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Ethereum Logo
Original author(s)Vitalik Buterin, Gavin Wood
Developer(s)Ethereum Foundation
Initial release30 July 2015; 5 years ago (2015-07-30)
Stable releaseMuir Glacier / 1 January 2020; 9 months ago (2020-01-01)
Development statusActive
Software usedEVM 1 Bytecode
Written inGo, Rust, C#, C++, Java, Python
Operating systemCross-platform
Platformx86-64, ARM
Size300 GB (2020-03)
TypeDistributed Computing
LicenseOpen-Source Licenses
Total users91,994,515 (2020-03)
Active hosts7,546 (2020-03)

Ethereum is a decentralized open source blockchain featuring smart contract functionality. Ether (ETH) is the native cryptocurrency token of the Ethereum platform. It is the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, behind Bitcoin.[1]

Ethereum was proposed in late 2013 by Vitalik Buterin, a cryptocurrency researcher and programmer. Development was funded by an online crowdsale that took place between July and August 2014.[2] The system then went live on 30 July 2015, with 72 million coins minted.[3][4] Ethereum provides a decentralized replicated virtual machine, called the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), which can execute scripts using an international network of public nodes.[2] The virtual machine's instruction set is Turing-complete, in contrast to Bitcoin.

In 2016, as a result of an exploitation of a flaw in The DAO project's smart contract software, and subsequent theft of $50 million worth of Ether,[5] Ethereum was split into two separate blockchains. The new separate version became Ethereum (ETH) with the theft reversed,[6] and the original chain continued as Ethereum Classic (ETC).[7]

Ethereum is currently developing and planning to implement a series of upgrades called Ethereum 2.0.[8] Current specifications for Ethereum 2.0 include a transition to proof of stake and an increase in transaction throughput using sharding technology.[9][10]


Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin in 2015

Ethereum, a second-generation cryptocurrency which emerged after Bitcoin, was initially described in a white paper by Vitalik Buterin,[11] a programmer and co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine, in late 2013 with a goal of building decentralized applications.[12][13] Buterin had argued that Bitcoin needed a scripting language for application development. Failing to gain agreement, he proposed the development of a new platform with a more general scripting language.[2]

Ethereum was announced at the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami, in January 2014.[14] During the same time as the conference, a group of people rented a house in Miami: Gavin Wood, Charles Hoskinson, and Anthony Di Iorio, from Toronto, who financed the project.[14] Di Iorio invited friend Joseph Lubin, who invited reporter Morgen Peck, to bear witness.[14] 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.[14]

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 Wilke were added in early 2014 as founders." Formal development of the Ethereum software project began in early 2014 through a Swiss company, Ethereum Switzerland GmbH (EthSuisse).[15] 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.[16] 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.[12]

In 2019, an Ethereum foundation employee named Virgil Griffith was arrested by the US government for presenting at a blockchain conference in North Korea.[17]

Launch and Milestones[edit]

Code name Release date Release block
Frontier 2015-07-30 0
Ice Age 2015-09-08 200,000
Homestead 2016-03-15 1,150,000
DAO Fork (unplanned) 2016-07-20 1,920,000
Tangerine Whistle (unplanned) 2016-10-18 2,463,000
Spurious Dragon 2016-11-23 2,675,000
Byzantium 2017-10-16 4,370,000
Constantinople 2019-02-28 7,280,000
Petersburg (unplanned) 2019-02-28 7,280,000
Istanbul 2019-12-08 9,069,000
Muir Glacier 2020-01-01 9,200,000
Berlin (planned) TBD TBD
ETH 2.0 Phase 0 (planned) TBD TBD
ETH 2.0 Phase 1 (planned) TBD TBD
ETH 2.0 Phase 2 (planned) TBD TBD

Several codenamed prototypes of the Ethereum platform were developed 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 tentative experimental release of the Ethereum platform.[18]

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.[19][20] Protocol upgrades are accomplished by means of a hard fork. The latest upgrade to Ethereum was "Muir Glacier", implemented on January 01, 2020.

The DAO event[edit]

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.[21] The DAO was exploited in June when US$50 million value of DAO tokens were taken by an unknown hacker.[22][23] The event sparked a debate in the crypto-community about whether Ethereum should perform a contentious "hard fork" to reappropriate the affected funds.[24] As a result of the dispute, the network split in two. Ethereum (the subject of this article) continued on the forked blockchain, while Ethereum Classic continued on the original blockchain.[25] The hard fork created a rivalry between the two networks.

After the hard fork related to The DAO, Ethereum subsequently forked twice in the fourth quarter of 2016 to deal with other attacks. By the end of November 2016, Ethereum had increased its DDoS protection, de-bloated the blockchain, and thwarted further spam attacks by hackers.[unbalanced opinion?][citation needed]

Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA)[edit]

In March 2017, various blockchain start-ups, research groups, and Fortune 500 companies announced the creation of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) with 30 founding members.[26] By May, 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.[27][28][29] By July 2017, there were over 150 members in the alliance, including recent additions MasterCard, Cisco Systems, Sberbank and Scotiabank.[30][31]

Ethereum 2.0[edit]

Open-source development is currently underway for a major upgrade to the Ethereum platform, known as Ethereum 2.0, or Eth2.[32] 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.[33]

The increase in throughput is achieved by splitting up the work load into many blockchains running in parallel and then having them all share a common consensus, so that to maliciously tamper with one chain would require that one tamper with the common consensus, which would cost the attacker far more money than they could ever gain from the attack.

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

  1. "Phase 0" will create the Beacon Chain, a proof-of-stake blockchain that will act as the central coordination and consensus hub of Eth2.
  2. "Phase 1" will create shard chains and connect them to the Beacon Chain.
  3. "Phase 2" will implement state execution in the shard chains.[34] The current Ethereum 1.0 chain is expected to become one of the shards of Ethereum 2.0.


Ether (ETH)
PluralEther(s)[citation needed]
Ticker symbolETH
NicknameEther, Eth
Original author(s)Vitalik Buterin, Gavin Wood
White paperethereum whitepaper
Implementation(s)EVM 1
Initial releaseFrontier / 30 July 2015; 5 years ago (2015-07-30)
Latest releaseMuir Glacier / 1 January 2020; 9 months ago (2020-01-01)
Development statusActive
Written inC++, Go, Python, Rust, Scala
Operating systemCross-platform
Developer(s)Ethereum Foundation
Source modelOpen-Source Model
LicenseOpen-Source Licenses
Ledger start30 July 2015; 5 years ago (2015-07-30)
Split height#1,920,000 / 20 July 2016; 4 years ago (2016-07-20)
Split ratio1:1
Timestamping schemeProof-of-Work - Ethash
Hash functionKeccak
Issuance scheduleBlock and Uncle/Ommer reward.
Block reward2 ETH
Block time13 secs
Circulating supply111,144,324
Exchange rate$388 (12 Oct. 2020)
Market cap$43.9 billion (12 Oct. 2020)

As with other cryptocurrencies, the validity of each Ether is provided by a blockchain, which is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptographic hash functions.[35][36] By design, the blockchain is inherently resistant to modification of the data. It is an open, distributed ledger that records transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.[37] Unlike Bitcoin, Ethereum operates using accounts and balances in a manner called state transitions. This does not rely upon unspent transaction outputs (UTXOs). The state denotes the current balances of all accounts and extra data. The state is not stored on the blockchain, it is stored in a separate Merkle Patricia tree. A cryptocurrency wallet stores the public and private "keys" or "addresses" which can be used to receive or spend ether. These can be generated through BIP 39 style mnemonics for a BIP 32 "HD Wallet". In Ethereum, this is unnecessary as it does not operate in a UTXO scheme. With the private key, it is possible to write in the blockchain, effectively making an Ether transaction.

To send the Ethereum value token Ether to an account, you need the Keccak-256 hash of the public key of that account. Ethereum accounts are pseudonymous in that they are not linked to individual persons, but rather to one or more specific addresses.


Ether is a fundamental token for operation of Ethereum, which thereby provides a public distributed ledger for transactions. It is used to pay for gas, a unit of computation used in transactions and other state transitions. Mistakenly, this currency is also referred to as Ethereum.

It is listed under the ticker symbol ETH and traded on cryptocurrency exchanges, and the Greek uppercase Xi character (Ξ) is generally used for its currency symbol. It is also used to pay for transaction fees and computational services on the Ethereum network.[38]


Ethereum addresses are composed of the prefix "0x", a common identifier for hexadecimal, concatenated with the rightmost 20 bytes of the Keccak-256 hash (big endian) of the ECDSA public key (the curve used is the so-called secp256k1, the same as Bitcoin). In hexadecimal, 2 digits represent a byte, meaning addresses contain 40 hexadecimal digits. An example of an Ethereum address is 0xb794f5ea0ba39494ce839613fffba74279579268. Contract addresses are in the same format, however, they are determined by sender and creation transaction nonce.[39] User accounts are indistinguishable from contract accounts given only an address for each and no blockchain data. Any valid Keccak-256 hash put into the described format is valid, even if it does not correspond to an account with a private key or a contract. This is unlike Bitcoin, which uses base58check to ensure that addresses are properly typed.


Gas refers to the fee required to successfully conduct a transaction on Ethereum and is paid in Ethereum's native currency, Ether (ETH). Gas prices are denoted in Gwei, which is a denomination of ETH. Each Gwei is equal to 0.000000001 ETH.[40] This fee mechanism is used to mitigate transaction spam and allocate resources on the network.[2]

Comparison to bitcoin[edit]

Ethereum is different from Bitcoin (the cryptocurrency with the largest market capitalization as of October 2020) in several aspects[41][42]:

  • Bitcoin is a singular form of digital money where users can send, receive and hold only bitcoins. Ethereum is a smart contract platform which allows entities to leverage blockchain technology to create numerous different digital ledgers and can be used to create additional cryptocurrencies that run on top of its blockchain. For example, Ethereum can be used to create tokens that are pegged 1:1 with the value of the United States dollar (called a Stablecoin) if a user wanted to transfer or hold the value of dollars on the blockchain. Ethereum itself can also be sent, received and held as digital money.
  • Bitcoin is aimed to only be money, compared with Ethereum where a goal is to also run applications (like the Google Play or Apple App store).
  • Its block time is 13 seconds, compared with 10 minutes for bitcoin.
  • Mining of Ether generates new coins at a usually consistent rate, occasionally changing during hard forks, while for bitcoin the rate halves every 4 years.
  • For proof-of-work, it uses the Ethash algorithm which reduces the advantage of specialized ASICs in mining.
  • Transaction fees differ by computational complexity, bandwidth use and storage needs (in a system known as gas), while bitcoin transactions compete by means of transaction size, in bytes.
  • Ethereum uses an accounting system where values in Wei (the smallest denomination of 1 Ether, 1 ETH = 1018 Wei) are debited from accounts and credited to another, as opposed to Bitcoin's UTXO system, which is more analogous to spending cash and receiving change in return.


The total supply of Ether was around Ξ110.5 million as of 16 April 2020. In 2017, mining generated 9.2 million new ether, corresponding to a 10% increase in its total supply. Casper the Friendly Finality Gadget (FFG), which is a hybrid Proof of Work and Proof of Stake scheme, and Casper Correct-By-Construction (CBC), a separate Proof of Stake design of Casper, are expected to reduce the inflation rate to between 0.5% to 2%.[citation needed] There is no currently implemented hard cap on the total supply of ETH.[43]

Difficulty Bomb and The Ice Age[edit]

The Ethereum Difficulty Bomb refers to a mechanism where the difficulty of blockchain mining began increasing in November 2016, from block 200,000. The onset of the Difficulty Bomb is referred to as Ethereum's Ice Age. The Ice Age was implemented in order to serve as an incentive for the Ethereum network to transition to the Proof of Stake (PoS) blockchain once ready from the Proof of Work (PoW) blockchain. A difficulty bomb was scheduled in February 2019 but was pushed back by developers.[44]

Markets and stores[edit]

Ether can be purchased and sold through regular currency brokers, cryptocurrency exchanges, PayPal[45] and many online cryptocurrency wallets.[46]


Virtual Machine[edit]

The Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) is the runtime environment for smart contracts in Ethereum. It is a 256-bit register stack, designed to run the same code exactly as intended. It is the fundamental consensus mechanism for Ethereum. The formal definition of the EVM is specified in the Ethereum Yellow Paper.[39][47] Ethereum Virtual Machines have been implemented in C++, C#, Go, Haskell, Java, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, Rust, Elixir, Erlang, and soon, WebAssembly (currently under development).

Smart contracts[edit]

Ethereum's smart contracts are based on different computer languages, which developers use to program their own functionalities. Smart contracts are high-level programming abstractions that are compiled down to EVM bytecode and deployed to the Ethereum blockchain for execution. They can be written in Solidity (a language library with similarities to C and JavaScript), Serpent (similar to Python, but deprecated), LLL (a low-level Lisp-like language), and Mutan (Go-based, but deprecated). There is also a research-oriented language under development called Vyper (a strongly-typed Python-derived decidable language).

Smart contracts can be public, which opens up the possibility to prove functionality, e.g. self-contained provably fair casinos.[48]

One issue related to using smart contracts on a public blockchain is that bugs, including security holes, are visible to all but cannot be fixed quickly.[49] One example of this is the 17 June 2016 attack on The DAO, which could not be quickly stopped or reversed.[22]

There is ongoing research on how to use formal verification to express and prove non-trivial properties. A Microsoft Research report noted that writing solid smart contracts can be extremely difficult in practice, using The DAO hack to illustrate this problem. The report discussed tools that Microsoft had developed for verifying contracts, and noted that a large-scale analysis of published contracts is likely to uncover widespread vulnerabilities. The report also stated that it is possible to verify the equivalence of a Solidity program and the EVM code.[50]


Ethereum apps are written in one of seven different Turing-complete languages.[51] Developers use the language to create and publish applications which they know will run inside Ethereum. The stablecoins Tether and DAI,[52] and the prediction market Augur are examples of applications that run on Ethereum.[53][54]

Many uses have been proposed for the Ethereum platform, including ones that are impossible or unfeasible.[55][38] Use case proposals have included finance, the internet-of-things, farm-to-table produce, electricity sourcing and pricing, and sports betting. For example, Breitling issues digital certificates of authenticity to owners of its watches on Ethereum which can be transferred to new owners and help prove authenticity.[56] Ethereum is (as of 2020) the leading blockchain platform for initial coin offering projects, with over 50% market share.[57]

Enterprise software[edit]

Ethereum-based customized software and networks, independent from the public Ethereum chain, are being tested by enterprise software companies.[58] Interested parties include Microsoft, IBM, JPMorgan Chase,[38] Deloitte,[59] R3,[60] Innovate UK (cross-border payments prototype).[61] Barclays, UBS and Credit Suisse are experimenting with Ethereum.

Permissioned ledgers[edit]

Ethereum-based permissioned blockchain variants are used and being investigated for various projects.

  • J. P. Morgan Chase is developing JPM Coin on a permissioned-variant of Ethereum blockchain dubbed "Quorum".[62] It is "designed to toe the line between private and public in the realm of shuffling derivatives and payments. The idea is to satisfy regulators who need seamless access to financial goings-on, while protecting the privacy of parties that don't wish to reveal their identities nor the details of their transactions to the general public."[63]
  • Royal Bank of Scotland has announced that it has built a Clearing and Settlement Mechanism (CSM) based on the Ethereum distributed ledger and smart contract platform.[64][65]


In Ethereum all smart contracts are stored publicly on every node of the blockchain, which has costs.[66] Being a blockchain means it is secure by design[clarification needed] and is an example of a distributed computing system with high Byzantine fault tolerance. The downside is that performance issues arise in that every node is calculating all the smart contracts in real time, resulting in lower speeds.[66] As of January 2016, the Ethereum protocol could process about 25 transactions per second.[66] In comparison, the Visa payment platform processes 45,000 payments per second leading some to question the scalability of Ethereum.[67] On 19 December 2016, Ethereum exceeded one million transactions in a single day for the first time.[68]

Ethereum engineers have been working on sharding the calculations, and the next step (called Ethereum 2) was presented at Ethereum's Devcon 3 in November 2017.[69]

Ethereum's blockchain uses Merkle trees, for security reasons, to improve scalability, and to optimize transaction hashing.[70] As with any Merkle tree implementation, it allows for storage savings, set membership proofs (called "Merkle proofs"), and light client synchronization. The Ethereum network has at times faced congestion problems, for example, congestion occurred during late 2017 in relation to Cryptokitties.[71]

Decentralized finance (DeFi)[edit]

Decentralized finance is a fast growing use case of Ethereum.[72] 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.[73] This economic model is based on supply and demand DeFi assets such as DAI, Compound, WBTC and others. Uniswap, a decentralized exchange for tokens on Ethereum has grown from $20 million in liquidity in May 2020 to $2.9 billion as of October 2020.[74]

Development governance and EIP[edit]

On social governance
Our governance is inherently social, people who are more connected in the community have more power, a kind of soft power.

Vlad Zamfir, Ethereum core developer, The New Yorker[14]

In October 2015,[75] a development governance was proposed as Ethereum Improvement Proposal, aka EIP, standardized on EIP-1.[76] The core development group and community were to gain consensus by a process regulated EIP.[77][78]


Vitalik Buterin picked the name Ethereum after browsing Wikipedia articles about elements and science fiction, when he found the name, noting, "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 [it] sounded nice and it had the word 'ether', referring to the hypothetical invisible medium that permeates the universe and allows light to travel."[14]


Izabella Kaminska, the editor of FT Alphaville, pointed out in 2017 that criminals were using Ethereum to run Ponzi schemes and other forms of investment fraud.[79] The article was based on a paper from the University of Cagliari, which placed the number of Ethereum smart contracts which facilitate Ponzi schemes at nearly 10% of 1384 smart contracts examined. However, it also estimated that only 0.05% of the transactions on the network were related to such contracts.[80]


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