Ethereum is the world’s second largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization and was launched in 2014 by crypto entrepreneurs Joseph Lubin, Gavin Wood and Vitalik Buterin. While Lubin later went on to focus on Consensys, an ethereum-based blockchain studio, Buterin continues to be the face of the company.
Ethereum, just like Bitcoin, is a digital cryptocurrency system that is not controlled by any central government authority. However, it is also quite different from Bitcoin. Instead of just using the technology provided by Bitcoin for only showing money transactions, Ethereum allows users to use the decentralized ledger (record keeping ability) for some additional functions. These range of additional functions are called smart contracts and they are basically ledgers that can be used by users to store their own records.
Smart contracts are:
Ethereum is therefore much more multi-functional than Bitcoin itself. It is, in many ways, the network that started the whole cryptocurrency boom around the world because it’s scripting capability has allowed to create other cryptocurrency tokens based on Ethereum protocol. In fact, a wide majority of current cryptocurrency tokens are built on top of the Ethereum network and Blockchain. The smart contracts features allow users to leverage the blockchain technology for their own personalized use rather than just using it to store monetary transactions like Bitcoin itself. Ethereum Vitalik Buterin envisioned a new approach called scripting for the Ethereum network to make blockchains programmable. Other programmable blockchain networks have tried different approaches as well.
Here are some of the cryptocurrencies running on top of Ethereum protocol:
The Ethereum blockchain laid the foundation for storing information and data on a blockchain ledger according to one’s own requirements. The resulting record is also hack proof just like the money ledger itself. However, the current technology has scalability issues (throughput capacity and speed of smart contract executions) and it is stopping Ethereum from becoming the ultimate blockchain solution.
Ethereum uses a distinct approach called scripting that is different from money transaction-only cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Litecoin. Users can use different computer languages to program on the Ethereum network and use its resources. Smart contracts are theoretically high-level programming language (basic languages that are not limited by the operating system or hardware) functions that can be used in different ways.
Many popular programming languages can be used for programming on the Ethereum blockchain. They include Python, Solidity, Mutan and others. Different programming languages being used on a single blockchain is smart thinking but it presents challenges of their own. Any possible problems in the Ethereum blockchain can be tricky to address. This can lead to some issues like the famous 2016 event that resulted in ideological problems for the Ethereum blockchain.
Bitcoin doesn’t have a single point of attack. Every server maintaining its record is one of the same and they constantly tally the Bitcoin record with each other. This is fundamentally how a blockchain network works. In this way, both the window of opportunity for a cyber-attack and the number of servers one needs to hack across the world makes infiltration impossible. This is why the record of who holds what amount of Bitcoin is considered the safest updatable record in existence ever.
Smart contracts are the backbone of the immense potential of the Ethereum network. They are essentially a computer program that can enforce, validate, verify and facilitate credible transactions between parties. While the Ethereum network realized the smart contracts facility back in 2014, there has been considerable previous research that laid the groundwork for the futuristic approach. As far back as 1994, Nick Slazbo, a cryptographer and lawyer devised rudimentary ways in which a decentralized blockchain record keeping mechanism could be used for self-executing contracts.
Smart contracts can be used to help exchange money, property, shares, etc. Anything of value or purpose in existence can use smart contracts feature for recording transactions. With the help of these self-executing features, transactions are automated with a high degree of transparency. Anyone can confirm the authenticity of these transactions and thus the correct owner can be identified. This approach can help end a lot of fraudulent activities present in the world due to corrupt transactions constantly added to the system. Due to the easy approach to use Ethereum’s smart contracts, they can be used for a wide variety of useful functions and applications.
The current most useful application of Ethereum smart contracts is Securities Token Offerings (STO). STO allows to divide any asset, cashflow, right, or obligation into fractional digital shares and sell it to investors as securities. While STOs are heavily regulated in most jurisdictions and are required to be backed up by an appropriate amount of contractual and legal paperwork, they carry many advantages:
Various sectors use the multi-functional approach of the Ethereum blockchain network. It has considerable applications in new applications like the fractionalization of any assets, issue of digital securities such as shares or bands, Internet of Things (IoT), e-governance including database management, the stock market, Identity theft issues, etc.
While significant progress has been achieved in many sectors, the aforementioned scalability issues plague further development of Ethereum’s blockchain network.
In addition to using Ethereum directly in applications, the Ethereum blockchain network is being used by companies around the world to help build blockchain solutions for big enterprises.
They include IBM’s famous Hyperledger Fabric that is being used by shipping companies as well as other logistics operations. R3 Coda, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Deloitte and others are still working on their enterprise solutions. All of these platforms use the guts of the Ethereum network and constantly improve things.
The Ethereum network is sometimes referred to as the EVM (Ethereum Virtual Machine) or the world computer. This is the first attempt at creating a functional decentralized supercomputer that can execute scripts. The process of verifying and executing code is carried through a network of decentralized nodes around the world.
The instruction set is Turing complete, which is quite different from Bitcoin’s. The Turing complete named after the great English computer scientist Alan Turing is a system of data manipulation in the instruction set that makes the computationality universal.
Ethereum’s native token is called Ether denoted by its symbol (ETH) and currently has no hard cap agreed within the community. So, unlike Bitcoin with its 21 million hard cap, Ethereum has no ultimate limit which gives it different market dynamics than Bitcoin itself. However, a majority of the Ethereum tokens came pre-mined and an eventual hard cap is also being discussed by the Ethereum team including Vitalik Buterin, first as a joke and then seriously.
The Ethereum network can also be used to launch new cryptocurrency tokens with its ERC 20 tokens options. So, instead of launching new stocks, companies are also looking at this alternative option to launch secure digital tokens instead on the Ethereum blockchain. This option gave birth to the whole concept of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) that have raised billions of dollars around the world in decentralized borderless funding campaigns.
Gas is the term referred to the fee or pricing mechanism used to successfully conduct a transaction within the Ethereum blockchain. Since a programmable blockchain like Ethereum also needs to be incentivized just like Bitcoin, instead of just paying for transactions, the Ethereum blockchain uses the concept of gas which can be paid in the native cryptocurrency Ether (ETH) to help eliminate the threat of spam and only requests that are offering an acceptable amount as fee. Gas is often referred to as the cost of a transaction on the Ethereum network.
Miners set the price of gas according to various conditions just like Bitcoin miners determine the contemporary computational fees. Miners in both networks can decline to process a transaction if the price threshold determined by the miners’ free market is not met.
Gas prices are measured in basic units called Gwei which are similar to a Satoshi in Bitcoin.
1 Gwei = 0.000000001 ETH.
The money transaction systems and Gas are entirely separate parts of the Ethereum blockchain. Gas limit is the maximum amount of transaction cost a user is willing to pay for a computational cost. The gas limit obviously depends on the nature of the computational requirement and is subject to the miners’ approval.
The Ethereum network uses a Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus approach to help maintain the integrity of the blockchain-based record and its transactions. In easier words, it uses an energy-intensive approach similar to the Bitcoin network currently in place for reaching a constant consensus on the ledger. There are tens of thousands of computers performing the consensus duties to help with this effort all around the world. The Ethereum network uses a program called EtHash for establishing a clear-cut consensus among dedicated computers around the world.
Miners dedicate their computing power for this purpose and are rewarded with newly created blocks or currency units and part of the transaction fees as a reward for their efforts. The faster any system is, the more chances it has for gaining mining exploits. The PoW naturally results in an arms race to build the fastest chips that can efficiently do the PoW mining.
To counter this energy-wasting trend and electronics arms race, many networks are deliberating on alternative consensus approaches. The Ethereum network also has its own defense mechanism against big mining companies and their growing power. It is called the memory hardness approach. This approach encourages individual miners to make use of the PoW approach and thus tries to curb the power of the big mining facilities.
However, the actual effectiveness of its own brand of PoW mining is part of a debate in the Ethereum community itself. Some believe that it is not making mining profitable on the Ethereum network and thus losing them to other blockchains. Others argue that the Ethereum network needs to migrate to a whole new different approach called the Proof-of-stake (PoS) mining approach to deal with these issues.
The Ethereum network has long been the advocate for an alternative environmentally friendly mining approach rather than an energy consuming behemoth that the current Proof of Work (PoW) mining has become. As an alternative, several unique solutions have been proposed and the Ethereum network has settled on a Proof of Stake (PoS) approach that will be implemented fully by the end of year 2020. Currently, the network is shifting from its PoW to PoS approach with its Istanbul hard fork. This fork is essentially an intermediary period in which PoS protocol will slowly but surely be implemented across the network.
The Proof of Stake (PoS) mining envisages a process in which miners don't need to buy or dedicate large computing resources to the blockchain network. Instead, they dedicate their native currency and hold them in place. Mining exploits are shared randomly between users based on a kind of lottery. The more currency one has locked in place, the more chances one has of getting the new block and deciding the future blocks.
Currently, the Istanbul hard fork was adopted by the Ethereum community from block number 9,069,000. The biggest exchanges of the world including Coinbase, Binance and Kraken have already adopted the updated code and the community is looking eagerly towards the PoS migration.
There is no eventual hard cap placed on new Ethereum tokens which is a departure from regular crypto conventions. Bitcoin, Litecoin, XRP, Bitcoin Cash and others all have an eventual hard cap that limits the number of tokens that can be ever created. Bitcoin’s hard cap is 21 million Btc, Litecoin’s is four times at around 84 million and XRP came pre-mined at a fixed 100 billion XRP. Ethereum, however, hasn't got a hard cap at all.
Currently, the network creates around 12500 ETH every day as new currency but there is no eventual hard cap on the total number of ETH tokens that can be created. Vitalik Buterin once floated the idea but radical changes in the system’s economics are needed to implement it.
Ethereum has consistently been the world’s second largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization for some time and can be easily bought and sold around the world. There are two primary ways of buying Ether:
1. BitcoinAlley Exchange
You can buy Ether at this web site. We strive to provide you the best exchange rate and the lowest fees. You can purchase Ether directly with US Dollars and other currencies. See the calculator below to see the current exchange rate.
2. P2P cryptocurrency trading platforms
Peer to Peer (P2P) cryptocurrency platforms like Remitano and localbitcoins.com are places where users can buy and sell Ethereum directly from other users with ease. The prices are updated by the second and users can buy them in different local currencies as well as stablecoins like USDT and others.
Most users buy Ethereum using their country’s local currency. Rates fluctuate based on the exchange rate with the USD and EUR. Plus, in some countries, the traders charge a premium over the actual latest price index of the cryptocurrency.
3. Cryptocurrency exchanges
Ethereum can also be bought via cryptocurrency exchanges in countries where these exchanges are active and working. To buy Ethereum via exchanges download their app or go to their website on your phone or computer and complete their registration process and then buy the cryptocurrency via credit/debit cards. Ethereum can also be bought in these exchanges via bitcoin. If you already have bitcoin, you can transfer it to any exchange and then trade bitcoin for Ethereum. It is upto you to leave the Ethereum there or transfer it to any outside wallet. We recommend www.hermesus.com as it is a US-based exchange operating under strict US regulations.
Ethereum is a cryptocurrency and it can be stored electronically in Ethereum wallet, an electronic tool for holding cryptocurrencies. The basic technology behind a wallet is open-source and a programmer with a good base can make it on his/her own but due to the various facets including security and proficiency of the business, Ethereum users mostly use Over The Counter (OTC) wallets being offered by various services.
Some wallets are online-based while still others are offline wallet apps that are listed in the app store. Online wallets are always susceptible to hacks and infringements so it is advised that users use offline or hardware wallets for storing a significant amount of Ethereum or any other cryptocurrency for that matter.
Just like any blockchain-based network, a user needs to have two important details to prove his/her ownership of the tokens and be able to trigger transactions.
1. Public Keys
Public keys are essentially publicly verifiable personal accounts that everybody has access to in a blockchain network. It is a randomly worded and long selection of letters that are used to record transactions.
2. Private Keys
Private keys are passwords that only cryptocurrency owners are privy to. These keys or passphrases in combination with public keys can help trigger transactions on the network just like a regular money transfer except safer and much more straightforward. Users can change their private keys and manage them according to their requirements.
Different types of digital wallets can be used the Ethereum users to store, send and receive the cryptocurrency.
Popular wallets like myetherwallet.com offer users an online wallet service. Users can use this wallet to send/receive Ethereum and other tokens based on Ethereum. Web wallets are fast and easily accessible but are much more susceptible to hacking and malfunctions. They are also sometimes called HOT wallets.
BitcoinAlley.com is a good example of a Hot Wallet. The wallet you create on our exchange is your own and we do not have access to it.
These are pro-security physical hardware wallets that store cryptocurrency offline. One can only use to transact in them when necessary and thus keeping them away from the reach of hackers. They are easy to use but are mostly reliant on physical existence and thus can be tricky to use practically. Trezor, Ledger Nano, etc can be used to store Ethereum and other crypto in addition to Bitcoin.
Desktop and Mobile Wallets
These wallets can be operated from your phone or computer or both. They are easy to use and have better security than online “hot wallets”. They are also extremely customizable and users can select a variety of different tokens to deal in. However, if your device is compromised, the crypto can be easily lost as well.
Ethereum is one of the earliest cryptocurrencies and uses the guts of the Bitcoin network. They include the SHA-256 hashing algorithm that was used by Bitcoin as well as other early cryptocurrency networks like Litecoin.
The system was proposed by computer programmer and cryptocurrency visionary Vitalik Buterin back in 2013 and he envisioned the idea of harnessing blockchain technology’s “true potential” through a scalable programmable blockchain network. A crowdsale followed between July and August 2014 in which over 72 million coins were added to the network “premined” and the backers were credited with this amount.
Ethereum’s co-founders were Joseph Lubin and Vitalik Buterin. Both of them were heavily involved in the network’s initial development, testing and outreach but, Joseph Lubin founded Consensys in 2015 and began to focus on it. Ethereum is different from Bitcoin in this regard that it has a face while Bitcoin’s creator Satoshi Nakamoto is a mysterious character many people assume is an anagram or an anonymous name.
Vitalik Buterin is the current face of the Ethereum network and has also co-founded the Bitcoin magazine. A Canadian-Russian national, Buterin was raised in Canada and became one of the earlier adopters of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Buterin in 2013 presented the initial whitepaper of Ethereum and argued that the Bitcoin ecosystem needed a more scripting language to help application development on a blockchain network, something that would revolutionize the entire industry. He is often seen as one of the biggest influencers in the cryptocurrency world as his views are taken seriously due to their progressive nature and sound reasoning. In addition to Ethereum he has also worked on other projects including DarkWallet and the decentralized marketplace Egora.
Before founding the Ethereum network, Joseph Lubin started with a company called Ethereum Switzerland GmbH in 2014, a Swiss-based blockchain company that was focusing on extending the applications of popular existing blockchain networks like Bitcoin. He wanted to extend the application of blockchain technology beyond just immutable transactions. He wanted blockchain to be able to store, verify, enforce or negotiate a new application what he called a “smart contract”. This was the beginning of a new revolution sometimes referred to as Blockchain 2.0 where blockchain ceased to exist just a means to process money securely and opened a realm of new possibilities.
Lubin founded ConsenSys in 2015 and he began to focus on decentralized blockchain production studio development. ConsenSys is now providing blockchain services to other companies and offers enterprise research and consultancy. Lubin is personally involved in generating blockchain applications for use in effective good governance.
The Ethereum Foundation
Buterin and Lubin also co-founded the Ethereum Foundation, a non-profit entity that funds, supports and campaigns for decentralized applications and the the whole decentralized universe as a whole.
The Ethereum foundation is one of the many faces of sustainable development in the crypto sector. It organizes useful seminars, awareness campaigns and is heavily involved in the crypto public’s discourse regarding the future of the sector.
However, there have been some lone incidents that have resulted in a lot of concerns from the crypto community. They include the case of Virgil Griffith, a member of the Ethereum Foundation on whom the US government filed charges of helping North Korea evade US sanctions. While the charges have not been proven yet, the critics of this move say that it was just a plot to punish Griffith since he attended a cryptocurrency summit in North Korea despite the State Department’s warnings earlier in 2019.
The charges state that by disclosing the working of cryptocurrencies, Griffith potentially gave North Koreans a way to evade sweeping US sanctions on its economy. However, the workings of cryptocurrencies are open-source and any help that Griffith has given them could potentially be easily available online.
The DAO Hack of June 2016 was a major event in the history of the Ethereum Network and needs to be discussed. In April of 2016, the Ethereum Network deployed a new functionality that allowed Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) to deploy and use the network effectively. A German company named Slock.it raised funds through Ether and deployed their DAO on the Ethereum blockchain. The company successfully raised over $150 million worth of Ether during a 28-day funding timeframe from more than 11,000 backers.
But, despite this initial success, some experts pointed out certain vulnerabilities in the DAO coding even before funding starting on the Slock.it platform. An unnamed hacker took advantage of this situation and drained the DAO’s funds from its wallet. More than 3.6 million ETH were drained by the hacker and this presented a serious situation to the Ethereum community. At that time, Ether was worth around $20 which decreased to $12 in the wake of the hack. Efforts to isolate the DAO hacker and limit his attacks were unfruitful because of lack of timely response and use of votes. Since the DAO contained over 15% of all ETH in existence and was a major setback for the Ethereum network, developers joined together to look for a workable solution.
Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of the Ethereum blockchain network proposed a fork or separation from the transactions that the hacker did based on consensus which would render them invalid. This was a difficult decision for the Ethereum community as it was akin to starting erasing transactions based on consensus which no blockchain network had ever thought of or advocated of doing. Buterin advocated a one-time use of this approach only to isolate the transactions of the hacker.
Critics saw this as a collusion to rewrite history and opposed it but the majority of the community eventually rallied under the call made by Buterin. Interestingly, the alleged hacker wrote an anonymous open letter to the Ethereum developer community and claimed that his exploits were fully legal under the system and any attempt made to counter this would have legal cases down their throats.
Some members of the community recognized the partial truth in the letter because DAOs by designs were supposed to work without outside intervention. The attacker also claimed to reward the members and nodes of the community with his prize if they opposed the fork. Some sympathizers of the system believed that it was like bailing out banks who are deemed “too big to fail”. They believed that the system should rectify according to the ground rules laid and not act like conventional monetary systems.
In the end, the majority of the community decided to go ahead with the hard fork. On 20 July 2016 01:20:40 PM +UTC, the hack was reversed in a hard fork. Objectors, who were a minority in the network continued with the existing protocol and that network eventually came to be known as Ethereum Classic. So, Ethereum became the first cryptocurrency to undergo a hard fork resulting in two separate chains. Difficulties in Scaling and Plasma, Sharding Explained
The Ethereum network has often been criticized for failing to scale and fulfill the promises made at the launch of the network. It is easy enough to see that this scaling issue is real and has plagued the development of the network for a while. Transactions take longer time, functions can be expensive and the overall experience hinges between poor and satisfactory standards. Therefore, the concern is quite valid and Ethereum network should be gearing towards improvement. So why the results cannot be seen? The main issue is the lack of consensus among the community and the will to act. There are two groups within the developer community; on-chain advocates and off-chain advocates. On-chain advocates want fundamental re-understanding of the network’s blockchain to help in scaling while off-chain means leaving the core blockchain intact and adding layers on top of it to improve the scaling prospect. Multiple layers may be added eventually to aid with the scaling effort. Plasma is a kind of off-chain solution proposed for future scaling of the system.
A relatively larger number of developers and community members believe in off-chain solutions for scale because it preserves the fundamental decentralization philosophy of the Ethereum network. On-chain solutions normally have to incorporate fundamental changes in the system that will be difficult to be agreed upon by the entire system.
Sharding is a kind of revolutionary on-chain solution in which it is proposed that the entire system will be divided into smaller chains of Ethereum Blockchain called shards. Each shard will essentially be a separate chain with a separate state. Sharding is considered to be one of the most difficult changes to be ever proposed in the Ethereum network but lately has garnered support from many sectors.
Plasma on the other hand is an off-chain solution in which the system allows for the creation of separate child blockchains connected to the Ethereum network. The smaller blockchains can be of infinite size and complexity as long as their transactions can be proved and confirmed by the parent Ethereum chain itself. Several notable startups and projects are working on Plasma technologies for off-chain scaling including OmiseGo, another notable cryptocurrency project.
Only time will tell which solution will be implemented into the Ethereum blockchain. For now, the scaling issue remains and the Ethereum’s promise of a universal programmable blockchain network is still unfulfilled.
While the Ethereum network was an innovative network that transformed the perception of blockchain networks, it is currently facing a myriad of challenges. The Ethereum network is often singled out for having considerable scalability issues. The network is also criticized for its approach towards PoS mining without much deliberation because it can be a slippery slope.
The Difficult Bomb
There is also the extremely interesting case of the difficulty bomb. In every PoW mining system, the difficulty to mine new coins increases with time as more and more miners join the network. However, instead of making mining only harder, the Ethereum network’s current arrangement results in increased time needed to mine a new block as well. This adds 20 seconds for every 100.000 blocks. So, essentially, after every 10 days or so, the mining process increases for one block. This is not experienced in other blockchain networks like bitcoin. This is an important issue plaguing the development of the cryptocurrency network as the actual difficulty bomb gets being so-called “diffused” by developers or delayed for the next few million blocks on a regular basis. So, the difficulty will now be delayed again in the latest update to the system.
Proof of Work vs Proof of Stake Debate
The debate between PoS and PoW mining has been going on for a while. PoW is a brute-force based mining approach in which size and computing power matters. The one who controls the most of these assets has a higher say in things and gets the most of the rewards. PoS also establishes the dominance of the powerful but rather than dedicating resources, they ask for dedication of the monetary sources within the cryptocurrency’s ecosystem. The one with the most dedicated cryptocurrency has the most chances of getting the latest blocks.
No major cryptocurrency in the world has ever had a fully functioning PoS mining system except for Tezos. That is one of the biggest drawbacks of the PoS mining approach. There are considerable numbers of unknown variables involved in the development that people are not sure what it will eventually become.
PoW on the other hand is the tried and tested classical approach and has worked for a long time. As long as the dedicated computing is huge and nobody can easily challenge it, the system is safe. The Bitcoin network for example is a PoW system which has over 100 Exa has per second (EH/s) computing power accumulation. For a 51% attack, one still needs to have at least 51 EH/s of computing power and that is an insane amount of power that will require billions of dollars of investment from potential attackers. Due to this simple, yet working approach, PoW has been the most popular approach. Some approaches like Litecoin’s scripting have attempted to limit the ability of big miners but to limited success. PoW, although works has reportedly a considerable carbon footprint and critics believe it may not be sustainable in the long-term.
PoW is also known for its slowing down of transaction times and inability to handle scaling. PoS can handle scaling in a much better way. Perhaps this is the reason why the Ethereum network is determined to move to a PoS mining approach.
But, the Ethereum developers are unfazed and are moving towards the eventual migration to the PoS mining approach because they believe it is essential for the future. The eventual migration to PoS mining is called Ethereum 2.0. But, the team realizes that a direct shift from PoW to PoS mining will be too much of a drastic change and therefore, an intermediate stage has been announced. The new change or “fork” is called the Muir Glaciar after the receding Alaskan glaciar which is being affected by climate change. Since many critics point out that cryptocurrencies are contributing towards the global warming effect, Ethereum wants to move towards a less-energy intensive PoS mining through this update.
This update is expected to act as a bridge between the current PoW approach unique to Ethereum and the upcoming PoS shift by the cryptocurrency. The new chain being promoted is called the Beacon chain and it constitutes the first process of an eventual Ethereum 2.0 PoS-based ecosystem.