Ether (ETH) is the native cryptocurrency that powers Ethereum. It's primarily used to pay transaction fees and the creation of blockchain smart contracts.
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A brief history
The original Ethereum concept was introduced in 2013 by Vitalik Buterin with the release of the Ethereum whitepaper and in 2015 the Ethereum platform was launched by Buterin and Joseph Lubin along with several other co-founders. Ethereum is described as “the world’s programmable blockchain,” positioning itself as an electronic, programmable network that anyone can build on to launch cryptocurrencies and decentralized applications. Unlike Bitcoin which has a maximum circulation of 21 million coins, the amount of ETH that can be created is unlimited, although the time that it takes to process a block of ETH limits how much ether can be minted each year. Another difference between Ethereum and Bitcoin is how the networks treat transaction processing fees. These fees are known as “gas” on the Ethereum network and are paid by the participants in Ethereum transactions. The fees associated with Bitcoin transactions, however, are absorbed by the broader Bitcoin network. Additionally, although both Bitcoin and Ethereum currently use Proof-of-Work consensus mechanisms, Ethereum is in the process of gradually transitioning to a different consensus algorithm known as Proof-of-Stake, which uses significantly less energy.
ETH in practice
Because ETH acts more as a utility token than a token of value, its supply is technically infinite although this inflation curve slows dramatically over time. In theory, Ether will always be in demand, meaning inflation should never devalue the asset beyond use, thus Ether consistently enters circulation in the form of miner rewards. Miners get paid a transaction fee called “gas.” Gas is paid by the user initiating the transaction to the miner who validates the transaction- incentivizing future mining and network security. Because there is so much use of the Ethereum network, gas fees can run quite high. This is because a block can only hold so much gas which varies based on transaction types and amounts. As a result, miners will choose transactions with the highest gas fees, meaning users are competing to validate transactions first. When Ethereum transitions to a Proof-of-Stake model, instead of miners verifying transactions, the network will use the owners of significant stakes to validate transactions.