At its core, Ethereum is a decentralized global software platform powered by blockchain technology. It is most commonly known for its native cryptocurrency, ether (ETH).
Ethereum can be used by anyone to create any secured digital technology. It has a token designed to pay for work done supporting the blockchain, but participants can also use it to pay for tangible goods and services if accepted.
Ethereum is designed to be scalable, programmable, secure, and decentralized. It is the blockchain of choice for developers and enterprises creating technology based upon it to change how many industries operate and how we go about our daily lives.
The founders of Ethereum were among the first to consider the full potential of blockchain technology beyond just enabling the secure virtual payment method.
Since the launch of Ethereum, ether as a cryptocurrency has risen to become the second-largest cryptocurrency by market value. It is outranked only by Bitcoin.
Ethereum, like other cryptocurrencies, involves blockchain technology. Imagine a very long chain of blocks. All of the information contained in each block is added to every newly-created block with new data. Throughout the network, an identical copy of the blockchain is distributed.
This blockchain is validated by a network of automated programs that reach a consensus on the validity of transaction information. No changes can be made to the blockchain unless the network reaches a consensus. This makes it very secure.
Consensus is reached using an algorithm commonly called a consensus mechanism. Ethereum uses the proof-of-stake algorithm, where a network of participants called validators create new blocks and work together to verify the information they contain. The blocks contain information about the state of the blockchain, a list of attestations (a validator’s signature and vote on the validity of the block), transactions, and much more.
Proof-of-stake differs from proof-of-work in that it doesn’t require the energy-intensive computing referred to as mining to validate blocks. It uses a finalization protocol called Casper-FFG and the algorithm LMD Ghost, combined into a consensus mechanism called Gasper, which monitors consensus and defines how validators receive rewards for work or are punished for dishonesty.
Solo validators must stake 32 ETH to activate their validation ability. Individuals can stake smaller amounts of ETH, but they are required to join a validation pool and share any rewards. A validator creates a new block and attests that the information is valid in a process called attestation, where the block is broadcast to other validators called a committee who verify it and vote for its validity.
Validators who act dishonestly are punished under proof-of-stake. Validators who attempt to attack the network are identified by Gasper, which identifies the blocks to accept and reject based on the votes of the validators.
Dishonest validators are punished by having their staked ETH burned and being removed from the network. Burning refers to sending crypto to a wallet that has no keys, which takes them out of circulation.
Ethereum owners use wallets to store their ether. A wallet is a digital interface that lets you access your ether stored on the blockchain. Your wallet has an address, which is similar to an email address in that it is where users send ether, much like they would an email.
Ether is not actually stored in your wallet. Your wallet holds private keys you use as you would a password when you initiate a transaction. You receive a private key for each ether you own. This key is essential for accessing your ether. That’s why you hear so much about securing keys using different storage methods.
One notable event in Ethereum’s history is the hard fork, or split, of Ethereum and Ethereum Classic. n 2016, a group of network participants gained majority control of the Ethereum blockchain to steal more than $50 million worth of ether, which had been raised for a project called The DAO.
The raid’s success was attributed to the involvement of a third-party developer for the new project. Most of the Ethereum community opted to reverse the theft by invalidating the existing Ethereum blockchain and approving a blockchain with a revised history.
However, a fraction of the community chose to maintain the original version of the Ethereum blockchain. That unaltered version of Ethereum permanently split to become the cryptocurrency Ethereum Classic (ETC).