaper on colored coins. The idea was to make units of bitcoin unique by “coloring” them—a process of tracking their origin, distinguishing them from the rest, and assigning special properties (data) to them. Through this process, the colored bitcoin could then be used for alternative currencies, commodity certificates, smart property, and other use cases. Although this didn’t immediately enable the PFPs we know and love today, it did help create the foundation of non-fungible tokens.

    Two years later, in 2014, digital artists Kevin and Jennifer McCoy created what is widely-regarded as the world’s first NFT: Quantum. The McCoys created Quantum, a generative art piece, on the Namecoin blockchain, which is a Bitcoin fork. Why did they do it? They wanted to prove ownership of their work, and the blockchain enabled it. But the McCoys weren’t the only ones that looked to the blockchain…

    Quantum by Kevin and Jennifer McCoy

    In 2015, EverdreamSoft created the first blockchain trading card game, Spells of Genesis (SoG), on Bitcoin. Spells of Genesis are historical NFTs with each card representing a special moment in blockchain history. Players could collect and trade the cards to build their deck and challenge opponents.

    A year later, another digital collectible cards project launched. Released in 2016 on Counterparty, Rare Pepes is a collection of nearly 1,800 collectible cards featuring the memeworthy character Pepe the Frog. Each cheeky card displays Pepe in an amusing form—as Satoshi Nakamoto, Andreas Antonopoulos, Homer Simpson, Trump, and more. The Homer Pepe is particularly notable as it sold for $38,500 in the first live auction for blockchain art in 2018.

    After Rare Pepes, much of the NFT innovation happened on Ethereum and Solana. Until 2023. On January 20, 2023, developer Casey Rodarmor launched Ordinals on Bitcoin mainnet, which revitalized Bitcoin NFTs. But it wouldn’t have been possible without a couple key network updates. The Segregated Witness (SegWit) and Taproot updates to the Bitcoin Protocol, which took place in 2017 and 2021, enabled true Bitcoin NFTs on the main chain.

    How Ordinals differ from NFTs

    Although the development of Ordinals enabled NFTs on Bitcoin, they still differ from traditional NFTs in a few key ways.

    • Blockchain: Whereas traditional NFTs exist on various blockchains such as Solana, Ethereum, and Polygon, Ordinals only exist on Bitcoin.
    • Nature: Ordinals, or ordinal theory, is a novel numbering system for satoshis on Bitcoin. NFTs are unique digital assets that follow a token standard such as ERC-721 or Metaplex.
    • Storage: Most people think traditional NFTs are stored on-chain, but that’s not completely true. What you think of as the NFT—the image, GIF, etc.—is actually stored off-chain and linked within the token’s metadata. But Ordinals are different. Given that each one is assigned to a satoshi on Bitcoin, the data is “inscribed” (or stored) directly on the blockchain.
    • Fungibility: When it comes to fungibility, as the name suggests, NFTs are non-fungible. Each one is a unique digital asset, with a distinct identifier, and can’t be substituted for another like a dollar could. As for Ordinals, this isn’t the case. Each one is inscribed on a satoshi which is a fungible unit of Bitcoin. With that said, Ordinals gain “non-fungibility” for those who ascribe to Ordinal theory’s novel numbering system.
    • Immutability: NFTs, which are recorded on the blockchain, are immutable. This means their data, such as name, description, link to the hosted image, and more, can’t be altered or changed. But this isn’t the case for Ordinals. Being an ordering system, or numbers in a sequence, they’re not immutable. The sequence, and ordinal positions within it, can be changed and reordered.
    • Royalties: NFTs often have royalties coded into their smart contracts. So, when they’re sold (and resold) the original owners earn a percentage of the sales. On the other hand, Ordinals don’t have royalties due to them being ordered numbers in a sequence, and not unique digital assets executed by smart contracts.
    • Smart contracts: As alluded to above, Ordinals do not have built-in smart contract functionality. However, traditional NFTs do.
    ordinals bitcoin nfts

    How do I buy, sell, and trade Ordinals?

    You need three things to buy, sell, and/or trade Ordinals: an Ordinals marketplace, a crypto wallet, and Bitcoin for fees. If that sounds complex, don’t worry. If you have Phantom installed, you’re already one step closer. If you don’t, download Phantom now to get started. As for marketplaces, here’s what you need to know…


    An Ordinals marketplace is an app where you can buy, sell, trade, and list digital artifacts such as Ordinals. Although Ordinals are relatively new, there are already a couple excellent marketplaces that support them, such as Magic Eden and UniSat.

    ordinals bitcoin nfts

    Magic Eden is a multichain NFT marketplace. After launching on Solana, it expanded to Ethereum, Polygon, and Bitcoin. With support across these major networks, you can expect a seamless experience for discovering, minting, and collecting NFTs and Ordinals.

    UniSat is a blockchain service provider that develops Bitcoin-focused products such as the UniSat wallet and the UniSat marketplace. On the UniSat marketplace, you can browse, buy, sell, sort, and filter BRC-20 tokens and Bitcoin web domains (eg “.btc”).

    To buy, sell, and/or trade Ordinals, you’ll need to connect your Phantom wallet to one of these Ordinals marketplaces and shop around for your desired deal.

    Ordinals to explore

    Bitcoin Frogs

    Bitcoin Frogs are 10,000 pure digital collectibles that will remain on Bitcoin forever. No more will ever be created. Rarities of all traits within each layer are equal, allowing subjective appreciation of aesthetics and satoshi-based rarities to emerge.

    ordinals bitcoin nfts
    ordinals bitcoin nfts


    Bitmap is an open-source standard that allows you to claim the digital “real estate” of a Bitcoin block. By being the first to inscribe blocknumber.bitmap onto a satoshi, using the Ordinals Inscription standard, you claim ownership of the block. Then, once claimed, you can build upon and personalize the blocks.

    ordinals bitcoin nfts
    ordinals bitcoin nfts

    Ordinal Maxi Biz (OMB)

    Ordinal Maxi Biz (OMB) is an Ordinals collection by zk_shark and Nullish. Each of its 200 Bitcoin NFTs, designed by Tony Tafuro, feature black-and-white sketched heads with Bitcoin-inspired traits, such as colored laser eyes, “₿” logos, and maximalist mantras (”not your keys, not your crypto.”).

    ordinals bitcoin nfts
    ordinals bitcoin nfts

    Manage your Ordinals with Phantom

    Ready to build your Ordinals collection? We can help. Our app is designed for browsing, buying, collecting, and managing Ordinals. Here’s how to get started:

    As you build your beloved Ordinals collection, you’ll see them all displayed in your Collectibles tab. The best part? You can view, search for, and pin your Ordinals to find and organize them as you wish.


    Launched by developer Casey Rodarmor on January 20, 2023, Ordinals are NFTs on Bitcoin. Unlike earlier attempts at Bitcoin NFTs, which existed on layer-2 blockchains, Ordinals are Bitcoin native. They’re created by attaching data, such as images, videos, and GIFs, to an individual satoshi on the base Bitcoin blockchain. Due to this novel, practical method, there has been an explosion of creative development on Bitcoin, leading to a robust ecosystem of NFTs, apps, and more.