Intermediate Series

What Is the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM)? Key Crypto Infrastructure

The Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) helps developers build DeFi applications, scale web3, and launch NFT projects on the Ethereum Blockchain. However, it isn’t limited to only Ethereum. The EVM runs on many of the most popular blockchains, including Avalanche, Cardano, and Fantom. The EVM is likely to continue to have a huge impact on the crypto space in the years to come, so let’s explore this key piece of crypto infrastructure. 

Quick overview 

In this guide to the Ethereum Virtual Machine, we cover: 

  • What is Ethereum?
  • What is a virtual machine?
  • What is an Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM)? A decentralized global computer
  • Why are Ethereum Virtual Machines key crypto infrastructure? Strong network effects
  • Popular EVM compatible blockchains
  • The future of the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM)

What is Ethereum?

Ethereum is one of the most popular and prominent blockchains in the entire crypto space. It has the power to support a digital money and global payment ecosystem that isn’t controlled by any single institution. Ethereum supports an internet of assets, including other cryptocurrencies and NFTs. Anyone has access to the permissionless peer-to-peer network, as both a user or developer. As we’ll see, its design hasn’t only inspired other blockchain projects, its technology has been replicated across them. 

What is a virtual machine?

In computing, a virtual machine is essentially a computer within a computer. They’re designed to provide all of the functionality of a regular computer, except it’s implemented with software rather than hardware. Typically, a virtual machine runs on an existing laptop or server. However, the Ethereum Virtual Machine runs in the nodes of the Ethereum network. 

What is an Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM)? A decentralized global computer

The Ethereum Virtual Machine is a key piece of infrastructure that makes it possible for decentralised applications (dApps) created with smart contracts to run on the Ethereum blockchain. Instead of only being a ledger that records who owns which ETH tokens, similar to bitcoin, it allows software programs to be replicated on thousands of nodes across the Ethereum network. 

Essentially, the Ethereum Virtual Machine is a global computer that allows developers to create immutable, decentralised and secure programs that anyone can access. While the EVM runs on the Ethereum blockchain, it also runs on other EVM compatible blockchains. 

Why are Ethereum Virtual Machines key crypto infrastructure? Strong network effects

Ethereum is more than a leading network in the crypto community, the technology developed for Ethereum has been implemented across multiple blockchains, helping drive the industry ahead. 

1. Turing-complete

Being ‘Turing-complete’ means that the EVM can (theoretically) solve any type of computation problem. Developers have all the basic requirements to create complex programs, such as lending protocols like Curve or NFT games

2. Secure execution

The EVM is completely isolated from external resources like a network or filesystem, meaning that a developer's code cannot be altered by anyone else. This type of deterministic execution makes the EVM secure enough to build important decentralized finance applications on top of it. 

3. Decentralised

There are thousands of Ethereum nodes across the globe, meaning the EVM is completely decentralised and doesn’t rely on any centralised entity. This helps eliminate a single source of failure and makes the EVM one of the most robust computers ever made. 

4. Solidity ecosystem

To make the EVM easier to use, a specialised language called Solidity was created. As Ethereum was the first blockchain designed to be a global computer, it had a head start attracting developers and building an ecosystem that supports the EVM. 

5. Network effects

The network effects built off of the Solidity ecosystem have helped the EVM maintain its standing as the premier execution environment in the crypto space. New blockchains will often ensure that they have an EVM on their chain to make it easy for decentralised applications to easily port their code over to their chain. 

It’s easy to deploy existing smart contracts on other blockchains beyond Ethereum, as the code has already been tested, audited, and it has often found product-market fit. It's important to note that an EVM doesn’t have to run on the Ethereum blockchain. Essentially, these blockchains take the same code that was written for Ethereum and deploy it on their own blockchain. 

EVM compatible chains include: 

The future of the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM)

The EVM sits at the heart of Web3 and has already helped developers build stablecoins, NFTs, decentralised finance applications, and metaverse projects. With the strong network built around the EVM ecosystem, it’s likely that many more exciting projects will be built using the EVM in the coming years. If you want to learn more about the exciting opportunities, check out our deep dive into Ethereum and the top smart contract platforms.

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