Key terms to understand in crypto
Navigating the cryptocurrency space can be difficult, especially when it feels like everyone is speaking a different language.
Learn about some of the most commonly used terms and phrases in the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry today.
An altcoin refers to a cryptocurrency other than Bitcoin. Each has its own set of rules, properties, and specific use cases. Altcoins could be completely new technologies or forks of existing cryptocurrencies.
All-time high / all-time low
This refers to the highest or lowest the price has ever been for a given asset.
A bull market describes the phenomenon where market prices are generally trending upward over a given period and public perception is positive.
A bear market is the reverse of a bull market, where outlooks are negative as market prices seem to be on a downward trend.
Blockchains are a method of storing data in a decentralized way. The data can be duplicated and distributed across the network of computer systems on that blockchain. Usually operated by a community of miners or validators, blockchains don’t require a centralized intermediary to operate.
Blockchains are built up of a growing list of transactions, which are formatted into blocks. Each block contains a cryptographic reference to the last, making it impossible to change the history of the blockchain.
When blocks are created by miners or validators, a block reward is issued. This takes the form of newly minted cryptocurrency, which is used as an incentive for participants to help keep the blockchain running.
Consensus, in the context of cryptocurrencies, refers to the method by which blockchain participants agree on what should be included into the blockchain. The two most prominent consensus mechanisms currently used by crypto networks today are proof-of-work and proof-of-stake.
Cryptography refers to the science of keeping information secure and safe, and is used in many areas in computing today. Cryptography helps secure blockchains and cryptocurrencies through the SHA-256 one-way hashing algorithm to enable Proof-of-Work, and through private-key/public-key cryptography for authenticating and validating cryptocurrency transfers.
dApps, or decentralized applications, are programs that run on top of blockchain networks and use smart contracts to provide trustless tools and services for end users. The most widely adopted smart contract platform today is the Ethereum protocol, where hundreds of dApps exist today.
A DAO, or decentralized autonomous, organization refers to a business entity that is represented as transparent rules in a number of smart contracts. They aim to reduce centralization as much as possible, typically giving the community the ability to govern the future of the DAO and its products by voting for or against any proposed changes or updates.
Decentralized is a word that is used to describe technologies that make use of distributed systems with the aim to provide increased security and redundancy, and to lessen a reliance on governing bodies and centralized intermediaries.
DeFi, or Decentralized Finance, refers to the growing ecosystem of applications and services that leverage blockchain tech and cryptocurrencies to provide decentralized financial services to end users. Typically deployed to the Ethereum network, hundreds of DeFi applications exist today that allow users to borrow, lend, and earn interest on cryptocurrencies. DeFi applications are made up of a collection of smart contracts that define the exact process and flow of user funds, DeFi applications allow users
Do Your Own Research. This is often used as a warning by cryptocurrency influencers to other investors, reminding us that there is no better substitute for due diligence than our own research. It is worth remembering that cryptocurrency influencers and media outlets can have different incentives and goals. Ask yourself; is the news article or review I am reading unbiased, and factually correct?
Used on the Ethereum network, ERC-20 is the most vastly used crypto-token standard. It allows developers to easily create digital currencies, which are immediately compatible with existing infrastructure.
This is the Ethereum network’s standard for non-fungible tokens—NFTs. It allows for creation of unique, uncounterfitable tokens. It can be used for creating digital collectibles and gaming items or to tokenize real-world unique items.
The Ethereum Virtual Machine, or EVM, is essentially a global blockchain-based computer. It provides a runtime environment for developers to create trustless, decentralized applications on the Ethereum network.
Fiat refers to types of money within the traditional financial ecosystem. Examples of fiat currencies are the US dollar and the euro. Working with fiat currencies in the blockchain landscape typically requires trusting a centralized central entity to custody your funds.
A fork describes a situation where a blockchain experiences a change in the protocol that produces two parallel chains. Forks typically occur when crypto developers or communities decide that the protocol must be changed or updated in some way. There are two types of forks: hard forks, which break backwards-compatibility and cause a new currency to be issued, and soft forks, which update the ruleset—requiring support from a majority of the network’s participants.
Fear of missing out. A type of social anxiety arising from the notion that others are having fun or enjoying the benefits of an event while the person experiencing FOMO isn’t. In crypto markets, it usually refers to watching the tokens you do not own go through explosive upward price movements.
Fear, uncertainty, and doubt—refers usually to information that is likely to push people toward a pessimistic view of the market.
A method of evaluating the value of a given asset, as well as estimating its future performance. In the context of crypto projects, it takes into account such factors as the technological and innovative value of a product, the team behind it, or the token distribution model and its use cases.
Refers to a fee charged for performing operations on Ethereum network—sending transactions and deploying and interacting with smart contracts. It is usually priced in Gwei, a small fraction of Ether.
Wei is the smallest, indivisible part of Ethereum’s native currency Ether. 1 Ether is equal to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 wei (1018). Gwei stands for Giga-wei, so 109 wei.
The reduction of the block reward for Bitcoin mining by 50%. A halving occurs after 210,000 blocks have been mined since the last, which corresponds to roughly every 4 years. The Bitcoin network started with a 50 BTC block reward and currently, after 3 halvings, it is at a level of 6.25 BTC per block.
Measuring unit of processing power—it tells how many network-specific calculations are done per second by the Bitcoin network. A hash rate of 1 tera hash means the network can perform 1 trillion calculations in one second.
The term comes from misspelling the word hold. It refers to the action of not selling your cryptos, often in opposition to the current market trend.
KYC, or Know Your Customer, refers to the process by which a financial service provider must gather and verify information about their customers on registration. These requirements are enforced by governing bodies in both the customer and the business’s jurisdictions.
A ledger refers to a database of transactions. In the context of cryptocurrencies, the ledger is the transaction history of a given cryptocurrency as stored on the blockchain.
Liquidity can refer to two things. Most commonly, it is used to describe the quality of a cryptocurrency to be freely bought and sold. It can be used to mean the amount of cryptocurrencies available to trade within a liquidity pool on a decentralized exchange.
An order placed on an exchange to buy or sell an asset at a certain price or better. A buy order will be executed at a target price or higher, while a sell will only occur at a chosen or lower price.
It is a method of trading that involves using borrowed funds. Compared to ordinary trading, it provides access to greater sums of money, allowing traders to leverage their positions and maximize their profits, while exposing them also to higher risks.
Market capitalization. The price of an asset multiplied by circulating supply represents the total value of a given asset and its market. It is often used as a measurement of a project's success.
Mining is the process of contributing computing resources to a blockchain network in order to create new blocks. In exchange, miners earn rewards.
A mining pool is a group or community of miners that have pooled their computing or hashing power together. Since miners in proof-of-work blockchains all compete to be the first to create new valid blocks, pooling can help these participants increase or level out their mining profits.
A non-fungible token is a type of Ethereum token. Like other tokens, they can be transferred between wallets and used in smart contracts, but they are not “fungible”—meaning they cannot be replicated or subdivided and each unit is unique. These have seen significant traction over the last year as big names in the entertainment and art worlds have released their own artworks and digital collectibles, with some selling for millions of dollars on platforms like OpenSea.
A network fee is required to ensure your transaction is processed on the Bitcoin or Ethereum network. The fee is used as an incentive to reward network participants, like miners and validators, for processing transactions and helping to secure the network.
A node is a type of participant in the blockchain network that stores data and contributes to the consensus process to ensure that all new transactions and blocks are valid. Miners act as full nodes, but anyone may also operate a node to monitor the network without contributing computing resources.
A nonce is a random whole number that miners in proof-of-work blockchains like Bitcoin iterate over to solve the cryptographic puzzle that allows them to add a new block and earn the block reward. A miner’s goal is to find a nonce where the SHA-256 hashed output begins with a certain number of zeroes. This allows PoW networks to adjust the mining difficulty, requiring more zeros if blocks are being mined too fast.
A paper wallet is a type of cryptocurrency wallet that is stored on paper. The goal of these wallets is to reduce private key exposure to a minimum. This is a type of “cold storage,” where private keys are not exposed to any internet-connected device that could be hacked or attacked. Today, paper wallets are largely seen as an unsafe option to store your crypto, since to generate such a wallet, they would have to use a central website and GUI—which are just as insecure and prone to attacks as any other centralized service.
A private key is used to identify the owner of a given cryptocurrency wallet. It acts much like a password, and anyone with a private key can access the funds from the associated wallet address.
Proof-of-stake, or PoS, is a consensus mechanism used by blockchains to ensure correct data is stored to the blockchain. In proof-of-stake blockchains, participants who deposit an amount of cryptocurrency to the network (known as “staking”) are given the opportunity to help generate new blocks and earn block rewards.
Proof-of-work, or PoW, is another consensus mechanism that leverages a network of computers called miners that verify transactions in exchange for crypto rewards. Anyone can become a miner, competing to create new blocks by using computing resources to solve a cryptographic puzzle called a hash. The first to do this earns the right to append their new block to the blockchain.
Generated alongside your private key as a pair, your public key is a long string of characters that is run through an algorithm to produce your wallet address.
Sats or Satoshis
Sats are the smallest possible unit of Bitcoin (BTC), at 0.00000001 BTC. Named after Bitcoin’s enigmatic creator Satoshi Nakamoto, one Sat is equivalent to one hundred millionth of a Bitcoin.
SegWit, short for segregated witness, was an update to the Bitcoin network in August 2017 that aimed to increase the number of transactions that are able to fit onto each block by removing signature data from transactions.
SHA-256 is a one-way cryptographic hashing algorithm that takes an input of any size and converts it to a random string of a fixed length. Many blockchain projects today make use of SHA-256 to enable proof-of-work mining for verifying transactions.
A smart contract is a program that is stored on, and operated by, a blockchain network. Smart contract platforms like Ethereum allow developers to create decentralized applications that can work with cryptocurrencies in order to provide transparent financial tools and services for end users.
Solidity is a high-level programming that is used to write smart contracts. Created by Gavin Wood, co-founder of Ethereum, Solidity allows developers to create immutable, unstoppable programs that anyone can interact with.
TA or technical analysis
Technical analysis refers to the process of studying price charts and using various market indicators to determine the state of the market. This is a deep area of study for expert traders, who aim to use technical analysis to their advantage when trying to predict future market movements.
Smart contract platforms like Ethereum and Binance Smart Chain provide developers a testing environment in which they can deploy and test smart contracts, called a testnet. These testing environments usually work the same as the main network, but where the cryptocurrencies used are valueless and can be acquired for free from a testnet faucet.
Tokens, distinct from cryptocurrencies, usually refer to tokens that have been issued by deploying a smart contract to the Ethereum blockchain. Thousands of tokens exist today, and many of the top 100 cryptocurrencies by market cap are in fact Ethereum tokens.
Wallet balances in cryptocurrency networks are not actually stored as a variable, like John Doe’s balance: 100 BTC. Instead, they are calculated from several UTXOs, which are essentially units of unspent cryptocurrency left over from the sum of all transactions made on the wallet. Cumulatively, the sum of an address’s UTXOs make up that wallet’s available balance.
Validators are participants in a blockchain network who verify incoming transactions. Used in proof-of-stake platforms instead of miners, validators help maintain the integrity of a blockchain and keep it secure, receiving rewards for their work. Validators are chosen by the network to validate new blocks based on the amount of cryptocurrency they have staked in the network.
The opposite of stability, volatility refers to an asset's tendency to vary in price. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are notoriously volatile, which is to be expected for such a young market and can be the main appeal for crypto traders.
Wallets are tools used by crypto holders to control their private keys and provide an interface to make transactions. Both software and hardware wallets are available today, and wallets can be custodial or non-custodial. The distinction here is whether or not the user retains full control of their private key.
A “whale” is a loose slang term used to describe big players in the cryptocurrency markets, from institutional investors to hedge funds or wealthy individuals.
White papers are documents that are typically academic in nature, proposing a new technology and outlining the exact details of its implementation. Typically, new projects will launch white papers to help potential users or investors understand the product or service, its use case, and its potential.