Ethereum is a decentralized, open-source blockchain with smart contract functionality. Ether (ETH or Ξ) is the native cryptocurrency of the platform. Amongst cryptocurrencies, Ether is second only to Bitcoin in market capitalization.
Ethereum was conceived in 2013 by programmer Vitalik Buterin. In 2014, development work commenced and was crowdfunded, and the network went live on 30 July 2015. The platform allows anyone to deploy permanent and immutable decentralized applications onto it, with which users can interact. Decentralized finance (DeFi) applications provide a broad array of financial services without the need for typical financial intermediaries like brokerages, exchanges, or banks, such as allowing cryptocurrency users to borrow against their holdings or lend them out for interest. Ethereum also allows for the creation and exchange of NFTs, which are non-interchangeable tokens connected to digital works of art or other real-world items and sold as unique digital property. Additionally, many other cryptocurrencies operate as ERC-20 tokens on top of the Ethereum blockchain and have utilized the platform for initial coin offerings.
Ethereum has started implementing a series of upgrades called Ethereum 2.0, which includes a transition to proof of stake and aims to increase transaction throughput using sharding.
Ethereum was initially described in a white paper by Vitalik Buterin, a programmer and co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine, in late 2013 with a goal of building decentralized applications. Buterin argued to the bitcoin core developers that Bitcoin and blockchain technology could benefit from other applications besides money and needed a more robust language for application development that could lead to attaching real-world assets, such as stocks and property, to the blockchain. In 2013, Buterin briefly worked with eToro CEO Yoni Assia on the Colored Coins project and drafted its white paper outlining additional use cases for blockchain technology. However, after failing to gain agreement on how the project should proceed, he proposed the development of a new platform with a more robust scripting language—a Turing-complete programming language—that would eventually become Ethereum.
Ethereum was announced at the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami, in January 2014. During the conference, Gavin Wood, Charles Hoskinson, and Anthony Di Iorio (who financed the project) rented a house in Miami with Buterin to develop a fuller sense of what Ethereum might become. Di Iorio invited friend Joseph Lubin, who invited reporter Morgen Peck, to bear witness. Peck subsequently wrote about the experience in Wired. 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.
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 Wilcke were added in early 2014 as founders.” Formal development of the software began in early 2014 through a Swiss company, Ethereum Switzerland GmbH (EthSuisse). 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.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.
In January 2018, Ethereum was the second largest cryptocurrency in terms of market capitalization, behind Bitcoin. As of 2021, it maintained that relative position.