Ethereum is an open-source, decentralized blockchain platform that runs smart contracts. Ethereum was first proposed in 2013 by Vitalik Buterin and went live in 2015. Since its launch, Ethereum has quickly become the world’s leading blockchain platform for decentralized applications (dapps).
What is Ethereum?
Ethereum is an open-sourced, public blockchain-based distributed computing platform featuring smart contract functionality. It provides a decentralized virtual machine known as the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) that can execute scripts and run dapps.
The Ethereum network uses a native cryptocurrency called Ether (ETH) to pay for transaction fees and computational services on the Ethereum network. Ether is used as “gas” to power interactions with the EVM. Gas refers to the fee required to successfully conduct a transaction on Ethereum.
How Ethereum Works
The Ethereum network operates based on a blockchain that records transactions and is updated by a network of nodes running the Ethereum software. Nodes on the network verify and process transactions and smart contracts using a consensus mechanism known as proof-of-work.
The blockchain uses Merkle trees to allow for efficient verification of the contents of large data structures. The Ethereum blockchain stores the state of each smart contract, with all smart contracts being executed and stored on the blockchain.
Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM)
The EVM executes smart contract bytecode, allowing the creation and execution of applications and contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. The EVM provides a runtime environment where all Ethereum accounts and smart contracts live.
Gas refers to the fee required to conduct a transaction on Ethereum successfully. The gas system allows for a fee market where fees rise or fall based on network demand. Gas ensures that transactions which consume more computational power or storage resources pay higher transaction fees.
Smart contracts are code snippets embedded into the Ethereum blockchain to execute commands based on predefined conditions. They are coded using programming languages modeled for writing smart contracts, like Solidity. Smart contracts allow for complex functionalities like tokenization, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), decentralized finance (DeFi) systems, decentralized exchanges (DEXs) and more.
Ethereum originally operated on a proof-of-work (PoW) consensus model, where miners solved cryptographic puzzles to validate transactions and produce new blocks. However, in September 2022, the network transitioned from PoW to a proof-of-stake (PoS) system called the Beacon chain.
In PoS, validators lock up ETH coins to secure the right to validate blocks based on the number of coins they’ve staked. PoS retains high levels of security while using far less electricity than PoW.
While the EVM can support various programming languages, the main language used to write Ethereum smart contracts is Solidity. Solidity was created specifically for developing smart contracts on EVM blockchains.
Other programming languages used on Ethereum include Viper, LLL, and Mutan. These languages may simplify smart contract creation for certain applications and users.
Benefits of Ethereum
Decentralization – Data and record-keeping are decentralized across the global network of nodes. No central point of failure exists since copies of the blockchain are stored on computers worldwide.
Transparency – Changes to account balances and smart contract states are viewable to all participants on the blockchain. This enables transparency in operations and processes.
Security – Validators must validate all transactions and smart contracts. This prevents double-spending and fraud through computational problem-solving.
Accuracy – Code execution in a smart contract cannot be altered after deployment, ensuring accurate and unchanging programming.
Real World Use Cases
Ethereum enables several real-world blockchain applications across industries like finance, supply chains, creative arts, gaming, and more.
Some examples include:
- Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – Used to represent ownership of unique digital items like artwork, collectibles, music, videos, and more.
- Decentralized Finance (DeFi) – Financial products using smart contracts to enable lending, derivatives, asset trading, and more without centralized intermediaries.
- Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) – Member-owned communities and organizations that allow decentralized governance through smart contracts.
- Supply Chain Tracking – Using smart contracts to track movement of goods through supply chains, enhancing transparency and efficiency.
Challenges Facing Ethereum
While Ethereum brings several benefits as a blockchain platform, it still faces some challenges around scalability, security, and more:
- Scalability – There are limits to the number of transactions Ethereum can currently handle per second. Solutions like sharding and layer 2 chains aim to significantly improve scalability.
- Security – While Ethereum is secure against hacking by design, smart contract bugs can lead to exploitations like flash loan attacks, routing attacks through DeFi apps. Formal verification of code and audits can improve security.
- Complexity – The complexity of Ethereum and its tooling can prevent adoption even by experienced developers new to blockchain. Simplifying documentation and education around Ethereum can enable quicker mainstream adoption.
Ethereum has catalyzed growth in enterprise blockchain adoption by enabling decentralized applications across industries like finance, supply chains, gaming, and more. With rapid innovations focused on scaling the Ethereum ecosystem coming online, Ethereum adoption is poised to grow exponentially in the years to come.