Who cares about political tweets from some random country's president when payment channels are a much more interesting and are actually capable of carrying value?
So let's have a short history of various payment channel techs!
Generation 0: Satoshi's Broken nSequence Channels
Because Satoshi's Vision included payment channels, except his implementation sucked so hard we had to go fix it and added RBF as a by-product.
Originally, the plan for nSequence was that mempools would replace any transaction spending certain inputs with another transaction spending the same inputs, but only if the nSequence field of the replacement was larger.
Since 0xFFFFFFFF was the highest value that nSequence could get, this would mark a transaction as "final" and not replaceable on the mempool anymore.
In fact, this "nSequence channel" I will describe is the reason why we have this weird rule about nLockTime and nSequence. nLockTime actually only works if nSequence is not 0xFFFFFFFF i.e. final. If nSequence is 0xFFFFFFFF then nLockTime is ignored, because this if the "final" version of the transaction.
So what you'd do would be something like this:
- You go to a bar and promise the bartender to pay by the time the bar closes. Because this is the Bitcoin universe, time is measured in blockheight, so the closing time of the bar is indicated as some future blockheight.
- For your first drink, you'd make a transaction paying to the bartender for that drink, paying from some coins you have. The transaction has an nLockTime equal to the closing time of the bar, and a starting nSequence of 0. You hand over the transaction and the bartender hands you your drink.
- For your succeeding drink, you'd remake the same transaction, adding the payment for that drink to the transaction output that goes to the bartender (so that output keeps getting larger, by the amount of payment), and having an nSequence that is one higher than the previous one.
- Eventually you have to stop drinking. It comes down to one of two possibilities:
- You drink until the bar closes. Since it is now the nLockTime indicated in the transaction, the bartender is able to broadcast the latest transaction and tells the bouncers to kick you out of the bar.
- You wisely consider the state of your liver. So you re-sign the last transaction with a "final" nSequence of 0xFFFFFFFF i.e. the maximum possible value it can have. This allows the bartender to get his or her funds immediately (nLockTime is ignored if nSequence is 0xFFFFFFFF), so he or she tells the bouncers to let you out of the bar.
Now that of course is a payment channel. Individual payments (purchases of alcohol, so I guess buying coffee is not in scope for payment channels). Closing is done by creating a "final" transaction that is the sum of the individual payments. Sure there's no routing and channels are unidirectional and channels have a maximum lifetime but give Satoshi a break, he was also busy inventing Bitcoin at the time.
Now if you noticed I called this kind of payment channel "broken". This is because the mempool rules are not consensus rules, and cannot be validated (nothing
about the mempool can be validated onchain: I sigh every time somebody proposes "let's make block size dependent on mempool size", mempool state cannot be validated by onchain data). Fullnodes can't see all of the transactions you signed, and then validate that the final one with the maximum nSequence is the one that actually is used onchain. So you can do the below:
- Become friends with Jihan Wu, because he owns >51% of the mining hashrate (he totally reorged Bitcoin to reverse the Binance hack right?).
- Slip Jihan Wu some of the more interesting drinks you're ordering as an incentive to cooperate with you. So say you end up ordering 100 drinks, you split it with Jihan Wu and give him 50 of the drinks.
- When the bar closes, Jihan Wu quickly calls his mining rig and tells them to mine the version of your transaction with nSequence 0. You know, that first one where you pay for only one drink.
- Because fullnodes cannot validate nSequence, they'll accept even the nSequence=0 version and confirm it, immutably adding you paying for a single alcoholic drink to the blockchain.
- The bartender, pissed at being cheated, takes out a shotgun from under the bar and shoots at you and Jihan Wu.
- Jihan Wu uses his mystical chi powers (actually the combined exhaust from all of his mining rigs) to slow down the shotgun pellets, making them hit you as softly as petals drifting in the wind.
- The bartender mutters some words, clothes ripping apart as he or she (hard to believe it could be a she but hey) turns into a bear, ready to maul you for cheating him or her of the payment for all the 100 drinks you ordered from him or her.
- Steely-eyed, you stand in front of the bartender-turned-bear, daring him to touch you. You've watched Revenant, you know Leonardo di Caprio could survive a bear mauling, and if some posh actor can survive that, you know you can too. You make a pose. "Drunken troll logic attack!"
- I think I got sidetracked here.
- Bears are bad news.
- You can't reasonably invoke "Satoshi's Vision" and simultaneously reject the Lightning Network because it's not onchain. Satoshi's Vision included a half-assed implementation of payment channels with nSequence, where the onchain transaction represented multiple logical payments, exactly what modern offchain techniques do (except modern offchain techniques actually work). nSequence (the field, but not its modern meaning) has been in Bitcoin since BitCoin For Windows Alpha 0.1.0. And its original intent was payment channels. You can't get nearer to Satoshi's Vision than being a field that Satoshi personally added to transactions on the very first public release of the BitCoin software, like srsly.
- Miners can totally bypass mempool rules. In fact, the reason why nSequence has been repurposed to indicate "optional" replace-by-fee is because miners are already incentivized by the nSequence system to always follow replace-by-fee anyway. I mean, what do you think those drinks you passed to Jihan Wu are, other than the fee you pay him to mine a specific version of your transaction?
- Satoshi made mistakes. The original design for nSequence is one of them. Today, we no longer use nSequence in this way. So diverging from Satoshi's original design is part and parcel of Bitcoin development, because over time, we learn new lessons that Satoshi never knew about. Satoshi was an important landmark in this technology. He will not be the last, or most important, that we will remember in the future: he will only be the first.
Incentive-compatible time-limited unidirectional channel; or, Satoshi's Vision, Fixed (if transaction malleability hadn't been a problem, that is).
Now, we know the bartender will turn into a bear and maul you if you try to cheat the payment channel, and now that we've revealed you're good friends with Jihan Wu, the bartender will no longer accept a payment channel scheme that lets one you cooperate with a miner to cheat the bartender.
Fortunately, Jeremy Spilman proposed a better way that would not let you cheat the bartender.
First, you and the bartender perform this ritual:
- You get some funds and create a transaction that pays to a 2-of-2 multisig between you and the bartender. You don't broadcast this yet: you just sign it and get its txid.
- You create another transaction that spends the above transaction. This transaction (the "backoff") has an nLockTime equal to the closing time of the bar, plus one block. You sign it and give this backoff transaction (but not the above transaction) to the bartender.
- The bartender signs the backoff and gives it back to you. It is now valid since it's spending a 2-of-2 of you and the bartender, and both of you have signed the backoff transaction.
- Now you broadcast the first transaction onchain. You and the bartender wait for it to be deeply confirmed, then you can start ordering.
The above is probably vaguely familiar to LN users. It's the funding process of payment channels! The first transaction, the one that pays to a 2-of-2 multisig, is the funding transaction that backs the payment channel funds.
So now you start ordering in this way:
- For your first drink, you create a transaction spending the funding transaction output and sending the price of the drink to the bartender, with the rest returning to you.
- You sign the transaction and pass it to the bartender, who serves your first drink.
- For your succeeding drinks, you recreate the same transaction, adding the price of the new drink to the sum that goes to the bartender and reducing the money returned to you. You sign the transaction and give it to the bartender, who serves you your next drink.
- At the end:
- If the bar closing time is reached, the bartender signs the latest transaction, completing the needed 2-of-2 signatures and broadcasting this to the Bitcoin network. Since the backoff transaction is the closing time + 1, it can't get used at closing time.
- If you decide you want to leave early because your liver is crying, you just tell the bartender to go ahead and close the channel (which the bartender can do at any time by just signing and broadcasting the latest transaction: the bartender won't do that because he or she is hoping you'll stay and drink more).
- If you ended up just hanging around the bar and never ordering, then at closing time + 1 you broadcast the backoff transaction and get your funds back in full.
Now, even if you pass 50 drinks to Jihan Wu, you can't give him the first transaction (the one which pays for only one drink) and ask him to mine it: it's spending a 2-of-2 and the copy you have only contains your own signature. You need the bartender's signature to make it valid, but he or she sure as hell isn't going to cooperate in something that would lose him or her money, so a signature from the bartender validating old state where he or she gets paid less isn't going to happen.
So, problem solved, right? Right? Okay, let's try it. So you get your funds, put them in a funding tx, get the backoff tx, confirm the funding tx...
Once the funding transaction confirms deeply, the bartender laughs uproariously. He or she summons the bouncers, who surround you menacingly.
"I'm refusing service to you," the bartender says.
"Fine," you say. "I was leaving anyway;" You smirk. "I'll get back my money with the backoff transaction, and posting about your poor service on reddit so you get negative karma, so there!"
"Not so fast," the bartender says. His or her voice chills your bones. It looks like your exploitation of the Satoshi nSequence payment channel is still fresh in his or her mind. "Look at the txid of the funding transaction that got confirmed."
"What about it?" you ask nonchalantly, as you flip open your desktop computer and open a reputable blockchain explorer.
What you see shocks you.
"What the --- the txid is different! You--- you changed my signature
?? But how? I put the only copy of my private key in a sealed envelope in a cast-iron box inside a safe buried in the Gobi desert protected by a clan of nomads who have dedicated their lives and their childrens' lives to keeping my private key safe in perpetuity!"
"Didn't you know?" the bartender asks. "The components of the signature are just very large numbers. The sign of one of the signature components can be changed, from positive to negative, or negative to positive, and the signature will remain valid. Anyone can do that, even if they don't know the private key. But because Bitcoin includes the signatures in the transaction when it's generating the txid, this little change also changes the txid." He or she chuckles. "They say they'll fix it by sep
arating the sig
natures from the transaction body. They're saying that these kinds of signature malleability won't affect transaction ids anymore after they do this, but I bet I can get my good friend Jihan Wu to delay this 'SepSig' plan for a good while yet. Friendly guy, this Jihan Wu, it turns out all I had to do was slip him 51 drinks and he was willing to mine a tx with the signature signs flipped." His or her grin widens. "I'm afraid your backoff transaction won't work anymore, since it spends a txid that is not existent and will never be confirmed. So here's the deal. You pay me 99% of the funds in the funding transaction, in exchange for me signing the transaction that spends with the txid that you see onchain. Refuse, and you lose 100% of the funds and every other HODLer, including me, benefits from the reduction in coin supply. Accept, and you get to keep 1%. I lose nothing if you refuse, so I won't care if you do, but consider the difference of getting zilch vs. getting 1% of your funds." His or her eyes glow. "GENUFLECT RIGHT NOW."
- Payback's a bitch.
- Transaction malleability is a bitchier bitch. It's why we needed to fix the bug in SegWit. Sure, MtGox claimed they were attacked this way because someone kept messing with their transaction signatures and thus they lost track of where their funds went, but really, the bigger impetus for fixing transaction malleability was to support payment channels.
- Yes, including the signatures in the hash that ultimately defines the txid was a mistake. Satoshi made a lot of those. So we're just reiterating the lesson "Satoshi was not an infinite being of infinite wisdom" here. Satoshi just gets a pass because of how awesome Bitcoin is.
CLTV-protected Spilman Channels
Using CLTV for the backoff branch.
This variation is simply Spilman channels, but with the backoff transaction replaced with a backoff branch in the SCRIPT you pay to. It only became possible after OP_CHECKLOCKTIMEVERIFY (CLTV) was enabled in 2015.
Now as we saw in the Spilman Channels discussion, transaction malleability means that any pre-signed offchain transaction can easily be invalidated by flipping the sign of the signature of the funding transaction while the funding transaction is not yet confirmed.
This can be avoided by simply putting any special requirements into an explicit branch of the Bitcoin SCRIPT. Now, the backoff branch is supposed to create a maximum lifetime for the payment channel, and prior to the introduction of OP_CHECKLOCKTIMEVERIFY this could only be done by having a pre-signed nLockTime transaction.
With CLTV, however, we can now make the branches explicit in the SCRIPT that the funding transaction pays to.
Instead of paying to a 2-of-2 in order to set up the funding transaction, you pay to a SCRIPT which is basically "2-of-2, OR this singlesig after a specified lock time".
With this, there is no backoff transaction that is pre-signed and which refers to a specific txid. Instead, you can create the backoff transaction later, using whatever txid the funding transaction ends up being confirmed under. Since the funding transaction is immutable once confirmed, it is no longer possible to change the txid afterwards.
Todd Micropayment Networks
The old hub-spoke model (that isn't how LN today actually works).
One of the more direct predecessors of the Lightning Network was the hub-spoke model discussed by Peter Todd. In this model, instead of payers directly having channels to payees, payers and payees connect to a central hub server. This allows any payer to pay any payee, using the same channel for every payee on the hub. Similarly, this allows any payee to receive from any payer, using the same channel.
Remember from the above Spilman example? When you open a channel to the bartender, you have to wait around for the funding tx to confirm. This will take an hour at best
. Now consider that you have to make channels for everyone you want to pay to. That's not very scalable.
So the Todd hub-spoke model has a central "clearing house" that transport money from payers to payees. The "Moonbeam" project takes this model. Of course, this reveals to the hub who the payer and payee are, and thus the hub can potentially censor transactions. Generally, though, it was considered that a hub would more efficiently censor by just not maintaining a channel with the payer or payee that it wants to censor (since the money it owned in the channel would just be locked uselessly if the hub won't process payments to/from the censored user).
In any case, the ability of the central hub to monitor payments means that it can surveill the payer and payee, and then sell this private transactional data to third parties. This loss of privacy would be intolerable today.
Peter Todd also proposed that there might be multiple hubs that could transport funds to each other on behalf of their users, providing somewhat better privacy.
Another point of note is that at the time such networks were proposed, only unidirectional (Spilman) channels were available. Thus, while one could be a payer, or payee, you would have to use separate channels for your income versus for your spending. Worse, if you wanted to transfer money from your income channel to your spending channel, you had to close both and reshuffle the money between them, both onchain activities.
Poon-Dryja Lightning Network
Bidirectional two-participant channels.
The Poon-Dryja channel mechanism has two important properties:
- No time limit.
Both the original Satoshi and the two Spilman variants are unidirectional: there is a payer and a payee, and if the payee wants to do a refund, or wants to pay for a different service or product the payer is providing, then they can't use the same unidirectional channel.
The Poon-Dryjam mechanism allows channels, however, to be bidirectional instead: you are not a payer or a payee on the channel, you can receive or send at any time as long as both you and the channel counterparty are online.
Further, unlike either of the Spilman variants, there is no time limit for the lifetime of a channel. Instead, you can keep the channel open for as long as you want.
Both properties, together, form a very powerful scaling property
that I believe most people have not appreciated. With unidirectional channels, as mentioned before, if you both earn and spend over the same network of payment channels, you would have separate channels for earning and spending. You would then need to perform onchain operations to "reverse" the directions of your channels periodically. Secondly, since Spilman channels have a fixed lifetime, even if you never used either channel, you would have to periodically "refresh" it by closing it and reopening.
With bidirectional, indefinite-lifetime channels, you may instead open some channels when you first begin managing your own money, then close them only after your lawyers have executed your last will and testament on how the money in your channels get divided up to your heirs: that's just two onchain transactions in your entire lifetime. That is the potentially very powerful scaling property that bidirectional, indefinite-lifetime channels allow.
I won't discuss the transaction structure needed for Poon-Dryja bidirectional channels --- it's complicated and you can easily get explanations with cute graphics elsewhere.
a weakness of Poon-Dryja that people tend to gloss over (because it was fixed very well by RustyReddit
- You have to store all the revocation keys of a channel. This implies you are storing 1 revocation key for every channel update, so if you perform millions of updates over your entire lifetime, you'd be storing several megabytes of keys, for only a single channel. RustyReddit fixed this by requiring that the revocation keys be generated from a "Seed" revocation key, and every key is just the application of SHA256 on that key, repeatedly. For example, suppose I tell you that my first revocation key is SHA256(SHA256(seed)). You can store that in O(1) space. Then for the next revocation, I tell you SHA256(seed). From SHA256(key), you yourself can compute SHA256(SHA256(seed)) (i.e. the previous revocation key). So you can remember just the most recent revocation key, and from there you'd be able to compute every previous revocation key. When you start a channel, you perform SHA256 on your seed for several million times, then use the result as the first revocation key, removing one layer of SHA256 for every revocation key you need to generate. RustyReddit not only came up with this, but also suggested an efficient O(log n) storage structure, the shachain, so that you can quickly look up any revocation key in the past in case of a breach. People no longer really talk about this O(n) revocation storage problem anymore because it was solved very very well by this mechanism.
Another thing I want to emphasize is that while the Lightning Network paper and many of the earlier presentations developed from the old Peter Todd hub-and-spoke model, the modern Lightning Network takes the logical conclusion of removing a strict separation between "hubs" and "spokes". Any node on the Lightning Network can very well work as a hub for any other node. Thus, while you might operate as "mostly a payer", "mostly a forwarding node", "mostly a payee", you still end up being at least partially a forwarding node ("hub") on the network, at least part of the time. This greatly reduces the problems of privacy inherent in having only a few hub nodes: forwarding nodes cannot get significantly useful data from the payments passing through them, because the distance between the payer and the payee can be so large that it would be likely that the ultimate payer and the ultimate payee could be anyone on the Lightning Network.
- We can decentralize if we try hard enough!
- "Hubs bad" can be made "hubs good" if everybody is a hub.
- Smart people can solve problems. It's kinda why they're smart.
After LN, there's also the Decker-Wattenhofer Duplex Micropayment Channels (DMC). This post is long enough as-is, LOL. But for now, it uses a novel "decrementing nSequence channel", using the new
relative-timelock semantics of nSequence (not the broken one originally by Satoshi). It actually uses multiple such "decrementing nSequence" constructs, terminating in a pair of Spilman channels, one in both directions (thus "duplex"). Maybe I'll discuss it some other time.
The realization that channel constructions could actually hold more channel constructions inside them (the way the Decker-Wattenhofer puts a pair of Spilman channels inside a series of "decrementing nSequence channels") lead to the further thought behind Burchert-Decker-Wattenhofer channel factories. Basically, you could host multiple two-participant channel constructs inside a larger multiparticipant "channel" construct (i.e. host multiple channels inside a factory).
Further, we have the Decker-Russell-Osuntokun or "eltoo" construction. I'd argue that this is "nSequence done right". I'll write more about this later, because this post is long enough.
- Bitcoin offchain scaling is more powerful than you ever thought.
is the cryptocurrency that started it all back in 2009, after the global financial crisis and subsequent bailouts of banks left many people disenfranchised with fiat currency and outdated, insecure financial infrastructure.
Today, Bitcoin is being used for peer-to-peer payments across the globe. More than that, though, it is leading the way towards a future in which financial technology is trustless, secure, resilient, and censorship resistant. Without Bitcoin, this list would not exist.
The platform that brought smart contracts
to the blockchain, spurring a minor revolution in the cryptocurrency ecosystem. Before Ethereum, Bitcoin and its transaction-oriented design was the central focus of most blockchain projects.
After Ethereum, teams saw the value of decentralized apps (dapps) and smart contracts, and shifted their focus to compensate.
Vitalik Buterin’s Ethereum whitepaper was released in late 2013. The project itself was announced January 2014, with a crowdsale the following July. The system officially went live in July 2015.
Since then, hundreds of businesses, individuals, and blockchain projects have adopted Ethereum
as their main smart contracts platform.
is focused primarily on one thing: fast and cheap international transactions.
Current banking infrastructure has failed to evolve in the 21st century, such that it still takes 3-5 business days on average for an international transfer to be processed. With just 4 second transaction times and at a fraction of the cost of a wire transfer, Ripple’s working product
is already impacting the banking sector.
The big knock against Ripple is that its native token, XRP, is completely unnecessary. Indeed, driving adoption of Ripple’s banking solutions is far easier than getting real-world adoption for XRP.
If you’re interested in seeing a discussion about how XRP adoption will occur, you might find this reddit thread
worth a read. Meanwhile, all of us will just have to wait and see whether XRP adoption strategies ultimately come to fruition.
Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
📷 Bitcoin Cash
was created in 2017 when the first ever hard fork of the Bitcoin blockchain took place. The split was the result of Bitcoin’s 1MB blocks filling up. Transaction speeds were declining, fees were increasing, and it became clear to the community that the current model wasn’t sustainable for scaling.
In a move that still causes cryptocurrency fights to this day, Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash soon emerged as separate but similar projects. BCH has 8x the block size of BTC, giving it roughly 8x the transaction throughput. Its fees and transaction times are much faster, as predicted.
Learn more about Bitcoin vs Bitcoin Cash
The Stellar project and its associated Lumens (XLM)
token was forked from the Ripple protocol in 2014. Stellar has come into its own since then, providing a blockchain connection service for fiat transactions between banks, payment systems, and people. Stellar is fast and reliable, and it works with practically no fees for the end-user.
Stellar is a payments system, meaning its job is to move money as efficiently as possible. Partnerships with banks and financial institutions were key in evaluating its status, as was the ability to actually send money using the network.
Several non-profits and commercial entities have agreed to use Stellar as part of their financial infrastructure. Recently, the team partnered
with IBM and KlickEx to facilitate cross-border transactions in the South Pacific and announced an affiliate with Keybase to streamline international transactions. Stellar also has projects being built on its network
by major established entities. IBM’s blockchain division is using XLM for their payments infrastructure, for example, and the Veridium startup is working with both organizations to tokenize its carbon credits market.
is a Bitcoin fork that was created in 2011 by Charlie Lee as a cheaper and faster (2.5 minute block time instead of 10) alternative to Bitcoin. This is accomplished predominantly because Litecoin uses a Scrypt hashing algorithm instead of the SHA-256 algorithm used by Bitcoin. It’s common to hear Litecoin called “digital silver” to Bitcoin’s “digital gold,” and in reality Litecoin does not really expand upon the functionality of Bitcoin in a significant way so much as it makes different tradeoffs.
That being said, it does succeed in being cheaper and faster to use than BTC, which has led to it being accepted by hundreds of merchants and thus making Litecoin one of the most widely used cryptocurrencies for digital payments.
Tether is an unusual project. Whereas most cryptocurrencies rise and fall in value, Tether was designed to stay the same, fixed at a 1:1 ratio with the U.S. dollar.
This allows users to store, send, and receive digital currencies across platforms without incurring significant losses due to value fluctuations.
The Tether stable coin
sounds straightforward, but the project isn’t without controversy. USDT is supposedly backed by real USD sitting in a bank account. But in which account? Who controls it? And is Tether being used to manipulate the value of Bitcoin? It’s all part of the Tether controversy
Released in 2014 as a fork of Bytecoin, Monero
has since made a name for itself as the most popular privacy coin
on the market.
Most cryptocurrencies offer little in the form of anonymity. Monero was built for privacy from the ground-up, featuring stealth addresses, ring signatures, and complete coin fungibility. All of this adds up to a near-perfect cloak of anonymity, allowing Monero users to conduct transactions without exposing their identity.
Monero has had steady growth over the years thanks to a dedicated team of developers and an active community. The project continues to evolve with new privacy features and improved transaction security.
was founded in 2014 as one of the earliest smart contract platforms, giving it a wide breadth of possible functionality. The platform’s strongest use case is digitizing traditional assets so that they can be easily tracked and exchanged on the blockchain.
NEO is also well-known as the “Chinese Ethereum,” and the fact that it is a Chinese-based project does seem to make Chinese dapp developers somewhat more likely to build on top of it than other platforms.
In fact, NEO has already supported dozens of ICOs
and remains one of the predominant platforms for supporting smart contracts and dapps.
Binance Coin (BNB)
Binance Coin is an exchange token used to reduce trading fees on the Binance platform
Users can opt to pay exchange, listing, and withdrawal fees using BNB and enjoy as much as a 50% discount on all charges. This turns out to be a powerful incentive for purchasing and holding BNB, as what trader doesn’t enjoy saving money on transactions?
Binance Coin is an ERC-20 token that runs on the Ethereum blockchain. Its purpose is extremely limited, but because such a vast number of Binance users transact with it every day, it qualifies as a working and active product.
is another immensely popular privacy coin that often cracks the top 20 cryptocurrencies. It uses the tagline “internet money” and promises to fully protect the privacy of transactions with zero-knowledge cryptography.
Zcash provides anonymity by shielding transactions on the blockchain, preventing anyone from seeing the sender, recipient, or value of each transaction. The technology is so effective the Ethereum team is investigating it to enable anonymous transactions on their network. Zcash has grown
in leaps and bounds in 2018. The dev team published a roadmap through the year 2020, which includes a major features upgrade in the October 2018 Sapling release. Coinbase is also considering listing Zcash
, which is a huge boost for any cryptocurrency.
is a smart contracts platform similar to Ethereum, only with a stronger focus on value transfers and decentralized apps. It’s meant to be something of a hybrid between Bitcoin and Ethereum, allowing businesses to build smart contracts on the platform or just focus on cryptocurrency transactions.
Qtum launched in March 2017, and dashed straight to the top. The initial offering sold over $10 million in tokens after just 90 minutes. The project differentiated itself by providing a rare Proof-of-Stake smart contracts platform designed to compensate for some of Ethereum’s shortcomings, including lack of compatibility for mobile devices.
Qtum released its mainnet in September 2017, opening the doors to a fully functional smart contract and dapps platform. Several projects already have an established presence
on the network. One of the more exciting ones is Space Chain, which aims to create an open-source satellite network anyone can use for data transmission, storage, and development.
0x Protocol (ZRX)
📷 0x Protocol
has one of the most important working products in the entire Ethereum ecosystem. It is a permissionless, open-source protocol that facilitates trustless exchanges of Ethereum tokens
through relayers and dapps that build on top of the protocol.
Not only has 0x been providing this functionality for over a year now, but they’ve been working to expand the protocol functionality significantly since that initial launch. In 0x protocol 2.0
and beyond, it will be possible to trade tokens built on standards besides ERC-20, including non-fungible ERC-721 tokens.
In a market full of scams and vaporware, 0x’s valuable contributions to the Ethereum ecosystem have made it one of the best performing cryptocurrencies of 2018.
is another popular privacy-focused cryptocurrency with a strong community and user base. Transactions on the Bytecoin blockchain are instantaneous, untraceable, unlinkabe, and resistant to blockchain analysis.
Bytecoin has been around for a long time now, with contributions to the project beginning in 2012. However, that hasn’t stopped the project’s developers from continuously improving the product.
The recently updated Bytecoin roadmap
has a hard fork for a consensus update scheduled for August 31, as well as numerous initiatives for community growth constantly in the works.
Founded in 2015 by former Bitcoin developers, Decred’s most important working product is its solution to Bitcoin’s biggest problem. No, not scalability… blockchain governance.
You see, early Bitcoiners have been debating block size limitations and the efficacy of other scalability solutions like the Lightning Network
for years, even though the problem of scalability really only became discussed in the mainstream in 2017.
With its community-based governance model and strong adherence to the core ethos of decentralization, Decred
is built to evolve and improve rapidly. That means that it’s equipped to handle not only the scalability problem today, but other big problems that might arise down the line.
When you have poor governance, it is an arduous process making any upgrades to a project, no matter how necessary they may seem to the majority of coin holders. Decred’s best-in-class and still improving governance model give it an intriguing case to be a leader in digital payments for a long time to come.
aims to improve worldwide access to financial services via blockchain. The tagline “assist the unbanked” summarizes the project nicely. In practice, this translates to BitShares operating as a decentralized exchange, one that was built from the ground-up to avoid scalability issues and keep transaction fees low.
BitShares was launched in 2014 by Dan Larimer, who would then go on to take a lead development role in both EOS and Steem.
The current state of the project offers decentralized asset exchange, price-stable cryptocurrencies, recurring and scheduled payments, user-issued assets, and more, all available through a decentralized system powered by delegated PoS consensus.
is the cryptocurrency that powers Steemit, a decentralized social media platform that incentivizes user participation through micropayments. Think of it like Reddit, only instead of just upvoting or downvoting posts, users can actually reward creators for their effort.
Steem is a functional cryptocurrency used exclusively on the Steemit platform. That gives it something of a limited use, but seeing as how Steemit is live and boasts a few hundred thousand users, it’s hard to argue it isn’t a working product. Some people may even be earning money using Steemit.
is one of the leaders in decentralized cloud storage, a more secure and affordable alternative to centralized cloud storage solutions like Amazon S3, Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, and others.
Sia 1.0 was launched in June 2016, and has achieved considerable adoption
since then. With the $200 billion cloud storage market widely seen as one of the spaces most ripe for blockchain disruption, Sia has gotten off to a nice start by offering a functional decentralized cloud storage platform for over 2 years.
Augur is one of the most recently launched products on this list. The platform mainnet went live
in early July 2018, bringing to fruition almost 4 years of post-ICO work.
Augur is a decentralized prediction market that uses game theory to generate crowd-sourced insights. Essentially, thousands of people working together have shown the remarkable ability to forecast outcomes.
With Augur, users can put REP tokens as bets on these predictions, essentially creating a form of “useful social gambling.” Augur’s
release was a long time coming. The project started as far back as 2014, nearly a year before the ICO. The creators cite the complexity of Augur’s smart contracts as the chief cause of the lengthy development time.
Regardless of its past, Augur is now a live product with a bright future. Over 300 predictions have already been made
, with the largest winning payout hitting $20,000. Betting volume even exceeded $1 million within the first weeks of launch.
Basic Attention Token (BAT)
📷 Basic Attention Token
was one of the easiest projects to include on this list. That’s because its working product, Brave Browser, has more than 3 million active users
between its mobile and desktop platforms, making it one of the most widely-used working products in the blockchain space.
Not only is Brave Browser
functional, it’s the only browser on the market that has built-in ad-blocking and tracker blocking, making the browsing experience both cleaner and faster than what you get with other popular browsers like Chrome and Firefox.
The future remains uncertain for the BAT token itself, as its adoption depends heavily on whether or not advertisers buy-in to the Brave model, as well as how willing Brave users are to be shown relevant ads and to pass along the BAT they earn to content publishers.
Given Brave’s success in just a short time since being launched, though, the future does appear promising for BAT.
(formerly RaiBlocks) is all about scalability. The coin has nearly instant transactions with a completely fee-less structure. The platform accomplishes this by creating a unique blockchain for every account, preventing bloat and allowing for practically infinite scalability.
Nano’s motto of “do one thing and do it well” has gotten them a long way. The team doesn’t have to deal with scaling or slowdown issues thanks to the underlying structure of the project, allowing its roadmap to focus on wallet updates
and outreach. This is one cryptocurrency that’s essentially feature complete, and it has been for some time.
has set out to be the Airbnb of computing resources. Have you ever needed extra GPU power to finish up a render? How about processing scientific data similar to the [email protected]
Even if you don’t have those needs, a lot of groups do. Golem aims to provide easy access to those resources, all of which are rentable for a small cryptocurrency fee.
Golem hit the mainnet launch
button in April 2018, and was met with a fair amount of fanfare. One of the main goals for the feature-incomplete launch was to push the product out so real users could put it to work.
The team was interested in strengthening their interactions with end users to help guide the future of the platform. The team has several major milestones planned
for the coming months, so the mainnet release is only just the beginning.
Pundi X (NPXS)
📷 Pundi X
has been shooting up the market cap rankings so far in Q3 2018, and they also happen to have a working product that just recently became available to retailers.
The primary Pundi X product is a point-of-sale (POS
) device that enables quick and easy mobile transactions for both fiat and cryptocurrencies. 500 POS devices are already being used by retailers in Asia, and there are thousands more scheduled to be distributed in the coming months.
In addition, Pundi X also offers XPASS cards, cryptocurrency credit cards that can work in place of mobile apps for making digital payments.
What makes the Pundi X project noteworthy is that it enables consumers to pay retailers in cryptocurrencies like BTC and ETH, and it immediately converts the payments into local fiat currencies so that retailers don’t need to worry about price volatility of the cryptocurrencies.
This makes it significantly easier for people to use cryptocurrencies in their daily lives, making Pundi X an exciting project for blockchain enthusiasts who are looking for signs of future mass adoption.
was the first ever blockchain platform that made it possible for anybody — regardless of their programming experience — to create blockchain tokens. Additionally, Waves has a decentralized exchange
where tokens can be traded and exchanged with fiat currencies.
Since the project’s first releases in 2016, Waves has gone on to make their DEX accessible from mobile phones and expanded its functionality significantly, while also building several strategic partnerships to help grow the Waves community and user base.
Ultimately, though, the Waves Client
is the project’s most important working product, as it is what allows tokens to be issued, stored, sent, and exchanged among users.
KuCoin Shares (KCS)
Similar to Binance Coin, KuCoin Shares is an exchange token
that can be used to pay reduced fees on cryptocurrency trades. KCS has the added bonus of paying dividends to long-term hodlers, as well, paying out a 5% ROI for most users.
The nature of KuCoin Shares is one of the reasons the KuCoin exchange has gotten so much attention since it appeared on the scene. The tokens themselves are limited in scope, of course, but the sheer number of people using them for trades and buying them for passive income
aims to build new and improved financial infrastructure to seamlessly connect the digital economy through blockchain interoperability. The use cases for Wanchain’s network are vast, and they include decentralized financial services, supply chain logistics, medical data sharing and security, digital ID management, and more.
With the recently released Wanchain 2.0
, it is now possible to transfer Ether cross-chain using Wanchain’s Ethereum Mapping Token, WETH.
Ethereum interoperability is just the start, though, and it’s expected that cross-chain support for Bitcoin and a couple of ERC-20 tokens will follow before the end of 2018.
is a fork of Zcash that uses the same zk-snark cryptography to hide information about transaction participants and amounts being sent. Functional privacy coins aren’t unique (there are a handful on this list) but Komodo does have some unique features.
For one, Komodo was the first ever decentralized initial coin offering. Moreover, Komodo helps other developers to build their own customizable blockchain solutions, from building and securing independent blockchains and launching decentralized ICOs, to integrating projects into the cryptocurrency ecosystem.
KMD would already qualify as a working product for its anonymity features on digital payments, but add the end-to-end blockchain building solution and it’s clear that Komodo is making meaningful contributions to the cryptocurrency ecosystem.
is a scalable blockchain platform that allows businesses to create their own child chains and tokens with relative ease. This helps keep blockchain bloat to a minimum and provides multiple transactional tokens without sacrificing core chain transactions. It’s also a remarkably energy efficient platform that uses Proof-of-Stake to power consensus.
Ardor launched its mainnet on January 1, 2018 after a full year in testnet status. Its core features are largely in place, with the roadmap set to improve things like scalability and snapshotting.
The Blockchain-as-a-Service-platform hosts a few projects of its own, including the Ignis ICO, which was the first child chain on the mainnet.
Huobi Token (HT)
is a digital asset exchange platform founded back in 2013, now offering well over 250 different trading pairs. The Huobi Token, meanwhile, is an ERC-20 token that is used on the exchange for discounts on trading fees of up to 50%.
In addition, 20% of the income generated on the Huboi Pro trading platform is used to buy back HT on the open market.
Unlike most buyback programs, the main purpose of Huobi’s program isn’t to reduce the circulating supply of HT. Rather, the HT that is bought back goes into a Huobi Investor Protection Fund, which is used to compensate Huobi users if they lose coins or tokens on the platform, as well as to ensure market stability and protect investor interests.
is yet another privacy coin with a working product in the Top 100, originally launched in the first half of 2017.
What makes ZenCash unique is that it’s the first blockchain with Transport Layer Security (TLS) integration for node encryption, making communication on the ZenCash network both private and highly secure.
Some other interesting parts of the ZenCash product include Tor nodes and built-in chat messaging services. In the future, the ZenCash team will deliver a DAO Treasury Protocol-level Voting System as well as a scalability solution to handle greater transaction volume.
is another privacy coin that focuses on keeping users and their associated transactions hidden under a cloak of secrecy. The project also tries to keep transactions as fast and fee-less as possible, something not all privacy platforms can boast about.
PIVX launched in January 2016. The coin is currently spendable and delivers the privacy features it promises, though it’s not yet a widely accepted currency by merchants.
Future plans for PIVX include governance functions to engage the community, wallet voting, and its own zPIV decentralized exchange.
Kyber Network (KNC)
Kyber Network launched their mainnet in Q1 2018, enabling instantaneous and secure inter-token settlements through a Decentralized Liquidity Network
It’s currently possible to swap ERC-20 tokens on the network with just a few mouse clicks, giving it some basic functionality that is already being used to improve liquidity for Ethereum tokens.
In the future, however, Kyber Network will expand its functionality significantly in an effort to seamlessly connect dapps, DEXes, protocols, payment systems, token teams, investors, fund managers, and digital wallets.
is a liquidity provider that enables users to exchange tokens without the need for a third-party to be involved in financing the transaction.
Gaining liquidity is incredibly important for young cryptocurrency projects, as a lack of liquidity makes it risky for investors to buy a considerable amount of a given coin or token, knowing that it might be exceedingly difficult to sell should they wish to.
Bancor’s technology makes it possible to convert one token to another, so that investors can be confident that they won’t be stuck involuntarily holding a cryptocurrency that they want to sell. This functionality makes the Bancor Liquidity Network
one of the most promising working products on this list, and one that has already achieved a good deal of adoption.
Loom Network (LOOM)
📷 Loom Network
is still less than a year old, having been founded in October 2017. However, they have accomplished a lot in that short time span, including having launched numerous tools to help software developers learn how to build blockchain solutions.
The most important of these tools — and Loom’s biggest working product — is the Loom software development kit (SDK)
However, Loom Network is far more than just a simple blockchain coding academy. It is also a production-ready scalability solution
for Ethereum, as the Loom developer toolkit helps programmers to build highly scalable dapps which connect to the Ethereum blockchain through special side chains called DappChains.
The project may still be in its infancy, but Loom Network is already contributing more utility to the cryptocurrency ecosystem than the vast majority of other cryptocurrency projects.
wants to be the world’s go-to resource for security tokens on the blockchain. What Ethereum did for tokens, Polymath will do for securities.
The advantages of this are enormous, but the Polymath team likes to point to 24/7 market access, the elimination of middlemen, and trading access for 2 billion unbanked people around the world as the chief benefits of their efforts.
The Polymath platform launched in October 2017, and has since released a new security token every week, attracting investors and traders alike. It’s not as exciting of a project as some other blockchain tech, but it’s delivering on its promises with a working product.
Bibox Token (BIX)
is a encrypted digital asset exchange whose primary differentiator from other crypto exchanges is that it integrates AI technology.
The purpose of the AI is to help Bibox’s traders, which it does by providing quantitative computation and analysis of trading activity, personalized risk allocation strategy, speech recognition, and objective analysis of the various coins and tokens listed on the exchange.
The Bibox exchange first launched back in November 2017. It has operation centers in the US, Canada, mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Estonia. BIX token holders receive 20% of the exchange profits, and also get discounts on trading fees, similar to Binance. https://www.investinblockchain.com/top-cryptocurrencies-working-products/
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