|Key People||Vitalik Buterin, creator; Joseph Lubin, co-creator; Gavin Wood, programmer; Patrick Storchenegger, Legal Advisor|
|Products||Ethereum platform, Ether digital token|
|Blog||Ethereum's official blog|
Ethereum runs on a peer-to-peer network of computers. This network constantly runs applications designed to allow nodes, or individual computers in the network, to contribute to the network's total processing power by mining Ether, the cryptocurrency. While these computer programs can take many different forms, the network is designed to carry out rules that mechanically execute when certain conditions are met, like a contract that is automatically executed by a computer; these are called smart contracts. Ethereum also has its own distributed ledger, which is based on bitcoin's blockchain architecture, and uses cryptography to store, execute, and protect these contracts.
The white paper for Ethereum was created by Vitalik Buterin, a Canadian programmer and co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine, in 2013. After its release, additional developers signed on to the project, including Gavin Wood. Together, they and other founders launched a crowdfunding campaign in July of 2014 in which investors purchased Ethereum digital tokens (Ether) to serve as shares in Ethereum. They raised $18 million from this campaign.
The platform launched Frontier, the network's first live release, a year later, in July of 2015. It was described by Ethereum's creators as "first in a series of releases that punctuate the roadmap for the development of Ethereum."
In May 2020, data from Delphi Digital and Skew Analytics showed that user activity on the Ethereum blockchain was at an all-time high, and open interest for Ethereum options on Deribit was higher than ever, reaching $108 million in the last week of May, just before monthly contracts expired.
In October 2020, cryptocurrency analytics firm ViewBase found that nearly 25 percent of all Ether in circulation was sitting in centralized exchanges. The report compared this to bitcoin, only 8.1 percent of which was stored in centralized exchanges.
In November 2020, The Block reported that Ethereum miners saw a 66.8 percent drop in revenue in October compared to September, from $171 million to $57 million. This was likely related to a 26.9 percent decrease in transaction fees between the two months; mining fees on Ethereum were as high as 53.4 in September, dropping to 26.5 percent in October.
On January 19, 2021, the price of ETH hit a high of about $1,400, fueled by bitcoin's rally. Spurred by booming interest in both non-fungible tokens as well as Decentralized Finance, (or "DeFi"), the price of ETH rose above $4,000 for the first time on May 9, 2021, increasing 72% since April 26.
Ethereum hit an all-time high of around $4,800 in November 2021.
Mainstream support for Ethereum
Support for Ethereum has been strong. Forbes called the Ethereum network "great for innovation." A collection of Fortune 500 companies known as the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance have pledged to help each other develop the Ethereum platform and further "smart contract" technology. There are more than 180 member companies from more than 45 countries. At one time the group included the National Bank of Canada, Cisco, American Family Insurance, CME Group, Toyota Research Institute, Mastercard, and Microsoft. By December 2019, of these only Microsoft remained as a member.
In May 2019, a study by blockchain research firm Chainalysis found that one-third of the total circulating supply of Ether was held by just 376 people worldwide. These Ethereum whales were found to have infrequent trading behavior. Kim Grauer, a senior economist at Chainalysis, said in an interview with Bloomberg that the majority of these whales are not traders; "they're mostly holding." The study also found that, as with bitcoin, there is a small but statistically significant effect on the volatility of the price of Ether when these whales move their Ether from a wallet to an exchange, as these transactions tend to have large volume.
In January 2021, the Ethereum Foundation announced that it was partnering with the online forum Reddit so that both organizations can help each other scale and develop new projects for their respective communities.
Releases, Forks and Upgrades
Like bitcoin, Ethereum has undergone a number of updates through software releases which supersede earlier versions, thus creating hard forks in the Ethereum blockchain.
Frontier was the first public software release, allowing users to mine Ether as well as to upload contracts. It was launched on July 31, 2015.
Homestead was launched on March 14, 2016.
Metropolis is the name for a series of software releases that upgrade the Ethereum protocol. The first phase was called Byzantium, followed by the simultaneously launched Constantinople and St. Petersburg releases. The final release under the Metropolis upgrades is called Istanbul.
Byzantium was introduced on October 16, 2017. Byzantium included nine Ethereum improvement proposals (EIPs), including one that reduced the mining reward from five Ether to three Ether.
Constantinople and St. Petersburg
In October 2018, Ethereum announced the system-wide upgrade "Constantinople." The upgrade includes the integration of five separate "Ethereum improvement proposals" (EIPs), which are proposals for upgrades to the Ethereum protocol drafted by members of the Ethereum community. This upgrade took the form of a "hard fork," though it will not lead to a separate cryptocurrency, like the fork that created Ethereum Classic. Originally planned for November, Ethereum core developers agreed on October 19 to delay Constantinople until January 2019.
Constantinople included the integration of the following EIPs:
EIP 145: The integration of "bitwise shifting," a type of information processing designed to improve upon Ethereum's existing information processing methods (authored by Ethereum developers Alex Beregszaszi and Pawel Bylica).
EIP 1052: A technical upgrade designed to improve large-scale code execution on the Ethereum platform - in layman's terms, this means that Ethereum can execute a single type of command simultaneously across the platform with a lower risk of causing a system crash (authored by Nick Johnson and Pawel Bylica).
EIP 1283: Introduces a new pricing model for smart contract developers (authored by Nick Johnson).
EIP 1014: Integrates a new method of scaling for Ethereum (authored by Vitalik Buterin).
EIP 1234: Reduces rewards for block mining from three ETH to two ETH, in order to reduce the inflation of Ether. It also delays the execution of Ethereum's "difficulty bomb," or an upgrade to Ethereum's mining protocols that makes Ether harder to mine (authored by Afri Schoedon).
EIP 1559: Fee reduction that decreases the supply of Ethereum with each transaction. This introduces the possibility that Ethereum could become deflationary. EIP 1559 also establishes an automated system that sets a fee amount for a user to have their transaction picked up by a miner. The fee is set depending on how congested the network is. This update was introduced in early August, 2021 and heralds a planned move from proof of stake to proof of work model along with greener practices in 2022. Within 20 days of EIP-1559's release, the Ethereum network reported 100,000 ETH (approximately $300 million) had been burned in transaction fees, lowering the level of inflation on Ethereum by 35%. (authored by Vitalik Buterin, Eric Conner, Rick Dudley, Matthew Slipper, Ian Norden, Abdelhamid Bakhta).
On January 14, 2019, the Constantinople upgrade was delayed after a major security vulnerability was discovered by ChainSecurity, a smart contract firm. ChainSecurity representatives warned Ethereum developers that if EIP 1283 was implemented, loopholes in the upgrade's code would allow hackers to steal funds from users. Developers including Vitalik Buterin, Hudson Jameson, Nick Johnson, and Evan Van Ness unanimously agreed to delay the upgrade and plan a new fork date on January 18, 2019. Following news of the delay, several major clients of Ethereum, including Go-Ethereum (Geth) and Parity, released software updates giving users the ability to upgrade to new versions of their products that were planned to coincide with the release of Constantinople. They gave their clients the option to downgrade to pre-upgrade versions of their Ethereum-based platforms but firmly recommended against it.
Core Ethereum developers including Buterin, Hudson Jameson, Lane Rettig, Afri Schoedon, Péter Szilágyi, Martin Holste Swende, Danny Ryan, Alexey Akhuno, and others participated in a conference call on January 18 to discuss the upgrade. The developers decided to postpone activating the Constantinople hard fork until sometime between February 26th and 28th in 2019.
St. Petersburg which was launched along with Constantinople disables the part of Constantinople's code that unintentionally created major security issues, as well as reducing the reward for mining on the Ethereum blockchain from 3 ETH to 2, just as the previous hard fork (Byzantium) reduced the mining reward from 5 ETH to 3. The upgrade will implement four out of the five originally-planned upgrades based on the EIPs announced in October 2018.
On February 28, 2019, the upgrades went live. Core Ethereum developers told Coindesk at the time that the process of developing and implementing the upgrade had "dragged on long enough," and that developers were eager to work on other projects related to Ethereum. After the update, the price of Ether saw a small increase, from $135.14 to $136.99.
Istanbul, launched at Ethereum block number 9,069,000 on Saturday, December 7, 2019, implements six EIPs, including ones to improve DOS attack resilience, enable interoperability with the Zcash network, and allow for more sophisticated smart contracts. On December 23 the Ethereum Foundation scheduled the Muir Upgrade of January 1, 2020. The upgrade was designed to delay a looming difficulty bomb embedded in the Istanbul upgrade.
On January 2, 2020, Ethereum completed the Muir Glacier hard fork upgrade. It was activated at Block number 9,200,000, implementing only the EIP 2384, an upgrade that delays Ethereum's "difficulty bomb." This delayed the difficulty bomb by 4 million blocks, or approximately 611 days. This was the third time the difficulty bomb was delayed.
On January 12, 2020, Ethereum implemented Agharta, a hard fork that made Ethereum Classic more interoperable with Ethereum. Part of the fork enabled both Constantinople and St. Petersburg on Ethereum Classic under ECIP 1056.
In June 2019, an Ethereum community member named James Hancock began leading a team at Ethereum startup ETHSignals to create a "friendly" fork, which Hancock's team hoped would act as a "sister chain" to Ethereum by vetting ideas and concepts before they could be added to Ethereum's main blockchain, serving as a sort of "test network" for speeding up Ethereum's mainnet, or primary functional coding algorithms. Hancock told Coindesk that "for Ethereum to be sound money, it needs to be very conservative in making changes...for Ethereum to keep pace with competition it needs to keep making changes." He said this dichotomy creates tension, which the Alternateth "sister chain" would be designed to help alleviate.
Serenity - AKA Ethereum 2.0
Ethereum 2.0 - also called "Serenity" - is the next planned upgrade for the Ethereum protocol. The biggest differences between it and previous Ethereum upgrades is that Serenity will work off of a proof of stake mechanism and what Ethereum developers call "shard chains." Shard chains are essentially offshoot blockchains from a single, core blockchain (the Ethereum 2.0 protocol) that theoretically allow for greater security, interoperability with other protocols, faster transaction times, and improved scalability. After the 2.0 upgrade is implemented, Ethereum's original blockchain will become Serenity's first "shard chain," according to Consensys' FAQ on Ethereum 2.0.
ETH 2.0 was originally slated to launch in January 2020, but was delayed. Part of the reason for this is that creating a systemwide upgrade that uses shard chains - a "multi-client approach" - takes much longer than Ethereum developers anticipated, according to Serenity project lead Danny Ryan. In an interview, Vitalik Buterin mistakenly said that Serenity would launch in July 2020; he later said that he misheard the question, and did not mean to announce July 2020 as a concrete launch date.
As late as June 2020 "Phase 0," the first step in the Ethereum 2.0 overhaul, was still forecasted to launch in summer 2020. On July 10 an Ethereum 2.0 lead developer, Justin Drake, said in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" that he was " . . . inclined to say that the earliest practical date for genesis is something like January 3, 2921 (Bitcoins 12th anniversary)." Buterin responded quickly, "FWIW I personally quite disagree with this and I would favor launching phase 0 significantly before that date regardless of level of readiness :D ."
Unplanned fork/"Geth" bug
On November 11, 2020, Ethereum's DeFi ecosystem shut down because Ethereum's transaction history was split in two by an unplanned fork. This fork was caused by a bug previously implemented by Ethereum developers, in part to upgrade Go Ethereum (commonly referred to as "Geth"), but also to, ironically, prevent the exact kind of bug it caused.
On September 15, 2022, Ethereum completed a long-awaited software upgrade known as the Merge, shifting from using energy-intensive technology to a more environmentally sustainable framework.
The Merge shifted Ethereum to a "proof of stake" verification system that uses much less energy than the traditional crypto "proof of work" system.
On July 17, 2017, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) published an investigative report about the collapse of the Ether-funded DAO without bringing enforcement action against any involved parties. The report provides a thorough description of the establishment and organization of the DAO and notes that by doing business with U.S. residents the DAO likely violated the federal securities laws. It found that the DAO tokens would be securities under the Howey test and that they should have been registered and offered pursuant to the Commission's regulations unless they were eligible for exemption. In addition, the Commission indicated that platforms where the DAO tokens were traded probably should have been registered as securities exchanges or other regulated facilities unless there were relevant exemptions available.
The SEC began in May 2018 to look into whether Ether should fall under its authority as a security. Unlike bitcoin, which was determined to be a commodity because it held no pre-launch ICO, Ethereum's blockchain network was funded through a presale of Ether. Also, following the sale, there was no single, central enterprise being invested in, which complicates the question of how to classify Ether.
In June 2018 William Hinman, the SEC's director of the division of corporation finance, stated, “Putting aside the fundraising that accompanied the creation of Ether, based on my understanding of the present state of Ether, the Ethereum network and its decentralized structure, current offers and sales of Ether are not securities transactions.”
In December, the CFTC published a Request for Information (RFI) to the public, whose purpose was to "seek public comment and feedback in order to better inform the Commission's understanding of the technology, mechanics, and markets for virtual currencies beyond bitcoin, namely Ether and its use in the Ethereum Network." The RFI specified that information gathered through the RFI would be considered in future efforts to provide oversight and regulation to the digital asset markets. It also gave three methods members of the public could use to deliver their comments to the Commission, including a mailing address and a link to its public comments website.
In an interview on October 10, 2019, during Yahoo Finance's All Markets Summit, Former CFTC Chairman Heath Tarbert said, “It is my view as chairman of the CFTC that ether is a commodity.” A few weeks later Tarbert told the Invest: NYC conference that his agency as well as the SEC were "thinking carefully" about whether Ethereum's planned shift to a Proof of Stake protocol will affect its status as a commodity. At the time of Tarbert's comments, neither agency had formally addressed Ethereum's regulatory status.
ErisX, a designated contract market (futures exchange), certified to the CFTC that its Ether futures contract complied with the CFTC's regulations. In its letter to the CFTC the exchange said that it would begin trading futures shortly and launched trading on May 11, 2020. Neither the CFTC nor the SEC commented on the launch publicly and their acquiescence to ErisX's launch seemed to secure Ether's status as a commodity. By October 12, 2020 the exchange's ether futures contract had attracted scant trading volume.
Nonetheless, Ethereum derivatives became very popular on trading platforms outside the U.S. In September 2020, Ethereum "futures" contracts traded at record levels of volume. (Common parlance does not distinguish between true futures contracts, which are centrally cleared contracts traded on government-regulated exchanges, and the wide variety of contracts-for-difference, non-deliverable forwards, perpetuals and other unregulated derivatives that are available around the world.) According to research from The Block Crypto, after growing almost 320% Ethereum futures traded about half as much as bitcoin futures that month.
In 2020 the DAO, renamed the LAO (Limited Liability Autonomous Organization), re-launched with a new set of rules. Unlike the DAO, the LAO restricts the number of people who can participate in it as well as limits how much cryptocurrency they can contribute.
- Vitalik Buterin - creator, Foundation Council member
- Joseph Lubin - co-creator
- Gavin Wood - programmer
- Patrick Storchenegger - Legal advisor
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