Ethereum Digital Coin is an open-source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform featuring smart contract (scripting) functionality. It provides a decentralized Turing-complete virtual machine, the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), which can execute scripts using an international network of public nodes. Ethereum also provides a cryptocurrency token called “ether”, which can be transferred between accounts and used to compensate participant nodes for computations performed. “Gas”, an internal transaction pricing mechanism, is used to mitigate spam and allocate resources on the network.
Blockchain technology is the technological basis of Bitcoin, first described by its mysterious author Satoshi Nakamoto in his white paper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”, published in 2008. While the use of blockchains for more general uses was already discussed in the original paper, it was not until a few years later that blockchain technology emerged as a generic term. A blockchain is a distributed computing architecture where every network node executes and records the same transactions, which are grouped into blocks. Only one block can be added at a time, and every block contains a mathematical proof that verifies that it follows in sequence from the previous block. In this way, the blockchain’s “distributed database” is kept in consensus across the whole network. Individual user interactions with the ledger (transactions) are secured by strong cryptography. Nodes that maintain and verify the network are incentivized by mathematically enforced economic incentives coded into the protocol.
In Bitcoin’s case the distributed database is conceived of as a table of account balances, a ledger, and transactions are transfers of the bitcoin token to facilitate trustless finance between individuals. But as bitcoin began attracting greater attention from developers and technologists, novel projects began to use the bitcoin network for purposes other than transfers of value tokens. Many of these took the form of “alt coins” – separate blockchains with cryptocurrencies of their own which improved on the original bitcoin protocol to add new features or capabilities. In late 2013, Ethereum’s inventor Vitalik Buterin proposed that a single blockchain with the capability to be reprogrammed to perform any arbitrarily complex computation could subsume these many other projects.
In 2014, Ethereum founders Vitalik Buterin, Gavin Wood and Jeffrey Wilcke began work on a next-generation blockchain that had the ambitions to implement a general, fully trustless smart contract platform.
Ethereum was proposed in late 2013 by Vitalik Buterin, a cryptocurrency researcher and programmer. Development was funded by an online crowdsale during July–August 2014. The system went live on 30 July 2015.
In 2016 Ethereum was forked into two blockchains, as a result of the collapse of The DAO project, thereby creating Ethereum Classic. The new forked version is Ethereum (ETH), subject of this article and the one that continued its existence is Ethereum Classic (ETC).
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