Closing the Lightning Loop: Announcing Loop In

by Alex Bosworth

In March, we at Lightning Labs announced Lightning Loop, which provides an on-demand non-custodial service to help manage Lightning channels. Our first release, Loop Out, was designed to make it easier to receive Lightning payments, particularly for those selling goods and services via Lightning. Today, we’re making Lightning Loop bi-directional with the addition of Loop In.

Loop In is designed to make it cheaper, faster and easier to refill Lightning wallets. For those users who have been spending their Lightning funds on things like pizza, chicken feeding, clock messages, mobile phone minutes, or the latest news, sadly, a time will come when a Lightning wallet will run out of money. At that point, Lightning users can close the empty channel and open a new channel (“channel churn”), or they keep their channel open and use Loop In!

With Loop In, users will be able to keep existing channels open indefinitely, refilling from any wallet or service that supports “on-chain” bitcoin transactions, including exchanges (i.e. funds converted from fiat) or Sats stacked in cold-storage hardware wallets. Like our previous Loop Out release, this early command line release of Loop In is primarily intended for experimentation by more advanced Lightning users. However, the roadmap for Loop In has a large number of optimizations in store, which will make Loop In a cheaper, faster and easier way to add Lightning funds to a wallet. Not only does Loop In provide benefits to the user, the reduction in channel churn also helps promote network stability. If end users were to constantly close and open channels rather than reuse them, routing nodes would also likely have to open and close channels more frequently to manage their capital and channel balance. Additional routing channel churn would increase routing costs and would also make the channel graph more difficult to synchronize, resulting in less reliable routing for end users.

Future Directions in Lightning Loop

So far, the focus of Lightning Loop has been to complete both sides of the Loop and to ensure that we could release a production liquidity service that was secure, non-custodial, designed to help make the Lightning Network more distributed, and that could solve immediate problems people encounter when they join the network. What’s next for the service is to continue improving Loop by lowering the on-chain costs involved, improving the privacy aspects of the service, and evolving the future swap protocol to use the chain in a way that is maximally scalable for a limited, global shared resource.

The technologies we’re evaluating in this effort are at the cutting edge of both Lightning and the Bitcoin protocol. With Schnorr/Taproot we can collapse script executions to save input costs. With MuSig we can aggregate signatures in such a way that many Loop transactions require only as much blockchain data as a single Loop transaction. With a two-phase swap we can improve privacy by eliminating on-chain scripts. With AMP, we can aggregate Loops from many channels into single on-chain transactions. Further in the future, we also anticipate additional innovations that can continue to reduce the on-chain footprint of Loop.

Another improvement we’re working on is adding the option to execute Loop In transactions without having to wait for block confirmations. This ability to make funds available almost instantly (including from fiat exchanges) will be a significant improvement to the Lightning user experience. Of course, there are a number of safety concerns involved with “zero-conf” transactions, so there will be limits on transactions sizes and other safety measures. In addition, the risk of losing funds to a double-spend will be borne only by the Loop In service operator (Lightning Labs), not the Loop user.

Finally, we’re working to add support for both Loop In and Loop Out to our Lightning App, which was recently released for mainnet alpha on Android and iOS, and which is available for the major desktop platforms.

Integrate Loop Today

In addition to providing benefits for end users and our Lightning App users as described above, Lightning Loop is designed to empower Lightning developers to build their own apps and services without worrying about practical liquidity issues. Loop In is particularly useful for extending the lifetime of channels and reducing the capital burden for routing nodes. Now that both Loop Out and Loop In are part of the production Loop API, we hope that Lightning developers will consider integrating the complete solution for their users.

In addition to the Loop command line interface, Loop can also be run in daemon mode to handle multiple simultaneous swaps, and we welcome forks of the Loop client as well as contributions of features, fixes, or suggestions for the Loop client. This library serves as a reference implementation for the Loop gRPC API which can be integrated directly into your application or service backend.

Try out Loop In

Over the last couple months, we’ve been excited about the uptake of the Loop Out service, which was set to a safety-minded limit of 0.01 BTC for the initial launch. As we expand the service with Loop In, we’ll be raising the limit for Loop Out and Loop In transactions to 0.02 BTC. We’ll also be moving fees to a model that uses a base fee plus a proportional fee rate. The fees for a Loop transaction can be observed using loop terms.

Lightning Labs is committed to growing adoption of Bitcoin with Lightning and we see Loop as an important component of that effort. To get involved with lnd, our App, Lightning Loop and the broader Lightning community, please visit our GitHub repositories for lnd, Lightning App, and Lightning Loop. Also, please join our developer Slack for LND which also features channels and IRC integration for more real-time discussion of our projects. For general feedback, you can also reach us via Twitter @lightning. For support-related questions, please contact us @lightning_help or via email at [email protected], or by opening an issue on GitHub.