Ethereum | Crypto art glossary


copy-paste-creativity-button

ethereum

Ethereum is a decentralized, open-source blockchain with smart contract functionality. Ether (ETH or Ξ) is the native cryptocurrency of the platform. Among cryptocurrencies, Ether is second only to Bitcoin in market capitalization.

Ethereum was conceived in 2013 by programmer Vitalik Buterin. Additional founders of Ethereum included Gavin Wood, Charles Hoskinson, Anthony Di Iorio and Joseph Lubin. In 2014, development work commenced and was crowdfunded, and the network went live on 30 July 2015. The platform allows anyone to deploy permanent and immutable decentralized applications onto it, with which users can interact. Decentralized finance (DeFi) applications provide a broad array of financial services without the need for typical financial intermediaries like brokerages, exchanges, or banks, such as allowing cryptocurrency users to borrow against their holdings or lend them out for interest. Ethereum also allows for the creation and exchange of NFTs, which are non-interchangeable tokens connected to digital works of art or other real-world items and sold as unique digital property. Additionally, many other cryptocurrencies operate as ERC-20 tokens on top of the Ethereum blockchain and have utilized the platform for initial coin offerings.

Ethereum has started implementing a series of upgrades called Ethereum 2.0, which includes a transition to proof of stake and aims to increase transaction throughput using sharding.

History

Founding (2013–2014)

Ethereum was initially described in a white paper by Vitalik Buterin, a programmer and co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine, in late 2013 with a goal of building decentralized applications. Buterin argued to the bitcoin core developers that Bitcoin and blockchain technology could benefit from other applications besides money and needed a more robust language for application development that could lead to attaching real-world assets, such as stocks and property, to the blockchain. In 2013, Buterin briefly worked with eToro CEO Yoni Assia on the Colored Coins project and drafted its white paper outlining additional use cases for blockchain technology. However, after failing to gain agreement on how the project should proceed, he proposed the development of a new platform with a more robust scripting language—a Turing-complete programming language —that would eventually become Ethereum.

Ethereum was announced at the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami, in January 2014. During the conference, Gavin Wood, Charles Hoskinson, and Anthony Di Iorio (who financed the project) rented a house in Miami with Buterin to develop a fuller sense of what Ethereum might become. Di Iorio invited friend Joseph Lubin, who invited reporter Morgen Peck, to bear witness. Peck subsequently wrote about the experience in Wired. Six months later the founders met again in a house in Zug, Switzerland, where Buterin told the founders that the project would proceed as a non-profit. Hoskinson left the project at that time and soon after founded IOHK, a blockchain company responsible for Cardano.

Ethereum has an unusually long list of founders. Anthony Di Iorio wrote: “Ethereum was founded by Vitalik Buterin, Myself, Charles Hoskinson, Mihai Alisie & Amir Chetrit (the initial 5) in December 2013. Joseph Lubin, Gavin Wood, & Jeffrey Wilcke were added in early 2014 as founders.” Buterin chose the name Ethereum after browsing a list of elements from science fiction on Wikipedia. He stated, “I immediately realized that I liked it better than all of the other alternatives that I had seen; I suppose it was the fact that sounded nice and it had the word ‘ether’, referring to the hypothetical invisible medium that permeates the universe and allows light to travel.” Buterin wanted his platform to be the underlying and imperceptible medium for the applications running on top of it.

Development (2014)

Formal development of the software began in early 2014 through a Swiss company, Ethereum Switzerland GmbH (EthSuisse). The basic idea of putting executable smart contracts in the blockchain needed to be specified before the software could be implemented. This work was done by Gavin Wood, then the chief technology officer, in the Ethereum Yellow Paper that specified the Ethereum Virtual Machine. Subsequently, a Swiss non-profit foundation, the Ethereum Foundation (Stiftung Ethereum), was created as well. Development was funded by an online public crowdsale from July to August 2014, with the participants buying the Ethereum value token (Ether) with another digital currency, Bitcoin. While there was early praise for the technical innovations of Ethereum, questions were also raised about its security and scalability.

Launch and the DAO event (2014–2016)

Several codenamed prototypes of Ethereum were developed over 18 months in 2014 and 2015 by the Ethereum Foundation as part of their proof-of-concept series. “Olympic” was the last prototype and public beta pre-release. The Olympic network provided users with a bug bounty of 25,000 Ether for stress testing the limits of the Ethereum blockchain. In July 2015, “Frontier” marked the official launch of the Ethereum platform as Ethereum created its “genesis block.”

Since the initial launch, Ethereum has undergone several planned protocol upgrades, which are important changes affecting the underlying functionality and/or incentive structures of the platform. Protocol upgrades are accomplished by means of a hard fork.

In 2016, a decentralized autonomous organization called The DAO, a set of smart contracts developed on the platform, raised a record US$150 million in a crowdsale to fund the project. The DAO was exploited in June 2016 when US$50 million of DAO tokens were stolen by an unknown hacker. The event sparked a debate in the crypto-community about whether Ethereum should perform a contentious “hard fork” to reappropriate the affected funds. It resulted in the network splitting into two blockchains: Ethereum with the theft reversed and Ethereum Classic which continued on the original chain. The hard fork created a rivalry between the two networks. After the hard fork, Ethereum subsequently forked twice in the fourth quarter of 2016 to deal with other attacks.

Continued development and milestones (2017–present)

In March 2017, various blockchain startups, research groups, and Fortune 500 companies announced the creation of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) with 30 founding members. By May 2017, the nonprofit organization had 116 enterprise members – including ConsenSys, CME Group, Cornell University’s research group, Toyota Research Institute, Samsung SDS, Microsoft, Intel, J. P. Morgan, Cooley LLP, Merck KGaA, DTCC, Deloitte, Accenture, Banco Santander, BNY Mellon, ING, and National Bank of Canada. By July 2017, there were over 150 members in the alliance, including MasterCard, Cisco Systems, Sberbank, and Scotiabank.

In January 2018, Ethereum was the second largest cryptocurrency in terms of market capitalization, behind Bitcoin. As of 2021, it maintained that relative position.

After the Constantinople upgrade on 28 February 2019, there were two network upgrades made within a month late in the year: Istanbul on 8 December 2019 and Muir Glacier on 2 January 2020.

In 2019, Ethereum Foundation employee Virgil Griffith was arrested by the US government for presenting at a blockchain conference in North Korea. He would later plead guilty to the charges in 2021.

In March 2021, Visa Inc. announced that it began settling stablecoin transactions using Ethereum. In April 2021, JP Morgan Chase, UBS, and MasterCard announced that they were investing $65 million into ConsenSys, a software development firm that builds Ethereum-related infrastructure.

There were two network upgrades in 2021. The first was the “Berlin” upgrade, implemented on 14 April 2021. The second was “London”, which took effect on 5 August. The London upgrade included Ethereum Improvement Proposal (“EIP”) 1559, which introduced a mechanism for reducing transaction fee volatility. The mechanism causes a portion of the Ether paid in transaction fees each block to be destroyed rather than given to the miner, reducing the inflation rate of Ether and potentially resulting in periods of deflation.

On 27 August 2021, the blockchain experienced a brief fork that was the result of clients running different incompatible software versions.

Ethereum 2.0

Open-source development is currently underway for a major upgrade to Ethereum known as Ethereum 2.0 or Eth2. The main purpose of the upgrade is to increase transaction throughput for the network from the current of about 15 transactions per second to up to tens of thousands of transactions per second.

The stated goal is to increase throughput by splitting up the workload into many blockchains running in parallel (referred to as sharding) and then having them all share a common consensus proof-of-stake blockchain, so that to maliciously tamper with any singular chain would require one to tamper with the common consensus, which would cost the attacker far more than they could ever gain from an attack.

Ethereum 2.0 (also known as Serenity) is designed to be launched in three phases:

  • “Phase 0” also known as “The Beacon Chain” was launched on 1 December 2020 and created the Beacon Chain, a proof-of-stake (PoS) blockchain that will act as the central coordination and consensus hub of Ethereum 2.0.
  • “Phase 1” also known as “The Merge” will merge the Beacon Chain with the current Ethereum network, transitioning its consensus mechanism from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake. As of 26 January 2022, it is expected to be released in the second quarter of 2022.
  • “Phase 2” also known as “Shard chains” will implement state execution in the shard chains with the current Ethereum 1.0 chain expected to become one of the shards of Ethereum 2.0. Shard chains will spread the network’s load across 64 new chains. As of 22 January 2022, it is expected to be released in 2023.

Design

Ethereum is a permissionless, non-hierarchical network of computers (nodes) which build and come to consensus on an ever-growing series of “blocks”, or batches of transactions, known as the blockchain. Each block contains an identifier of the chain that must precede it if the block is to be considered valid. Whenever a node adds a block to its chain, it executes the transactions therein in their order, thereby altering the ETH balances and other storage values of Ethereum accounts. These balances and values, collectively known as the state, are maintained on the node’s computer separately from the blockchain, in a Merkle tree.

Each node communicates with a relatively small subset of the network, known as its peers. Whenever a node wishes to include a new transaction in the blockchain, it sends the transaction to its peers, who then send it to their peers, and so on. In this way, it propagates throughout the network. Certain nodes, called miners, maintain a list of all of these new transactions and use them to create new blocks, which they then send to the rest of the network. Whenever a node receives a block, it checks the validity of the block and of all of the transactions therein and, if valid, adds it to its blockchain and executes all of said transactions. Since block creation and broadcasting is permissionless, a node may receive multiple blocks competing to be the successor to a given block. The node keeps track of all of the valid chains that result from this and regularly drops the shortest one. The Ethereum protocol states that the longest chain is to be considered the canonical one.

Ether

Ether (ETH) is the cryptocurrency generated by the Ethereum protocol as a reward to miners in a proof-of-work system for adding blocks to the blockchain. It is the only currency accepted in the payment of transaction fees, which also go to miners. The block reward together with the transaction fees provide the incentive to miners to keep the blockchain growing (i.e. to keep processing new transactions). Therefore, ETH is fundamental to the operation of the network. Each Ethereum account has an ETH balance and may send ETH to any other account. The smallest subunit of ETH is known as a Wei, named after cryptocurrency pioneer Wei Dai, and is equal to 10−18 ETH. Ether is often erroneously referred to as “Ethereum”.

Ether is listed on exchanges under the currency code ETH. The Greek uppercase Xi character (Ξ) is sometimes used for its currency symbol.

The shift to Ethereum 2.0 may reduce the issuance rate of Ether. There is currently no implemented hard cap on the total supply of Ether.

Gas

Gas is a unit of account within the EVM used in the calculation of a transaction fee, which is the amount of ETH a transaction’s sender must pay to the miner who includes the transaction in the blockchain.

Each type of operation which may be performed by the EVM is hardcoded with a certain gas cost, which is intended to be roughly proportional to the amount of resources (computation and storage) a node must expend to perform that operation. When creating a transaction, the sender must specify a gas limit and gas price. The gas limit is the maximum amount of gas the sender is willing to use in the transaction, and the gas price is the amount of ETH the sender wishes to pay to the miner per unit of gas used. The higher the gas price, the more incentive a miner has to include the transaction in their block, and thus the quicker the transaction will be included in the blockchain. The sender buys the full amount of gas (i.e. the gas limit) up-front, at the start of the execution of the transaction, and is refunded at the end for any gas not used. If at any point the transaction does not have enough gas to perform the next operation, the transaction is reverted but the sender still pays for the gas used. Gas prices are typically denominated in Gwei, a subunit of ETH equal to 10−9 ETH.

Applications

ERC-20 tokens

The ERC-20 (Ethereum Request for Comments 20) Token Standard allows for fungible tokens on the Ethereum blockchain. The standard, proposed by Fabian Vogelsteller in November 2015, implements an API for tokens within smart contracts. The standard provides functions including the transfer of tokens from one account to another, getting the current token balance of an account and getting the total supply of the token available on the network. Smart contracts that correctly implement ERC-20 processes are called ERC-20 Token Contracts, and help keep track of the created tokens on Ethereum. Numerous cryptocurrencies have launched as ERC-20 tokens and have been distributed through initial coin offerings. Fees to send ERC-20 tokens must be paid with Ether.

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)

Ethereum also allows for the creation of unique and indivisible tokens, called non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Since tokens of this type are unique, they have been used to represent such things as collectibles, digital art, sports memorabilia, virtual real estate, and items within games. The first NFT project, Etheria, a 3D map of tradable and customizable hexagonal tiles, was deployed to the network in October 2015 and demonstrated live at DEVCON1 in November of that year. In 2021, Christie’s sold a digital image with an NFT by Beeple for $69.3 million, making him the third-most valuable living artist in terms of auction prices at the time. Land, buildings and avatars in blockchain-based virtual worlds can also be bought and sold as NFTs, sometimes for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Decentralized finance

Decentralized finance (DeFi) is a use case of Ethereum. It offers traditional financial instruments in a decentralized architecture, outside of companies’ and governments’ control, such as money market funds which let users earn interest. Decentralized finance applications are typically accessed through a Web3-enabled browser extension or application, such as MetaMask, which allows users to directly interact with the Ethereum blockchain through a website. Many of these DApps can connect and work together to create complex financial services.

Examples of DeFi platforms include MakerDAO and Compound. Uniswap, a decentralized exchange for tokens on Ethereum grew from $20 million in liquidity to $2.9 billion in 2020. As of October 2020, over $11 billion was invested in various DeFi protocols. Additionally, through a process called “wrapping”, certain DeFi protocols allow synthetic versions of various assets (such as Bitcoin, gold and oil) to become available and tradeable on Ethereum and also compatible with all of Ethereum’s major wallets and applications.

“Ethereum” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, n.d.

Home / Crypto art glossary

crypto-art-glossary