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Digital assets: cryptocurrencies vs tokens

What's the difference between cryptocurrencies and tokens? Dive into the world of digital assets and learn how they differ in terms of functionality and purpose.

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While these terms might seemingly be used interchangeably, they are in fact fundamental differences between them. Whether you're brand new to the industry or have been in the market for a while, distinguishing between the two will be a valuable endeavour. When it comes to the business of blockchain assets and the information surrounding it, we know all about it. Let's get into it.

What are digital assets?

Digital assets are non-tangible assets that are created, traded and stored in a digital format. This includes everything from a website to a spreadsheet to a logo, anything uniquely identifiable that holds value. In the context of digital assets vs cryptocurrencies vs tokens, both cryptocurrencies and tokens are digital assets as they're created, stored and traded using blockchain technology. 

Through blockchain technology, cryptocurrencies and tokens utilise an advanced encryption technique known as cryptography. This maintains their security and ensures that the digital assets cannot be counterfeited or double-spent. Each individual asset represents something, whether it be content, value or a tangible item.

What are cryptocurrencies?

While cryptocurrencies fall under the umbrella of digital assets, they too hold a unique characteristic. In order for a digital asset to be classified as a cryptocurrency, it must be created on its own unique blockchain (often referred to as a blockchain's native token). 

Cryptocurrencies can be traded as a medium of exchange or store of value, depending on the platform for which it is built. On top of that, cryptocurrencies can also be used to pay transaction fees for using the network, or as an incentive to ensure the network is well-maintained. 

Typically, cryptocurrencies are decentralised meaning that they do not rely on a central entity to maintain the network, instead, they are operated using code to facilitate transactions and issuance. Built using blockchain or distributed ledger technology (DLT), cryptocurrencies use cryptography to secure each network in an automated, trustless manner and avoid any fraud.

Bitcoin, as it is created using its own blockchain and acts as a form of digital money, is an example of a cryptocurrency.

What are tokens?

Tokens differ from cryptocurrencies in that they are created on top of existing blockchain networks and not their own. A prime example is any ERC-20 token built on top of the Ethereum network. While these are still digital assets, they are classified as tokens due to their use of an existing blockchain. DAI, COMP and USDT are all examples of tokens that utilise the Ethereum blockchain.

While some are also mediums of exchange or stores of value, tokens provide more varied use cases. For example, some tokens are used to play games while others might be used for services specific to that platform, or across the greater decentralised finance (DeFi) landscape. 

There are a number of token standards available which each serve different use cases, the majority of which are built on Ethereum. The most common, the ERC-20 token standard, allows for the creation of a token that can then be used across a range of compatible dapps (decentralised apps). Another common token standard is the ERC-721 which is used to create non-fungible tokens, NFTs.

Tokens are typically characterised by the following:

  • Permissionless
  • Programmable
  • Trustless
  • Transparent

Tokens tend to take on much wider use cases, such as representing both tangible (property, art) and non-tangible (processing power, governance rights) aspects, which are integral to the running of the blockchain network. 

In conclusion

Digital assets encompass both cryptocurrencies and tokens, while cryptocurrencies are built using a unique blockchain, and tokens are built on top of an existing blockchain.


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