How to Get “Free Coins” From Bitcoin Forks – Everything the Average Cryptocurrency User Needs to Know About Bitcoin Forks and Cryptocurrency Forks (and Airdrops) in General
This is because the developers of the new chain will take a “snapshot” of the ledger at a specific block height thereby creating a duplicate copy of the chain (the result being that all holders of Bitcoin on one chain will hold a proportionate ratio of the new coin on the new chain). That duplicate will become the new chain after the forked coin’s network goes live.
After the forked blockchain goes live down the road (which can take hours, days, weeks, or months), you can then claim your “forked coins.”
How to claim coins can differ depending on which platform you have your Bitcoin on. If it is third party platform that supports the fork, they will credit your account at a date determined by the platform. If you control your private keys (for example via a Bitcoin Core wallet), you’ll need to obtain and configure the wallet of the new forked coin yourself using your private key from your existing Bitcoin wallet address (thus you must retain access to any addresses where you stored Bitcoin when the snapshot of a given fork occurred; in other words, you must retain the private key of any address you had Bitcoin on during the snapshot).
That is the gist of how to be in Bitcoin for the fork and get “forked coins,” getting forked coins from other cryptocurrency forks of coins like Bitcoin work the same way.
Below we explain the process of being in for the fork and claimed forked coins in step-by-step detail and offer some extra notes.
WARNING: If you are going to claim coins from a fork, move your Bitcoin balance to another address first (so be in for the snapshot, but then move you balance before you claim the forked coin). You should never try to claim a forked coin with an address that has the non-forked coins in it, as this could result in you losing your original coins if something goes wrong.
TIP: See a list of upcoming Bitcoin forks that you might want to be holding Bitcoin for.
TIP: If you are dealing with a wallet like an Ethereum wallet, don’t forget to move your tokens! You need to move all your funds… not just your ETH.
TIP: This page uses Bitcoin as an example, but essentially all cryptocurrency forks work this way (see some exceptions below). Thus, this page covers how to get free coins from any cryptocurrency fork and how to claim forked coins in general, but uses Bitcoin as an example.
How do hard forks work (simple)? When a coin forks (here implying a “hard fork”) a new copy of the existing blockchain is made. This creates two identical ledgers (thus anyone holding coins on one chain now holds equal parts of the coin on the new chain by default). The developers of the new coin can now tweak Bitcoin’s code to create a unique asset. When the new chain goes live, everyone who held Bitcoin will have access to the new forked coin (assuming they held their private keys or were on a platform that supports the fork). That is the gist, let’s not focus on the nuts and bolts of forks here. If you want to know more about software forks in cryptocurrency, see our page on cryptocurrency forks.
Forks vs. Airdrops: In general the terms fork and airdrop sometimes get thrown around interchangeably, even though each has a different meaning. Forks are well explained on this page, it is when a blockchain splits in two directions. An airdrop is when tokens are sent to holders of a coin on a blockchain like Ethereum’s (where a single address can hold many different tokens). Learn more about Airdrops.
Token swaps: There are also token swaps when coins migrate to a new chain. See KIN token swap as an example. This is a completely different style of creating a new coin, here you are swapping an old token for a new one, not getting additional tokens. With that said, in some cases a token swap may be handled with an airdrop or fork (and then the old chain might be discontinued).
A Summary of Best Practices for Cryptocurrency Forks
On this page I’ll offer a detailed step-by-step guide for crypto forks, for those who want a simple version of how to ensure you qualify for every fork and claim every fork safely, here it is.
Super simple version of claiming a fork from a coin like Bitcoin:
- Be in a wallet where you control your private keys before the snapshot block.
- Move your funds to a new address after the snapshot, but retain your private key for the old address.
- Download the new wallet once it is live.
- Import your private key from the address you had crypto on before the fork to the new forked coin’s wallet.
Being in a third party wallet or exchange: Sometimes third party wallets and exchanges will support forks, sometimes they won’t. If you are on an exchange or third party wallet that supports the fork, make sure to follow their directions and not the above steps! That said, if you want to ensure you get each fork, you must be in control of your private keys.
Not every fork produces new coins: Some hard forks, like Ethereum’s Constantinople, just update a network. Users don’t have to do anything more than update their software if they run a node with non-contentious forks like Constantinople. Only forks that are supposed to result in a new tradable asset like Bitcoin Cash need to be claimed. Thus, only forks like Bitcoin Cash require the best practices noted above to be followed.
Download the blockchain: You’ll need to let the blockchain download before you can see your balances.
Move every token: Move all your funds after a fork, and never move them back. The private key associated with your old wallet now only has one use, claiming the new forked coin. If you are dealing with a wallet like an Ethereum wallet, don’t forget to move ALL your tokens! You need to move ALL your funds… not just your ETH.
Malware: Some forks are scams, and almost every major fork will have malware wallets launched along side of it by malicious developers preying on confused users.
Replay protection: To ensure the safety of your forked coins, don’t move your funds after the fork until it is confirmed that the developers of the forked coin have implemented “replay protection.” In short, without replay protection, coins moved on one chain can end up being moved on the other. With that said, there are ways to protect yourself even if the developer hasn’t implemented replay protection, but they are technical, and in cases risky, to try to implement. If you are unsure how to protect yourself from replay attacks, you may simply want to avoid sending your coins between wallets until the dust settles and replay protection has been confirmed. Learn more about replay protection.
If you are unsure, do nothing: If you are unsure about anything, it is probably best to do nothing. There is no rush to claim a forked coin, if you are in for the snapshot, you own the coin on the new blockchain forever.
Super simple version of claiming coins from an airdrop from any coin like Ethereum (this works regardless of why an airdrop is happening):
- Be in a wallet where you control your private keys before the snapshot block of an event (to send out an airdrop, a snapshot of the ledger must be taken).
- Configure wallet to show the new token.
That is all there is to it, but to really follow best practices and know every detail, you should at read the rest of the information below.
NOTE: Some wallets where you don’t control your private keys, like Coinbase Wallet, honor airdrops.
TIP: Because forks on networks like the Ethereum network (which generally result in “airdrops”) are simpler to deal with, and don’t require much in the way of best practices, you should see our airdrops page for more information (as I won’t discuss airdrops much here).
A fork when you control your private keys:
- Have crypto in a wallet address where you are in control of your private keys before the fork.
- Wait for the snapshot to occur (check the official site, Twitter, and GitHub for updates on the snapshot block height; if no block height is given, be in by the time given). You can move your crypto at any time after the snapshot block has been added to the chain, but you must retain access to that address (i.e., don’t get rid of your private key, you will need it).
- Wait for the main network to go live and the new coin’s wallet to go live (check the official site, Twitter, and GitHub for updates).
- Download the latest version of the official wallet, generally from the official GitHub (TIP: grab the exe. for PC and the .dmg for mac).
- Open the wallet and wait for the new wallet to sync to the blockchain.
- Move your funds out of your old wallet addresses if you haven’t already. So, for example with BTC, you would create a new BTC address and send your BTC to that address. The goal here is to have a zero (or near zero) balance on the address you had coins on before the snapshot so you can safely claim your forked coin with the corresponding private key. As, if something goes wrong, you only lose your forked coin and not your existing coins if your wallet is empty.
- Import your private key from your old (and now empty) wallet to the new forked coin’s wallet. That generally means copying your private key in your old wallet and then importing your private key to your new wallet.
Doing that should result in you having balances of the new coin in proportion to the old coin in a address for the new coin, where you now own the private keys of the new coin. From here you can do anything you want with the new coin.
TIP: You should no longer use your original wallet address after this, do keep your keys, but never put funds in it again. Likewise, you can move your coins to a new address in the forked coin’s wallet by creating a new address in the wallet and sending your forked coins to that address. This results in the private keys used to claim for the fork now being associated with no funds, this means if somehow your private key got compromised in the process of claiming the fork, there is nothing anyone can do with it.
TIP: You can wait to claim a coin. I almost always wait because new software tends to be wonky. However, sometimes selling a forked asset on the initial pump is a good move. If you are going to sell, you’ll have to brave the 1.0 versions of the wallet software. If you are going to HODL, consider waiting until everything is stable.
A fork when you don’t control your private keys:
- Check the official site, Twitter, and/or GitHub for information on which if any exchanges/platforms will honor the fork.
- Check the official site and/or Twitter of the exchange/platform honoring the fork to understand your requirements.
- Keep the correct crypto on the exchange/platform at the correct time (it may be well before the snapshot or well after).
- Wait for the exchange platform to credit you for the forked coin.
As you can see, it is much simpler to have an exchange or platform do the heavy lifting for you. However, exchanges and platforms can be fickle. If you want access to your forked asset right away, and if you want to ensure you get it no matter what, it is almost always best be in control of your private keys.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Being in For the Snapshot and Claiming Forked Coins (Using Bitcoin as an Example)
Above was the simple TL;DR version of dealing with forks, below is a detailed step-by-step guide that uses Bitcoin as an example (essentially all forks for all cryptos work the same way).
STEP 1 – Being in Bitcoin on an Platform that Supports the Fork Before the Snapshot is Taken
To get “free coins” / “forked coins” (AKA to qualify for the fork) you must be in Bitcoin on a platform that supports the fork before the “snapshot” occurs (that includes third party platforms like exchanges, or being in direct control of your private keys via a traditional wallet like the official Bitcoin Core wallet; see more notes below for details).
The developers of a given fork will take a “snapshot” of the ledger/blockchain (a public record of all wallet balances) at a given block height. The developers of a given platform will generally do the same (so for example Coinbase/GDAX will record balances in the wallets they host on their platform… for forks they support).
Anyone in Bitcoin before that block height will end up owning equal parts of the forked coin by default if they are in control of the private keys. Meanwhile, if one has their Bitcoin on a platform that supports the fork, they should by all means be credited for that as well (although its at the discretion of the platform).
In other words:
- You must have your balance recorded on the ledger before the block (the transaction must be recorded to the blockchain before the snapshot block occurs).
- Then after the block has been recorded, you can safely move your Bitcoin (but you must retain access to your wallet’s private keys and public address, as you’ll need them to access the forked coins).
With all that said, being in for the snapshot block is only step 1. You can’t claim your coins right away, the new chain needs to go live first (and this is at the discretion of the developers of the fork).
TIP: As noted above, but to be clear, once you are “in Bitcoin for the snapshot,” then from that point forward you can sell your Bitcoin. Bitcoin and the forked coin no longer have any relation after the snapshot block. After that block, the blockchain essentially bifurcates (forks) into two compeltely different chains (like if you do a “save as” of a document; changes to the old document don’t affect the new one).
EXAMPLE OF BEING IN BITCOIN FOR THE SNAPSHOT BLOCK: To get Bitcoin Gold you had to have had Bitcoin in a wallet or exchange that supported the Bitcoin Gold fork before block 491407. With forks the block height (AKA block number) matters, the date is just an approximation. It isn’t good enough to do a transaction right before the block, as your transaction must be recorded on the blockchain before the block!
WHICH PLATFORMS SUPPORT BITCOIN FORKS: Platforms that support Bitcoin forks include third party Bitcoin wallets (it differs by fork, Coinomi has been good about supporting forks), exchanges like Binance or hitbtc with a good record of supporting forks (again, it can differ by fork), and wallets that gives you direct control of your private keys (for example in a wallet like Bitcoin Core)! Other entities like Coinbase, Bittrex, TREZOR, etc (that is third party wallets and exchanges) may or may not support a given fork. Annoyingly, many wallets/exchanges have a habit of not telling their users whether or not they will support a fork until after the fact.
NOTE ON GETTING BITCOIN FUTURES FROM THE FORK: Some exchanges offer Bitcoin fork futures at the snapshot block. For example Binance and hitbtc have done this in the past. Futures can be great, they allow you to trade a coin before it even goes live! If the fork doesn’t occur, then you really scored. However, if the fork occurs and is stable, you could end up trading away a coin with a hefty future price tag for pennies on the dollar by trying to unload it right out of the gate. Thus, taking advantage of early access to a coin via this type of future product is a mixed bag. Once you trade away your futures, you no longer get the coin. Likewise, if you buy more futures, you’ll get more of the forked coin if it ends up being legit (but will get only the futures if it doesn’t). These futures aren’t the same sort of futures product as the Bitcoin futures traded on the traditional stock markets.
STEP 2 – Wait For the Chain to Go Live
Step 2 is waiting. You have to wait for the chain to go live (the main network should go live around the same time). This can take weeks or months depending on the fork, but more often takes hours or a few days (check the forked coin’s official website to confirm the chain is live; you’ll generally find a link to the official wallet there as well).
The idea here is that the developers need to double check everything went as planned before taking the main network online.
The only way around the waiting step is if you were on exchange that offered futures of the forked coin (described above).
Remember, if you get futures and you trade them, realize that you are trading away your forked coins. Sometimes, like with Segwit2x, this is great. The Segwit2x fork never occurred, so only users who traded futures benefited (holders of Bitcoin did not).
However, this can be pretty rough if the fork ends up doing well. Imagine selling your Bitcoin Cash futures for $200 in August. That isn’t ideal, today the coins trades around $3,000.
Anyways, if you don’t have futures (and maybe even if you do), step 2 is “wait.” Yes, waiting was important enough that it got its own step.
TIP: Some may want to wait for a stable wallet and not just any wallet to go live. Some forked coins I have seen have had rather wonky first attempts at full node wallets.
WARNING: If you try to skip step 2, you could fall victim to malware or cons. For every fork, there is a fake wallet and a fake set of instructions attempting to trick you. In every case, the goal of the malicious software/instructions is to get you to transfer your Bitcoin into the void. If you send your Bitcoin into the void (AKA to some internet thief) then you have lost your Bitcoin. Don’t do this, wait for official instructions!
STEP 3 – Once the Chain is Live You Can Claim Your Coins… If You Are In Control of Your Private Keys; Otherwise, More Waiting…
If you are in control of your private keys: Once the devs announce that the new forked chain is live and thew wallet is live, you are ready to claim your coins. In most cases, and with all coins that work like Bitcoin, to do this you’ll need download the new wallet, sync the blockchain, and then import your private key. This means you’ll need to make a copy the private key that you used for the wallet in which you stored Bitcoin during the snapshot (make sure to move your funds first). Because this is how forks work, it is important to retain access to all wallets in which you held Bitcoin during the snapshot. It is also important to wait until you know the new chain and wallet software is stable. If the coin doesn’t have replay protection, it could result in you losing any Bitcoin still in that wallet. If the wallet has a bug, something could go wrong. Since this is true, it is best practices to move your balance before you try to claim the forked coin (so all addresses used to claim forked coins should have a zero balance at the time you go to claim the forked coin; that is VERY IMPORTANT). All that said, in terms of claiming forked coins, you may want to “wait” even if you control your private keys. Let someone else play crash test dummy, and then once everyone is sure “replay protection” is there and the wallet is stable, at that point its safe to configure your new wallet and claim your coins.
If you are in a wallet that supports the forked coin: You need to follow the directions of the wallet and configure the wallet for the new forked coin.
If you are on an exchange or managed wallet (like Coinbase) that supports the forked coin: Wait until they credit your account. Using a third party is the simplest solution for coins in many ways, but it can be the most stressful as all your friends are already configuring their wallets and trading futures you are just like “I wonder if Coinbase is going to blog about this?” Anyways….
If you are claiming a “forked” coin from a network like Ethereum: With Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, and other such networks you may not need to go through the same process you do with a coin like Bitcoin when a fork occurs… this is because in some cases a new network is not actually being created, instead a token that uses a copy of the existing ledger is being created on the existing network. Thus, some forks and fork-like-events on networks like the Ethereum network will simply require you to configure your existing Ether wallet to load the new token (you won’t need to move your coins, download a new wallet, or actually import your private keys). You can see an example of this with Callisto an Ethereum Classic’s network.
See detailed examples of each method: How To Claim Your Free Bitcoin Gold [BTG] From Any Wallet and How To Safely and Easily Claim Bitcoin Gold + Almost Any Other Forks.
STEP 4 – HODL (AKA WAITING)
Now that you have your new coins, you can either:
- “Hold on for Dear Life” (AKA HODL) and wait for them to go up in value. If you don’t think your forked coins have the potential to see a nice increase or two over the next year, you don’t know crypto.
- Quickly sell the initial pump. To do this you’ll need access to a given exchange trading the asset. If you aren’t planning to HODL long, it makes sense to sell quickly. Forked assets tend to pump in the first few days after the fork and then the best of them see higher values far down the road. The in between has been ugly historically (feel free to Google Litecoin Cash, Bitcoin Diamond, etc).
With the above said, I strongly suggest not trading away all your coins out of the gate unless you are ready to buy them back strategically. However, what you do with your forked coins really depends on your personal goals and the confidence you have in the fork.
With the best of forks (like Bitcoin Cash for example), historically speaking, holding a forked coin has shown itself to be more profitable than trying to sell it out of the gate for a low price (if you see a giant spike in price out of the gate, by all means, take that into account; I’m only saying don’t be the one who sells your Bitcoin Cash for $200).
That is really all there is to it. The gist is as simple as “be in Bitcoin for the fork, in a wallet where you control your private keys or a platform that supports the fork.” Then, claim your coins by following the processes noted above (which can differ depending on the platform you had your coins on and the type of fork it is).