The Ethereum Blockchain Basics

Ethereum is one of many Blockchains and it’s the one that got me interested in Blockchain technology.  Like other Blockchains, Ethereum is distributed across a network of nodes that are in a constant state of consensus.  If you are not familiar with Blockchains, check out What is a Blockchain?.  Smart Contracts are the specialty of the Ethereum Blockchain, grabbing the attention of major businesses  like Microsoft, Deloitte, and Deutsche Bank.  These Smart Contracts allow for the creation of Decentralized Applications, which are discussed later in this article.

Important Note!Some companies will create a private Blockchain based on the Ethereum technology, and not the actual public Ethereum Blockchain. Think of an Apple smartphone or Android smartphone.  There are a lot of different apps for each phone that vary widely in what they do.  After all, there is an app for everything right?  Although they vary in appearance or functionality, they use the same core technology as all of the other apps in the store!

Quick Ethereum History Lesson

July 30, 2015, marks the creation of the genesis block and the Ethereum platform.  The genesis block is the first block of a Blockchain and is normally hard-coded into the software.  Blocks after the genesis block are added as transactions take place.

With Blockchains already being available, why make a new one?  Blockchains are still fairly new, but are quickly heading towards mainstream adoption.  The people working on Ethereum have a vision and know that Blockchains can be pushed farther and their capabilities extended.

November 2013, Vitalik Buterin wrote the Ethereum white paper and now leads the Ethereum research team.  The research team is working towards the constant improvement of the Ethereum Blockchain.  There are many videos online of Vitalik going over Ethereum and talking about it’s future.  Check them out if you want to hear a deeper technical explanation of how all of this stuff works!

Jeffrey Wilcke is another important person in regards to the Ethereum Blockchain.  Jeff began working on the first implementation of Ethereum back in 2013 using the Go programming language.  The Go client successfully launched on July 30, 2015 which is when Ethereum was officially born.

There are many more people and ideas that lead to the Ethereum Blockchain.  Check out ‘Cut and try: building a dream‘ on the Ethereum Blog for a really comprehensive overview of the history.

What makes Ethereum special?

Besides being a Blockchain, it features Smart Contract functionality and a decentralized virtual machine known as the Ethereum Virtual Machine (original right?).  If you are not familiar with Smart Contracts, be sure to check out What is a Smart Contract? !  Let’s take a quick look at the EVM (Ethereum Virtual Machine).

The EVM uses an international network of public nodes and a token (another word for cryptocurrency) called Ether to execute Turing-complete scripts.  In very basic terms, this just means the scripts are capable of finding an answer.  The Ether token is used to pay a ‘gas’ fee, which can be thought of like gasoline.  You need gasoline (or electricity for some) to go from point A to point B.  The fee is crucial to prevent spamming the network.  It is calculated in a way to allocate resources proportionally to the incentive offered by the request.

The Ethereum Smart Contracts are written in a few different programming languages. These currently include Solidity, Serpent, Viper, and LLL.  Solidity is the most common and most people will recommend it.  The Smart Contracts are crucial for the development of Decentralized Applications (DAPPs) on the Ethereum Blockchain.

Before you start playing with DAPPs

Go grab some Ether tokens!  As mentioned in previous posts, I highly recommend using Coinbase to purchase Ether.  It is a simple and easy way to get some.  Once you have obtained some Ether, I recommend setting up a Wallet through   MyEtherWallet .  Check out this tutorial for instructions Setting up an Ethereum Wallet with MyEtherWallet.  Note that MyEtherWallet will also allow you to see the other Tokens on the Ethereum Blockchain.

Most DAPPs will require the transfer of Ether, or their specific Token, to interact with them.  This makes it very important to obtain some Tokens first.  For example, if you want to play one of the gambling games, you will likely need to send Ether to the gambling Smart Contract to ‘activate’ it.  Next, the game will run and process the game, resulting in a win or lose.  If you win, Ether (or some Ethereum based Token) will be sent to your Wallet address.

Only time will tell which Decentralized Applications will survive and what kinds become popular.  For a great list of current Ethereum Decentralized Applications, check out State of the Dapps .

Summary

Ethereum is probably the most crucial player right now for mass adoption of Blockchain technology.  Having Microsoft sponsor your Shanghai conference and selling Blockchain as a Service through their Azure platform is a good indicator of this.  As of 2/5/2017, Ether is around $11.50 per token and has a Market Cap of ~$1,000,000,000 (yep, 1 Billion). Ethereum will play a major role in what constitutes a successful Blockchain, so stay tuned for more information around Ethereum!

For discussion, what is your experience with Ethereum or thoughts on it?

 

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