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Top Bitcoin Layer 2 Projects & Coins in 2024

Eric Huffman
Last updated: | 21 min read

Ethereum Layer 2 chains get all the headlines, but Bitcoin’s burgeoning Layer 2 ecosystem is growing, giving additional utility to the world’s leading cryptocurrency. Bitcoin isn’t just for HODLing anymore. Today’s top Bitcoin Layer 2 projects support speedy sends, smart contracts, and much more.

In this guide, we’ll review the leading Bitcoin Layer 2 solutions that promise to make BTC more useful. We’ll also discuss Bitcoin Layer 2 coins as well as some of the challenges that the ecosystem faces going forward. Let’s dig in.

What are Bitcoin Layer 2 Projects?


Bitcoin Layer 2 projects are protocols that build on the Bitcoin base layer. Alone, Bitcoin is an island. People can send BTC to each other or trade it on crypto exchanges, but the lack of features in the Bitcoin protocol limits other features that have become popular on other platforms.

By itself, there isn’t much you can do with Bitcoin. Bitcoin is also slow and expensive to use. The speed issue relates to the mining process and block times (one block every 10 minutes). The cost of using the network relates to the small block size. Users compete to get transactions included in the next block by paying higher fees.

Bitcoin Layer 2 projects promise to change the speed, cost, and utility of Bitcoin. Some projects, like the Lightning Network, focus on speed and costs. Others expand the use cases for Bitcoin by supporting smart contracts.

As an ecosystem, Bitcoin L2 projects enhance Bitcoin’s scalability and deliver new ways to use Bitcoin in decentralized finance or real-world transactions. Some interact directly with the Bitcoin network, while others utilize a bridge to bring your Bitcoin onto a full-featured blockchain.

Top Bitcoin Layer 2 Projects in 2024


Bitcoin Layer 2 solutions span a wide range of use cases, with dozens of chains now live or launching soon. The Bitcoin Layer 2 projects list below highlights some of the top projects in the space.

Project Native Token Use Case
Lightning Network BTC Fast, cheap BTC payments
Stacks STX Decentralized Finance
Merlin Chain MERL DeFi and other dApps
Rootstock Bridged BTC (RBTC) Smart contracts and fast transactions
Liquid Network Bridged BTC (L-BTC) Asset issuance for Bitcoin
Tectum TET Fast, affordable BTC payments
BEVM Bridged BTC (BEVM) EVM-compatible smart contract network
Bitcoin Virtual Machine BVM Platform for launching specialized Bitcoin Layer 2 chains

Each Layer 2 project has unique functions and are used for different purposes within the Bitcoin ecosystem:

  1. Lightning Network: The Lightning Network provides fast, affordable BTC transactions using payment channels.
  2. Stacks: The Stacks network was among the first to bring smart contacts to Bitcoin.
  3. Merlin Chain: Now the largest Bitcoin Layer 2 chain, Merlin has become the go-to chain for many in the DeFi space.
  4. Liquid Network: The Liquid Network has become a hub for asset issuance using Bitcoin’s deep liquidity.
  5. Rootstock (RSK): Roostock provides a robust smart contract platform secured by Bitcoin.
  6. Tectum: SmartNotes from Tectum offers an affordable way to send digital assets like Bitcoin to anyone in the world.
  7. BEVM: Compatibility with the Ethereum Virtual Machine makes BEVM a top choice among Bitcoin Layer 2 chains.
  8. Bitcoin Virtual Machine: BVM serves as a launchpad for specialized Bitcoin chains, such as RuneChain.

Bitcoin Layer 2 Projects Reviewed – What Do They Do?


Bitcoin Layer 2 protocols range from payment rails that make sending Bitcoin payments faster and more affordable to smart contract-capable platforms. Some L2 platforms also serve as a foundation for purpose-built L2 chains that share an architecture. Below, we review the leading Bitcoin Layer 2 projects.

1. Lightning Network – Fast, Affordable BTC Transactions Using Payment Channels

Bitcoin lightning network overview

The Lightning Network may be the best-known Bitcoin L2. Launched in 2018, the project serves as a high-speed payment rail for native Bitcoin transactions. Under the hood, the Lightning Network uses payment channels, which work like roadways where BTC can move back and forth. Transactions settle on the BTC blockchain when the payment channels are closed. Node operators facilitate payments between Alice and Bob, and many nodes are well-connected, making payments to additional parties much easier.

Transaction times for Lightning payments are near instantaneous, and the network is in use with leading Bitcoin apps like Strike and Cash App. Coinbase recently added support for Lightning Network payments as well.

Key Takeaways

  • The Lightning Network uses payment channels to support off-chain BTC transactions.
  • Peer-to-peer payments cost a fraction of the cost of on-chain transactions.
  • Transactions complete instantly, with settlement on the Bitcoin blockchain when payment channels close.

Pros

  • Lightning-fast transactions
  • Transaction costs of pennies or less
  • Supported by payment apps like Strike and Cash App

Cons

  • No native support for smart contracts
  • Opening and closing channels can be expensive
  • Varying transaction costs by node
Layer 2 Project Lightning Network
Number of Users Estimated 1.1 million users worldwide
Native Token BTC
Key Features Send or receive Bitcoin instantly with low fees

2. Stacks – Brings Smart Contract Capability to Bitcoin

stacks homepage

The Stacks Network is a Layer 1 blockchain, although it indirectly uses Bitcoin’s base layer for transaction finality. This smart contract-capable chain uses Proof of Transfer (PoX) to secure transactions as users bridge bitcoins onto the platform. While BTC secures the network, Stacks uses a native token (STX) as fuel for the network.

Smart contracts on stacks use the Clarity programming language, which brings one specific advantage over EVM-compatible platforms: Clarity smart contracts can read the state of transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain. This means BTC transactions can act as switches for smart contracts on Stacks. Apps range from DeFi to NFTs to SocialFi.

Key Takeaways

  • Stacks indirectly uses Bitcoin’s base layer by basing validation on bridge transactions.
  • The STX token fuels transactions on the blockchain.
  • Stacks can utilize Bitcoin’s base layer transactions in smart contracts on the Stacks blockchain.

Pros

  • Able to read Bitcoin chain transaction data
  • Efficient proof-of-exchange validation
  • Provides access to DeFi apps using a Bitcoin equivalent token

Cons

  • No EVM support, requiring custom-built apps
Layer 2 Project Stacks
Number of Users 122,497 active monthly users
Native Token STX
Key Features Smart contract support with connectivity to Bitcoin blockchain transactions

3. Merlin Chain – Supports a Bitcoin-Native App Ecosystem and Ordinals

merlin homepage.png

The Merlin Chain’s EVM compatibility makes it easy for popular applications to migrate to the platform. It also eases the user experience for those already familiar with EVM apps. Live apps center on DeFi, although you’ll also find a range of dApps for NFTs, SocialFi, gaming, and AI.

Merlin supports BRC-20 tokens and Ordinals, giving users access to the growing market for Bitcoin tokens. Transactions are processed using Zero-Knowledge (ZK) rollups and sent to the Bitcoin blockchain for security. The chain supports BTC swaps for ETH-based assets as well as bridging to and from the Bitcoin L1 blockchain.

Key Takeaways

  • Merlin’s ecosystem features DeFi, NFTs, social apps, and gaming.
  • The Merlin Chain supports popular BRC-20 tokens and Ordinals.
  • ZK-rollups provide local computation, passing transactions to the Bitcoin chain for security.

Pros

  • Wide range of dApps, including DeFi
  • Uses ZK-rollups for efficient computation on Merlin Chain
  • Transactions secured by Bitcoin

Cons

  • Ordinals can be difficult to use
Layer 2 Project Merlin
Number of Users 300,000+
Native Token MERL
Key Features Support for Ordinals, BRC-20, BRC-420 tokens

4. Liquid Network – Scaling Network that Supports the Issuance of Security Tokens and Digital Assets

liquid network homepage

The well-established Liquid Network launched in 2018 and operates as a sidechain for the L1 Bitcoin network. Initially created by Blockstream, the Liquid Network has become a hub for issuing tokens. Built-in privacy features obscure transaction amounts on the Liquid’s Elements blockchain.

To use the sidechain, users deposit Bitcoin using a bridge and receive L-BTC in return. Due to its 1:1 exchange rate when bridging in and out, L-BTC acts as a BTC equivalent in transactions.

Growth for the Liquid Network began in 2020, when the platform first reached 2,500 L-BTC tokens in circulation. Today, nearly 4,000 L-BTC tokens provide liquidity on the chain.

Key Takeaways

  • The Liquid Network, launched in 2018, is one of the oldest Bitcoin sidechains.
  • Obscured transaction amounts help protect users’ privacy.
  • The Liquid Network centers on issuing tokens built on the network with Bitcoin liquidity.

Pros

  • Two-minute settlement time for bridged Bitcoin (L-BTC)
  • Confidential transactions by default
  • Supports tokens that can represent fiat currencies or other cryptocurrencies

Cons

  • Costly transaction fees to peg in or out of L-BTC
Layer 2 Project Liquid Network
Number of Users Unknown
Native Token L-BTC
Key Features Well-suited to the tokenization of assets.

5. Rootstock – EVM-Compatible Smart Contract Platform with Bitcoin’s Security

rootstock homepage

Developed by RSK Labs, Rootstock provides an EVM-compatible blockchain that’s faster and more affordable than both Ethereum and Bitcoin but uses Bitcoin merged mining for security. Merged mining refers to mining multiple coins simultaneously using compatible algorithms. Currently, more than half the Bitcoin mining hash power also merge-mines the Rootstock (RSK) chain.

Nearly 3,000 BTC provide liquidity on the platform in the form of a bridge token (RBTC). Bridged tokens are secured using proof of work using a system RSK calls Powpeg, making them censorship-resistant as there is no intermediary. RSK also offers an Ethereum bridge, adding liquidity to the chain.

Apps on RSK include DeFi and decentralized exchanges for swaps.

Key Takeaways

  • Rootstock uses merged mining to provide proof-of-work security.
  • Close to 3,000 BTC of liquidity on-chain.
  • Censorship-resistant bridging for BTC/RBTC.

Pros

  • EVM-compatible platform
  • Secured by PoW using merged mining
  • Censorship-resistant bridging

Cons

  • Complex for new users
Layer 2 Project Rootstock
Number of Users Unknown
Native Token RBTC (bridged BTC)
Key Features EVM-compatible blockchain for easy portability of popular EVM dApps

6. Tectum – Ultra-Fast Scaling Solution Claiming to Be Capable of 1 Million Transactions per Second

tectum homepage

Tectum has an incredibly fast transaction processing speed, boasting up to 1 million transactions per second. The blockchain uses a proof-of-utility consensus mechanism for validating and processing transactions, which helps the chain achieve incredible throughput. Users can earn a yield by staking TET, the native token, which pays passive crypto income with yields of up to 20%.

While Tectum is a Layer 1, the chain can also support other chains, like Bitcoin. This allows users to bring liquidity from a variety of sources to utilize Tectum’s fast and affordable transactions. The platform’s signature product, SoftNotes, allows users to fund a virtual pool that can be sent to anyone electronically or even printed out on paper. SoftNotes are backed by Bitcoin or any other asset used to provide liquidity for the note.

Key Takeaways

  • Tectum is one of the fastest-documented blockchains.
  • SoftNotes provides fast and affordable payments to merchants or peers.
  • Tectum can support additional crypto assets, including Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Pros

  • Tectum acts as an overlay network for other networks like Bitcoin
  • Peer-to-peer transfers occur off-chain
  • Private transactions with zero-fee sends

Cons

  • SoftNote recipients pay a fee of up to 1%
Layer 2 Project Tectum
Number of Users Unknown
Native Token TET – used to mint SoftNotes
Key Features SoftNotes provides fee-free sending of BTC; TET required for minting

7. BEVM – EVM-Compatible Layer 2 That Uses Bitcoin for Gas Fees

bevm homepage

BEVM offers EVM compatibility, making it easy to launch EVM projects. However, the chain uses BTC for gas fees. The chain uses proof of stake consensus to secure transactions and supports up to 1,000 consensus nodes to decentralize transaction validation.

The network is growing quickly, with a community of nearly 800,000 users worldwide. However, like many early-stage blockchains, BEVM is very much a work in progress. Planned features include a Decentralized Bitcoin FX Protocol, a method of bringing Bitcoin onto other chains. Existing dApps include decentralized exchanges, liquid staking for BTC, and perpetual futures trading for the leverage trading fans on the chain.

Key Takeaways

  • BEVM is EVM-compatible, allowing existing dApps from other chains to be ported.
  • Over 800,000 users make BVM one of the largest Bitcoin Layer 2 projects.
  • BTC is fuel for the chain, similar to the way Ether powers the Ethereum blockchain.

Pros

  • Compatible with MetaMask and similar ETH-ecosystem wallets
  • Supports the Solidity programming language used with Ethereum
  • Larger user base of 800,000 users

Cons

  • No token native token for the blockchain; BTC gas fees
Layer 2 Project BEVM
Number of Users 800,000+
Native Token BTC
Key Features EVM-compatibility with Solidity support

8. Bitcoin Virtual Machine – Creates a Bitcoin Alternative to EVM and Supports Rune Trading

bvm overview

Bitcoin Virtual Machine provides infrastructure for Bitcoin Layer 2 projects and is home to RuneChain, a budding Bitcoin-based token standard. By using a dedicated chain, transaction fees related to Runes tokens can be greatly reduced. Expect to see additional protocols arise around these popular tokens, including DeFi platforms and more ways to trade Runes.

While RuneChain garners the most attention, Bitcoin Virtual Machine can provide infrastructure for a wide variety of specialized Bitcoin Layer 2 chains.

Key Takeaways

  • Bitcoin Virtual Machine provides a customizable infrastructure for specialized Bitcoin L2 chains.
  • RuneChain uses Bitcoin Virtual machine.
  • Airdrops planned for BVM token stakers.

Pros

  • EVM compatible
  • Provides customizable infrastructure for L2 specialized chains
  • Low transaction fees

Cons

  • Tricky onboarding
Layer 2 Project Bitcoin Virtual Machine
Number of Users Unknown – multiple chains
Native Token BVM
Key Features Support for adding specialized L2 chains, including DEX platforms, AI, and token minting

What Are The Biggest Bitcoin L2 Coins?


For investors, Bitcoin Layer 2 projects provide an opportunity to invest in native tokens. The Bitcoin Layer 2 coins list below highlights some of the largest coins in this niche by market capitalization.

Coin Market Cap Use Case
Stacks (STX) $2,767,215,104 STX is the fuel token for the chain and for “stacking,” the term for staking on the Stacks chain.
Merlin Chain (MERL) $210,333,561 MERL is used for governance, staking, and transaction fees on the Merlin Chain.
RSK Infrastructure Framework (RIF) $166,559,375 RIF is the native token of the RIFOS platform (Root Infrastructure Framework).
Tectum (TET) $88,155,024 TET acts as fuel for the network when minting SoftNotes.
SatoshiVM (SAVM) $22,513,104 SAVM is a governance token for the SatoshiVM Bitcoin Layer 2 solution. The platform also allows staking SAVM to earn yields.

Stacks (STX)

stx token

The STX token acts as fuel for the popular Stacks blockchain, paying to move assets between wallets or execute smart contracts. STX also supports staking, allowing users to earn crypto passive income through what Stacks calls “Stacking” STX. Stacking supports network consensus and pays staking rewards in Bitcoin.

Merlin Chain (MERL)

MERL token

The MERL token for the Merlin Chain serves three key functions: governance, staking, and fuel. MERL tokens pay for gas fees on the Merlin Chain, allowing users to preserve their Bitcoin for other uses, including lending or using BTC as collateral in DeFi applications. The token is central to the largest airdrop campaign of any Bitcoin Layer 2 project, distributing $40,000 MERL tokens to qualified wallets.

RSK Infrastructure Framework (RIF)

RIF token

Rootstock’s RIF OS protocols run on the Rootstock (RSK) Smart Contract Network, with the RIF token used as a payment currency for accessing these services. These protocols form the backbone of the ecosystem with a primary focus on decentralized finance applications at a scale much larger than existing protocols. RIF could blockchain-based payroll for workers with direct links to other financial services within the ecosystem.

Tectum (TET)

tet token.png

While Tectum doesn’t offer the same level of functionality as other blockchain platforms, the project’s flagship feature, SoftNotes, is powered by the chain’s native currency, TET. SoftNotes allows speedy transfers of digital assets using popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum. As the platform grows, demand for TET is also expected to grow.

SatoshiVM (SAVM)

SAVM token

SAVM acts as a governance token and an incentive token for the SatoshiVM network. SAWM holders can stake their tokens to earn passive income. The token also rewards liquidity providers who help the platform grow by facilitating swaps and moving liquidity throughout the ecosystem. Similar to Bitcoin, the supply for SAVM is capped at 21 million tokens.

The Advantages of Bitcoin Layer 2 Solutions


The Bitcoin network’s average throughput is about seven transactions per second. Transactions are assembled into blocks, and miners compete to find a qualifying hash (encrypted value) to mine the next block of transactions. Transactions that don’t make it into a block due to lower transaction fees end up in the mempool, a waiting room of sorts. While incredibly secure, Bitcoin is slow.

The Bitcoin network is also expensive to use. Small transactions become impractical as the transaction fees can be higher than the transaction value. Bitcoin Layer 2 projects address Bitcoin’s scalability issues while also bringing faster and cheaper transactions.

Improved Scalability

Layer 2 protocols handle transactions off-chain (or on their own chain) to allow faster transactions and avoid the bottleneck that occurs on the base (Layer 1) Bitcoin network. This allows higher throughput, allowing more transactions to pass through at a lower cost.

For example, the Lightning Network uses payment channels to process Bitcoin transactions off-chain. In theory, the network can handle billions of transactions per second. Tectum, a Layer 1 that can be a Layer 2 for other chains like Bitcoin, can process 3.5 million transactions per second. This makes Tectum one of the fastest blockchains ever created.

Scalability measures how many users can efficiently utilize the network. Bitcoin doesn’t scale well on its own, and other popular chains like Ethereum face a similar challenge. Layer 2 projects allow more users to make transactions at the same time while also saving on transaction costs.

Lower Transaction Fees

Fees to transact on the Bitcoin network currently average $3.68 but can spike much higher during periods of higher demand.

bitcoin transaction fees

Fees on the Lightning Network also vary depending on which node you choose, but make Bitcoin transactions much more affordable. The Lightning Network still doesn’t provide a perfect solution, however. It can be complicated (and expensive) for users to open payment channels, although for larger peer-to-peer transactions, the network remains viable. Lightning allows peer-to-peer BTC transactions for about 0.0029%, including a base fee determined by the node operator.

tectum wallet

Tectum, on the other hand, has an average transaction cost of less than $0.01, putting its transaction costs on par with Solana (a Layer-1) or Ethereum Layer-2 networks like Base and Arbitrum. What sets Tectum apart is its SoftNote wallet, which allows users to send Bitcoin or other crypto assets for free using SoftNotes.

Faster Transactions

The Bitcoin network produces new blocks about ten minutes apart. If you’re lucky and your transaction is posted to the mempool just before a block is mined, you might see a quicker transaction time. Transactions with lower fees might stay in the mempool until the higher-fee transactions clear. While regarded as the most secure blockchain, no one can say Bitcoin is fast.

Bitcoin Layer 2 projects can process transactions much faster because they don’t need to use the Bitcoin blockchain for every transaction. Lightning Network transactions, for example, don’t settle on Bitcoin’s base layer until the channel is closed. In the interim, users can send BTC to each other or connected parties nearly instantaneously.

tectum tps

Tectum can also complete transactions instantly. A recent network test pushed more than 51 million transactions through the blockchain in under 15 seconds. The test included SoftNotes, Tectum’s innovative way to send Bitcoin or other crypto assets through the network.

The Drawbacks of Bitcoin Layer 2 Solutions


While Bitcoin Layer 2 projects help scale Bitcoin or allow users to utilize their BTC in decentralized finance (DeFi), they also face some challenges. Layer 2 projects can be more complex and may introduce additional security risks. It’s also essential to consider liquidity on these platforms. Fewer users can affect the ability to make transactions.

More Complex to Use

The most trusted Bitcoin wallets, such as Sparrow and Electrum, aren’t known for their simplicity. A plethora of Bitcoin-specific features make these wallets both powerful and difficult for newbies to grasp. The jump to Bitcoin Layer 2 protocols doesn’t simplify the process. Now, users need to navigate through the intricacies of a Bitcoin wallet while also learning how to use the wallet and features for the Layer 2 ecosystem.

Unlike Ethereum Layer 2 projects, Bitcoin Layer 2 protocols don’t work the same way as the base chain. An Ethereum user can instantly use Abitrum, Base, or any other Layer 2 intuitively. Bitcoin Layer 2 often requires learning a new set of tools.

Security Risks for Each Layer 2 Project

Additional blockchains and the decentralized applications that run on these chains also bring additional security concerns. Smart contracts and even tokens on these chains might have exploit vulnerabilities, and the networks themselves may have undiscovered vulnerabilities.

  • Smart Contract Vulnerabilities: Smart contracts are computer programs that run on the blockchain. Many of the most popular smart contracts in the Ethereum ecosystem are well-tested and have been audited several times over. However, the smart contracts on Bitcoin Layer 2 chains may not have seen the same level of scrutiny.
  • Less Network Security: Most Bitcoin Layer 2 projects don’t use Bitcoin’s network to secure transactions. Instead, transactions are secured on the Layer 2 chain, but users can bridge bitcoins back and forth between the L1 and L2.

Liquidity Issues

Liquidity refers to the ability to transact easily. In simple terms, there’s a way to trade, borrow, or swap with a willing market. Bitcoin Layer 2 solutions don’t yet enjoy the same level of liquidity you’ll find on leading Ethereum Layer 2 chains. The problem centers on the lower number of users.

If you want to borrow on a DeFi app, there may not be enough lenders. Decentralized exchange swaps can also suffer price disconnects due to low liquidity. Worst of all, you may not be able to exit a position due to low liquidity.

Many Layer 2 chains use a bridge feature. Generally, these require a Bitcoin deposit, which is then replaced with an equivalent token on the Layer 2 chain. Bridges bring their own security concerns. However, if users start to bridge out of the chain en masse, the liquidity for dApps on the platform will also suffer.

What is The Future of Bitcoin Layer 2 Projects?


Going forward, Bitcoin Layer 2 projects will help bridge the gap between Bitcoin and traditional finance, allowing people to transact in Bitcoin rather than fiat currencies. Projects like Tectum make it easier for merchants to accept Bitcoin transactions using SoftNotes.

L2 projects for Bitcoin will also open more opportunities for decentralized finance. For example, users can borrow against their Bitcoin or an equivalent bridge token backed by Bitcoin without using an intermediary.

However, dozens of Bitcoin L2 projects already exist, and not all of these networks will thrive. Over time, the best ideas will be adopted by the leading L2 projects. Expect to see a consolidation of both ideas and networks as the market sorts out the winners and losers.

Conclusion


On its own, Bitcoin is slow and costly to use, a tradeoff for its unparalleled security. Bitcoin Layer 2 solutions promise to make Bitcoin faster and more useful while reducing costs. However, these solutions still have a long way to go in reaching the level of adoption enjoyed by Ethereum Layer 2 projects. The ecosystem is growing quickly, tho, and many prefer a Bitcoin-based economy over Ethereum or other assets. The market provides room for both, and innovation on each side can benefit the crypto space as a whole by providing more options and letting the market choose.

FAQs

What are Bitcoin Layer 2 projects for?

Bitcoin Layer 2 solutions provide a way to scale Bitcoin so more transactions can get through without compromising security. Many Bitcoin Layer 2 projects also bring additional functionality, allowing users to access smart contracts, much like the experience on Ethereum and Ethereum Layer 2 chains.

Is Stacks a Bitcoin Layer 2?

Yes. Stacks is a popular Layer 2 blockchain for Bitcoin. The platform supports smart contracts for advanced functionality and uses the native STX token as fuel in transactions.

What is the best Bitcoin Layer 2 coin?

Bitcoin Layer 2 solutions often target specific use cases. For example, the Lightning Network focuses on fast and affordable BTC transactions. By contrast, the Stacks network brings smart contract functionality to the Bitcoin market, allowing users to access decentralized finance apps and other dApps on the blockchain.

How many Bitcoin Layer 2 projects are there?

There are dozens of Bitcoin Layer 2 projects. However, only a handful have large amounts of traffic and a significant TVL (Total Value Locked). Many of Bitcoin’s Layer 2 projects are still in testing.

References