Recursive Inscriptions

Early 2023, the crypto ecosystem was rocked by Bitcoin Core developer Casey Rodarmor's Ordinal Theory and the rise of Bitcoin Ordinals. The Ordinals protocol brings non-fungible tokens directly to the Bitcoin blockchain, by allowing users to inscribe data directly onto individual satoshis. If you're new to Ordinals, read more here. As Leonidas, founder of, puts it, Bitcoin has "entered a new era", with over 30 million inscriptions created by early September 2023, as shown by Dune Analytics.

From the launch of Bitcoin Ordinals to Bitcoin Stamps and BRC-20 tokens, the Bitcoin ecosystem has known many developments in just a few months and seen the rise of no-code tools such as, that allow artists and collectors alike to inscribe Ordinals in just a few easy steps, no complex software needed. Recursive inscriptions, which bring new uses cases to Ordinals, are gaining in popularity in the Bitcoin ecosystem, so let's take a look at why.

What are recursive inscriptions?

Recursive inscriptions allow independent inscriptions to reference each other, creating a new, smaller sized ordinal inscription. In other words, the most rudimentary use case of recursive inscriptions is to establish connections between code elements from distinct inscriptions, which were previously self-contained. Information from one inscription can be utilized across multiple inscriptions to generate a comprehensive image that incorporates multiple inscriptions simultaneously. In summary, a more "sophisticated" digital artifact, which would have originally demanded a substantial amount of code or space, can be fashioned by employing multiple inscriptions, with the primary inscription referencing auxiliary "side" inscriptions to produce the final outcome.

This newfound composability empowers creators to create more intricate and higher-resolution work without incurring the initial high costs associated with limited block space. For context, the size limit of a Bitcoin block is 4MB, and creating an inscription of such magnitude is typically unattainable unless one has access to a Bitcoin miner, as exemplified by Bitcoin Magazine's 4MB inscription or DeGods' inclusion of all their Bitcoin DeGods within a single block---although this approach is notably costly.

By inscribing repetitive code elements independently, it becomes possible to reduce the data requirements for each individual inscription. Consequently, the cost of inscription experiences a substantial decrease, enabling the final Ordinal to have greater detail and enhanced quality and resolution. Additionally, recursion can facilitate on-chain reveal processes, raffles for new mints, and the creation of Dynamic Ordinals, (the Bitcoin L1 version of dynamic NFTs). All in all, recursive inscriptions prove to be an enormous boon for both creators and collectors.

There hasn't been any change to the ord binary or protocol to enable this functionality. It's an enhancement to the primary Ordinals block explorer, permitting the inclusion of links to other inscriptions. The explorer has also been updated to accommodate Javascript and CSS file types. This latest update endows inscriptions with significant capabilities, allowing them to inherit attributes from preceding inscriptions. For instance, someone could inscribe well-known Javascript and CSS libraries, making them accessible for anyone to utilize, thereby enabling the direct inscription of rich HTML files onto the Bitcoin network, with the potential for interlinking. Recursive inscriptions can also create new types of software by allowing users to call already-existing repositories of inscriptions that already have complex code or data.

The interlinking of data through a series of consecutive calls implies that recursive inscriptions, in theory, have the potential to underpin sophisticated software, smart contracts, video games, or even movies within the blockchain. This innovative technology could potentially accomplish all these tasks while simultaneously decreasing network fees and improving storage efficiency, all without the necessity of introducing new cryptographic methods. However, as with the Ordinals protocol, critics of recursive inscriptions argue that they could congest the Bitcoin network resulting in higher transaction fees, in the end filling up the Bitcoin mempool.

Recursive Inscriptions essentially aim to allow more complex functionality to be built on Bitcoin's blockchain, like smart contracts on Ethereum. To this day, ETH stands at the center of developer activity and dominates DeFi (decentralized finance), and other protocols such as Cardano and Solana have been competing with Ethereum, but have yet to succeed. Until this year, the notion of constructing authentic smart contracts remained unattainable within the Bitcoin realm. However, it is now suggested by members of the community that Ordinals and recursive inscriptions might pave the way for the emergence of a DeFi ecosystem on BTC in the relatively near future, which would imply the creation of new financial ecosystems and the ability to lend, borrow, swap and stake.

Recursive ordinals collections

Recursive inscriptions offer diverse avenues for constructing collections, simultaneously lowering expenses while enhancing the level of detail and quality achieved. Let's delve into a few illustrative examples.

OnChainMonkeys inscribed p5.js and 3js libraries which they then referenced in order to create the highly successful OCM Dimensions mint, rendering a complex 3D model on chain. More code libraries will be inscribed directly on the blockchain over time. With recursion, others can reference these inscriptions for use, similar to open-source software development. 

Metablocks, a creation by Billy Restey, serves as a prime instance. This artwork, comprising a final image measuring 16,000 x 16,000 pixels, draws references from a total of 400 other inscriptions. The final image undergoes a recursive inscription process by being dissected into fragments and then meticulously reassembled. These 400 inscriptions essentially function as puzzle pieces, converging to compose the ultimate image.

Counterfeit Cvlt, on the other hand, employed recursion to establish an editions Ordinals collection. This entailed inscribing the "master" digital asset and then referring back to it to generate further copies, akin to how a photocopying machine relies on the original each time it reproduces a new copy.

Cirque Le Noir adopted a unique approach by inscribing the traits for their collection and subsequently crafting an additional 10,000 new inscriptions. Each of these inscriptions employs a small segment of code to request traits and programmatically generate the corresponding image. This method proves more cost-effective and efficient compared to inscribing 10,000 individual JPEG files for a PFP (Profile Picture) collection. In this case, every layer resides on-chain, and each individual piece skillfully combines and matches these layers to arrive at the final artwork.

Disclaimer: Please do your own thorough research before investing in any cryptocurrency or digital assets such as Bitcoin NFTs.

Prints on Gamma

We are thrilled to present our latest offering: "Prints," an innovative concept by Gamma that reimagines limited editions. This feature empowers partner artists to craft cost-effective, recursive editions from a single, high-resolution original masterpiece.

Prints represent digital collectibles curated from the most talented Bitcoin artists, harnessing the potential of recursive inscriptions. This technology allows artists to create and share exceptional and exclusive digital artworks efficiently, all while preserving the highest quality standards. With a diverse array of artists and their unique creations accessible through Prints, it cultivates a vibrant community where art enthusiasts and collectors can effortlessly explore, appreciate, and support their favorite web3 artists.

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