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What is raiden? a quick guide for new users

Just a quick guide to Raiden for newcomers. I'm not an expert so please feel free to jump in with any information I've missed or anything that isn’t correct. Cheers.
What is Raiden?
"The Raiden Network is an off-chain scaling solution for performing ERC20-compliant token transfers on the Ethereum blockchain. It is Ethereum’s version of Bitcoin’s Lightning Network, enabling near instant, low-fee, scalable, and privacy-preserving payments." 1
In plain English, Raiden lets you transfer ETH or any ERC20 token-much faster and cheaper than is currently possible.
(See 'further reading' for details on what ERC20 tokens are).
So, it makes crypto transfers faster and cheaper. Is that necessary?
Yes. Currently, the Ethereum blockchain is capable of processing around 15 transactions per second. You may see this referred to as Tx/sec. By comparison. Visa has stated that they can operate at 56,000 transactions per second. 2
During busy periods the system can become clogged and transactions can take hours. Think back to the spat of ICOs in summer 2017, or the more recent CryptoKitties craze, for examples. Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Ethereum, acknowledged as much in a recent blogpost:
"With the Ethereum blockchain teaching millions of transactions per day, and both Ethereum and other blockchain projects frequently reaching their full transaction capacity, the need for scaling progress is becoming more and more clear and urgent." 3
If crypto is going to contend for mainstream adoption, it needs to speed up big time. This is where Raiden comes in. You don't need to wait for any blocks to be mined. Its transfers are instant.
And cheaper?
Transfers made on the Ethereum blockchain are calculated based on the computational resource needed to make it. Whether your transfer is big or small, the fee will not be massively different as they all go through a similar process.
With Raiden, the fees are proportionate. This means everyday transactions like buying a cup of coffee will carry a much smaller fee. Even making thousands of tiny payments of just a few pennies/cents will not add up to a large fee, as it would do in the current system.
How does Raiden work?
The Raiden network operates on top of the Ethereum blockchain, but a lot of the heavy lifting takes place off-chain. Transactions take place between two parties using something called balance proofs.
Near-limitless transactions can take place simultaneously, off-chain, with two exceptions; a one-off on-chain transaction at the beginning, and another at the end. You can read all about the specifics here.
A very simplified way to think about it is to imagine a train with 100 passengers all waiting to board in one queue. At the train door the conductor takes payment, gives out change, ensures everything is in order and lets customers on one at a time. This would take a very long time.
Now imagine there are 100 machines to the side that dispense tickets. Everybody goes to get a ticket instantly, then returns to the conductor. There is still only one conductor, but he can now quickly get the passengers on the train without wasting time.
In this analogy, Ethereum is the conductor and Raiden is the ticket machines. The passengers buy their tickets (make transactions) to the side (off-chain). There is still only one conductor (Ethereum blockchain). But instead of queuing up for ages and clogging up the system, the process is sped up by performing most of the work to the side (off-chain) and everybody gets on the train (makes a transaction) much faster. The destination is the same, but the journey is quicker.
Apologies for the very unscientific analogy :)
How long until Raiden is ready to go?
Raiden was initially scheduled for launch in March 2017 but was pushed back.
Currently Raiden is still in the development phase but a limited release is coming soon. This will give Dapp developers a taste of Raiden ahead of its full release. They'll also be able to build prototypes that can interact with the Raiden Ropsten-based test network.
What is µRaiden?
µRaiden is similar to Raiden in that it allows for off-chain transactions. The micropayments that happen off-chain are free, and µRaiden is already live. However, one major difference between this and Raiden is the linear transactions. It cannot be established for many-to-many payments like Raiden can.
And what is Raidos?
Raidos, or Raiden 2.0, is still in its early stages. Instead of only dealing in ERC20 tokens, it will look to cover all types of smart contract.
So Raiden, µRaiden and Raidos are all from one company?
Yes. If you invest in Raiden tokens, you're effectively investing in all three at once.
What is the point of Raiden tokens (RDN)?
For people who want to use Raiden without running a full node - which will be the vast, vast majority - Raiden tokens will have to be bought and used.
Users who run a full node will not require Raiden tokens.
I heard that the token isn't needed, and the ICO was just a 'cash grab'...
Originally, Raiden did not plan to launch a token or hold an ICO of its own. However, the company changed tack and held an ICO which raised just shy of 110,000 ETH. 4
The crypto community, and ETH holders in particular, felt that they were being robbed of value. Those who had bought and held Ethereum would have hoped the news of Raiden would boost the price of their holdings. But with a separate token the perceived consensus was that this move took value away from ETH and into RDN, at least in the short term.
Vitalik Buterin also weighed in on Twitter, saying he wished RDN hadn't held an ICO but equally stating that he understood it was necessary:
“I wish they didn’t [hold an ICO] but I totally understand why they did and do not blame them.” 5
The way things panned out left a bitter taste for many crypto investors. But the token certainly does have a very real use.
Where can I buy Raiden tokens (RDN)?
You can currently buy RDN at a handful of exchanges:
Binance
OKEx
Huobi
Kucoin
EtherDelta
Further reading:
What are ERC20 tokens?
Raiden 101
Vitalik Buterin blog update
Sources and links:
1 https://raiden.network/101.html 2 https://mybroadband.co.za/news/banking/206742-bitcoin-and-ethereum-vs-visa-and-paypal-transactions-per-second.html 3 https://blog.ethereum.org/2018/01/02/ethereum-scalability-research-development-subsidy-programs/ 4 https://token.raiden.network/ 5 https://twitter.com/VitalikButerin/status/911300771819352064?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ethnews.com%2Fvitalik-buterin-responds-to-raiden-ico
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