One Seed Phrase to Rule Them All (BIP 39 Wallets)

Lately, we've heard of people generating a new seed phrase for every new wallet they use.

By "wallet", we are referring to the "brand" name of wallet software or hardware.

A few example scenarios: 

  • You purchase a new hardware wallet (from a different manufacturer) and generate a new seed phrase.
  • You download a different software wallet application and generate a new seed phrase.
  • You purchase a coin that has it's own native wallet (and is not supported by your current wallet) and you generate a new seed phrase.

You can see how this can result in a lot of seed phrases to keep track of.

If this is you, you don't have to do this. Your seed phrase (or your coins for that matter) isn't tied to a specific wallet. In fact, your seed phrase can be used on multiple wallets.

BIP 39 Seed Phrase

Your seed phrase most likely comes from the Bitcoin Improvement Proposal: 39 (BIP 39). BIP 39 is the use of a mnemonic phrase -- a group of easy to remember words -- used to derive the data needed to find and access your coins.

In other words, it's the method of how a wallet takes all the information needed to recover your coins and turned it into a 12-24 word phrase.

The words in a BIP 39 seed phrase aren't just any words. They are pulled from a specific list of 2048 words known as the BIP39 word list.

A majority of wallets use the BIP 39 standard to generate a seed phrase and thus, can import a seed phrase generated from another BIP 39 wallet. 

This function is an option when you first initialize a wallet. It will typically ask if you have an existing wallet or if you have a seed/wallet you want to import. In this scenario, you would import the seed phrase from the first wallet you used.

Even if one wallet might not support a specific coin, there's a good chance there's another wallet that can. Both of these wallets can use the same seed phrase.

The only reason you'd generate a new seed phrase is if your old seed phrase is compromised (exposed, stolen, lost) or if you'd like to "separate" your coins (but we'd recommend a different way of doing this using passphrases unless your wallets don’t support it).

If you’re using both a hardware wallet and software wallet (that is on an internet connected device and does not support hardware wallet use), they should have separate seeds. The seed generated for your hardware wallet should never touch a device connected to the internet (defeats the intent of a hardware wallet).

Thus, you only really need to manage a few seed phrases and that’s only if you’re using more than one wallet application or device. You can import these seed phrases into any other BIP 39 compliant wallet (and as many wallets as you want). If a wallet doesn’t support coin, it's simply the case that you cannot transact with said coin without utilizing the wallet software that supports but you can still use the same one seed phrase.

To find out if your wallet supports BIP 39, we recommend doing using a search engine for the term: wallet name + "BIP 39"  (e.g. Trezor BIP 39)