What is cryptocurrency?
A cryptocurrency (or crypto currency) is a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange wherein individual coin ownership records are stored in a digital ledger or computerized database using strong cryptography to secure transaction record entries, to control the creation of additional digital coin records, and to verify the transfer of coin ownership. It typically does not exist in physical form (like paper money) and is typically not issued by a central authority. Some cryptocurrencies use decentralized control as opposed to centralized digital currency and central banking systems. When a cryptocurrency is minted or created prior to issuance or held on a centralized exchange, it is generally considered centralized. When implemented with decentralized control, each cryptocurrency works through distributed ledger technology, typically a blockchain that serves as a public financial transaction database.
Bitcoin, first released as open-source software in 2009, is the first decentralized cryptocurrency.Since the release of bitcoin, over 6,000 altcoin (alternative variants of bitcoin, or other cryptocurrencies) have been created.
Bitcoin is a digital currency created in January 2009 following the housing market crash. It follows the ideas set out in a whitepaper by the mysterious and pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto. The identity of the person or persons who created the technology is still a mystery. Bitcoin offers the promise of lower transaction fees than traditional online payment mechanisms and is operated by a decentralized authority, unlike government-issued currencies.
There are no physical bitcoins, only balances kept on a public ledger than everyone has transparent access to, that – along with all Bitcoin transactions – is verified by a massive amount of computing power. Bitcoins are not issued or backed by any banks or governments, nor are individual bitcoins valuable as a commodity. Despite it not being legal tender, Bitcoin charts high on popularity, and has triggered the launch of hundreds of other virtual currencies collectively referred to as Altcoins.
If this technology is so complex, why call it “blockchain?” At its most basic level, blockchain is literally just a chain of blocks, but not in the traditional sense of those words. When we say the words “block” and “chain” in this context, we are actually talking about digital information (the “block”) stored in a public database (the “chain”).
“Blocks” on the blockchain are made up of digital pieces of information. Specifically, they have three parts:
- Blocks store information about transactions like the date, time, and dollar amount of your most recent purchase from Amazon. (NOTE: This Amazon example is for illustrative purchases; Amazon retail does not work on a blockchain principle as of this writing)
- Blocks store information about who is participating in transactions. A block for your splurge purchase from Amazon would record your name along with Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN). Instead of using your actual name, your purchase is recorded without any identifying information using a unique “digital signature,” sort of like a username.
- Blocks store information that distinguishes them from other blocks. Much like you and I have names to distinguish us from one another, each block stores a unique code called a “hash” that allows us to tell it apart from every other block. Hashes are cryptographic codes created by special algorithms. Let’s say you made your splurge purchase on Amazon, but while it’s in transit, you decide you just can’t resist and need a second one. Even though the details of your new transaction would look nearly identical to your earlier purchase, we can still tell the blocks apart because of their unique codes.
While the block in the example above is being used to store a single purchase from Amazon, the reality is a little different. A single block on the Bitcoin blockchain can actually store up to 1 MB of data. Depending on the size of the transactions, that means a single block can house a few thousand transactions under one roof.
A hash algorithm turns an arbitrarily-large amount of data into a fixed-length hash. The same hash will always result from the same data, but modifying the data by even one bit will completely change the hash. Like all computer data, hashes are large numbers, and are usually written as hexadecimal.
Bitcoin uses the SHA-256 hash algorithm to generate verifiably “random” numbers in a way that requires a predictable amount of CPU effort. Generating a SHA-256 hash with a value less than the current target solves a block and wins you some coin
A distributed ledger is a database that is consensually shared and synchronized across multiple sites, institutions, or geographies, accessible by multiple people. It allows transactions to have public “witnesses”. The participant at each node of the network can access the recordings shared across that network and can own an identical copy of it. Any changes or additions made to the ledger are reflected and copied to all participants in a matter of seconds or minutes.
A distributed ledger stands in contrast to a centralized ledger, which is the type of ledger that most companies use. A centralized ledger is more prone to cyber attacks and fraud, as it has a single point of failure.
Underlying distributed ledgers is the same technology that is used by blockchain, which is the technology that is used by bitcoin. Blockchain is a type of distributed ledger used by bitcoin
Cryptocurrency mining, or cryptomining, is a process in which transactions for various forms of cryptocurrency are verified and added to the blockchain digital ledger. Also known as cryptocoin mining, altcoin mining, or Bitcoin mining (for the most popular form of cryptocurrency, Bitcoin), cryptocurrency mining has increased both as a topic and activity as cryptocurrency usage itself has grown exponentially in the last few years.
Each time a cryptocurrency transaction is made, a cryptocurrency miner is responsible for ensuring the authenticity of information and updating the blockchain with the transaction. The mining process itself involves competing with other cryptominers to solve complicated mathematical problems with cryptographic hash functions that are associated with a block containing the transaction data.
The first cryptocurrency miner to crack the code is rewarded by being able to authorize the transaction, and in return for the service provided, cryptominers earn small amounts of cryptocurrency of their own. In order to be competitive with other cryptominers, though, a cryptocurrency miner needs a computer with specialized hardware.
Within the blockchain industry, the term market capitalization (or market cap) refers to a metric that measures the relative size of a cryptocurrency. It is calculated by multiplying the current market price of a particular coin or token with the total number of coins in circulation.
Market Cap = Current Price x Circulating Supply
For example, if each unit of a cryptocurrency is being traded at $10.00, and the circulating supply is equal to 50,000,000 coins, the market capitalization for this cryptocurrency would be $500,000,000.
While the market cap may offer some insights about the size and performance of a company or cryptocurrency project, it is important to note that it is not the same as money inflow. So, it does not represent how much money is in the market. This is a common misconception because the calculation of market cap is directly dependent on price, but in fact, a relatively small variation in price may affect the market cap significantly.
Considering the previous example, a few millions of dollars could potentially pump the cryptocurrency price from $10.00 to $15.00, which would cause the market cap to increase from $500,000,000 to $750,000,000. However, this doesn’t mean there was an inflow of $250,000,000 in the market. Actually, the amount of money needed to cause such an increase in price is dependent on volume and liquidity, which are distinct but related concepts. While volume relates to the number of assets exchanged within a certain period, liquidity is basically the degree to which the asset can be quickly bought or sold without causing too much impact on the price.
Simply put, a high-volume and liquid market cannot be easily manipulated because there are many orders in the order book and possibly a big volume of orders within the different ranges of price. This would result in a less volatile market, meaning that a whale would need a lot of money to significantly manipulate the price. In contrast, a thin order book of a low-volume market could be easily over passed with a relatively small amount of money, causing a significant impact on both the price and market cap.