OP_RETURN is a script opcode used to mark a transaction output as invalid. Since the data after OP_RETURN are irrelevant to Bitcoin payments, arbitrary data can be added into the transaction by following the OP_RETURN with an OP_PUSHDATA. Since any outputs with OP_RETURN are provably unspendable, OP_RETURN outputs can be used to burn bitcoins.
Currently, the default Bitcoin client relays OP_RETURN transactions up to 80 bytes , but does not provide a way for users to create OP_RETURN transactions.
Some members of the Bitcoin community believe that use of OP_RETURN violates the contract of Bitcoin, because Bitcoin was intended to provide a record for financial transactions, not a record for arbitrary data. Despite this, use of OP_RETURN may continue unabated because there is no easy way to stop people from embedding arbitrary data in the blockchain if they want to, and OP_RETURN is reasonably efficient in terms of data bytes stored as a fraction of blockchain space consumed. Compared to some other ways of storing data in the blockchain, OP_RETURN has the advantage of not creating bogus UTXO entries. Discussion on GitHub pull request
Resources on OP_RETURN
- coinsecrets.org: An OP_RETURN transaction explorer
- StackExchange: Explanation of what an OP_RETURN transaction looks like
- Metadata in the Blockchain: The OP_RETURN Explosion
- How to Put Custom Messages Into Bitcoin Blockchain - OP_RETURN
Often, OP_RETURN transactions include a prefix to identify which protocol they belong to. There is no standardized method of claiming OP_RETURN prefixes, and not all OP_RETURN transactions use prefixes. At the time of writing, this wiki page is probably the most complete list of OP_RETURN prefixes. Note that this table is an attempt to catalog OP_RETURN prefixes that are already in use, *not* a system for reserving OP_RETURN prefixes!
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