ERC-20 Token: What Is ERC-20 Token And Why It Matters TO Build Ethereum-Based Business Models

An ERC-20 Token stands for “Ethereum Request for Comments,” which is a standard built on top of Ethereum to enable other tokens to be issued. Based on a smart contract that determines its rules, the ERC-20 enables anyone to issue tokens on top of Ethereum. As they are using a standard, those are interoperable. ERC-20 Tokens are critical to understanding the development of Ethereum as a business platform.

DefinitionAn ERC-20 token is a standard for fungible tokens on the Ethereum blockchain. It defines a set of rules and functions that allow developers to create and manage digital assets that are interchangeable with each other. ERC-20 tokens have become a foundational element in the world of blockchain and are widely used for various purposes, including crowdfunding through Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), creating digital assets, and powering decentralized applications (DApps). The ERC-20 standard ensures compatibility and interoperability among different Ethereum-based tokens.
Key ConceptsFungibility: ERC-20 tokens are fungible, meaning one token is interchangeable with another of the same type and value. – Token Standards: ERC-20 is one of several Ethereum token standards; others include ERC-721 (non-fungible tokens) and ERC-1155 (multi-fungible tokens). – Token Properties: ERC-20 tokens have properties like name, symbol, decimals, total supply, and balances. – Functions: They include functions for transferring tokens, checking balances, and approving token spending. – Interoperability: ERC-20 tokens can be used in various DApps, exchanges, and wallets that support the standard.
CharacteristicsInterchangeability: ERC-20 tokens are interchangeable and have the same value within the same standard. – Widespread Usage: They are widely used in the Ethereum ecosystem for fundraising, trading, and utility within DApps. – Standardized Interface: ERC-20 tokens adhere to a standard interface, ensuring compatibility with wallets and exchanges. – Smart Contracts: Most ICOs and token projects are implemented as smart contracts following the ERC-20 standard. – Decentralization: ERC-20 tokens operate on the decentralized Ethereum blockchain.
ImplicationsToken Creation: ERC-20 simplifies the process of creating and managing tokens, enabling various projects and businesses to issue their own tokens. – Compatibility: Tokens conforming to ERC-20 can be easily integrated into wallets, exchanges, and DApps that support the standard. – Crowdfunding: Many ICOs and token sales use ERC-20 tokens as a means of raising capital. – Ecosystem Growth: ERC-20 has contributed to the rapid expansion of the Ethereum ecosystem. – Liquidity: ERC-20 tokens are commonly traded on cryptocurrency exchanges, enhancing liquidity.
AdvantagesInteroperability: ERC-20 tokens can be seamlessly integrated into a wide range of Ethereum-based applications and services. – Standardization: The ERC-20 standard provides clear guidelines, making it easier for developers to create and users to interact with tokens. – Compatibility: Wallets, exchanges, and DApps that support ERC-20 tokens can work with a variety of tokens using the same interface. – Accessibility: ERC-20 tokens have enabled a global audience to participate in token sales and access blockchain-based assets. – Liquidity: The standardization of ERC-20 tokens has facilitated their trading and exchange on numerous cryptocurrency platforms.
DrawbacksLack of Uniqueness: ERC-20 tokens are fungible and lack uniqueness, which limits their use in cases requiring non-fungible assets. – Smart Contract Risks: Vulnerabilities or bugs in the smart contracts of ERC-20 tokens can lead to security issues or loss of funds. – Gas Fees: Transferring ERC-20 tokens on the Ethereum network incurs gas fees, which can be expensive during periods of network congestion. – Regulatory Scrutiny: Some jurisdictions regulate ERC-20 token offerings, potentially leading to legal complexities. – Scams: The popularity of ERC-20 tokens has attracted fraudulent projects and scams in the past.
ApplicationsERC-20 tokens are used in a wide range of applications, including ICOs, tokenized assets, utility tokens for DApps, governance tokens for decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), and as a means of transferring value within the Ethereum ecosystem.
Use CasesInitial Coin Offerings (ICOs): ERC-20 tokens are commonly used to raise capital through token sales. – Tokenized Assets: Real-world assets like real estate or art can be represented as ERC-20 tokens for easier trade and ownership. – Utility Tokens: Many DApps use ERC-20 tokens to grant access to their services or features. – Governance Tokens: Some projects issue ERC-20 tokens for community governance and decision-making. – Trading: ERC-20 tokens are actively traded on cryptocurrency exchanges. – Wallets and Exchanges: ERC-20 tokens can be stored in Ethereum-compatible wallets and traded on exchanges.



Deep dive into the ERC-20 Token

Building up a protocol from scratch and making it work seamlessly is not a simple feat. That makes other blockchain-based projects leverage on existing protocols rather than building them from scratch. Ethereum is one of the most picked up protocols by new projects coming along, and for instance as of April 2021 more than three hundred thousand ethereum token contracts had been built by leveraging the Ethereum’s blockchain. 

Indeed, one of the main use cases of Ethereum is the ability to build decentralized applications (dApps). As Ethereum highlights “A dapp has its backend code running on a decentralized peer-to-peer network. Contrast this with an app where the backend code is running on centralized servers.” 

Thus, dApps leverage smart contract (as highlighted by the Ethereum foundation “a smart contract is code that lives on the Ethereum blockchain and runs exactly as programmed. Once they are deployed on the network you can’t change them. Dapps can be decentralized because they are controlled by the logic written into the contract, not an individual or company. This also means you need to design your contracts very carefully and test them thoroughly.”).

Another key application of Ethereum, as we saw, is the DAO or the ability to run autonomous organizations, where there is no single person in charge, but rather pieces of code run on top of the blockchain to execute commands based on consensus algorithms, usings tokens as a voting mechanism. 

Let’s explore now another case, which will interest us in the next section. Building up a viable and scalable protocol from scratch isn’t a simple feat, and Ethereum was among the first to build a protocol with the sole purpose of “hosting” other applications and networks. Thus, a real “Blockchain Platform.” 

Ethereum has two specific protocols to enable tokens to be created out of the network: ERC-20 (for issuing fungible tokens – thus interchangeable – on Ethereum) and ERC-721 (for issuing non-fungible – thus non-interchangeable tokens).

ERC stands for “Ethereum Request for Comments” which is the standard to create your own token on top of Ethereum. 

To gain a bit of context, as of May 2021, most of the tokens out there are Ethereum-based. In short, those are the ERC-20 type (representing a fungible, exchangeable note). Indeed, as of May 2021 almost four hundred thousand ERC-20 tokens exist on top of Ethereum. Many of those tokens have reached a market cap of dozens of billions. 

It’s important to note that anything on Ethereum is expressed on a token. Indeed, a token doesn’t just represent an exchange of currency, a token can be used to assign reputation points on a platform, assign lottery tickets, as attribution/ownership in a financial asset (just like shares), a fiat currency and much more. 

Therefore, the ERC-20 enabling the “tokenization” on top of Ethereum represents a “standard – which – allows developers to build token applications that are interoperable with other products and services” or in short a standard for fundible tokens. 

This is critical, as otherwise, and before the ERC-20 standard was born, anyone that wanted to create a token had to do it from scratch (which means they had to code an entire blockchain protocol in the first place) and with custom built code. Thus, lacking interoperability at all. 

Instead, with the ERC-20, thousands of tokens have been created on top of Ethereum and going forward those are interoperable, giving space to powerful network effects on top of the main blockchain. 

Simply put, a token can be created as part of a smart contract which contains the rules to create tokens, manage these tokens and therefore anything that happens within. 

This is an extract from Blockchain Business Models


Read Next: Proof-of-stakeProof-of-workBitcoinEthereumBlockchain.

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Related Blockchain Business Frameworks


Web3 describes a version of the internet where data will be interconnected in a decentralized way. Web3 is an umbrella that comprises various fields like semantic web, AR/VR, AI at scale, blockchain technologies, and decentralization. The core idea of Web3 moves along the lines of enabling decentralized ownership on the web.

Blockchain Protocol

A blockchain protocol is a set of underlying rules that define how a blockchain will work. Based on the underlying rules of the protocol it’s possible to build a business ecosystem. Usually, protocol’s rules comprise everything from how tokens can be issued, how value is created, and how interactions happen on top of the protocol.

Hard Fork

In software engineering, a fork consists of a “split” of a project, as developers take the source code to start independently developing on it. Software protocols (the set of rules underlying the software) usually fork as a group decision-making process. All developers have to agree on the new course and direction of the software protocol. A fork can be “soft” when an alteration to the software protocol keeps it backward compatible or “hard” where a divergence of the new chain is permanent. Forks are critical to the development and evolution of Blockchain protocols.

Merkle Tree

A Merkle tree is a data structure encoding blockchain data more efficiently and securely. The Merkle tree is one of the foundational components of a Blockchain protocol.


The nothing-at-stake problem argues that validators on a blockchain with a financial incentive to mine on each fork are disruptive to consensus. Potentially, this makes the system more vulnerable to attack. This is a key problem that makes possible underlying blockchain protocols, based on core mechanisms like a proof-of-stake consensus, a key consensus system, that together the proof-of-work make up key protocols like Bitcoin and Ethereum.

51% Attack

A 51% Attack is an attack on the blockchain network by an entity or organization. The primary goal of such an attack is the exclusion or modification of blockchain transactions. A 51% attack is carried out by a miner or group of miners endeavoring to control more than half of a network’s mining power, hash rate, or computing power. For this reason, it is sometimes called a majority attack. This can corrupt a blockchain protocol that malicious attackers would take over.

Proof of Work

A Proof of Work is a form of consensus algorithm used to achieve agreement across a distributed network. In a Proof of Work, miners compete to complete transactions on the network, by commuting hard mathematical problems (i.e. hashes functions) and as a result they get rewarded in coins.

Application Binary Interface

An Application Binary Interface (ABI) is the interface between two binary program modules that work together. An ABI is a contract between pieces of binary code defining the mechanisms by which functions are invoked and how parameters are passed between the caller and callee. ABIs have become critical in the development of applications leveraging smart contracts, on Blockchain protocols like Ethereum.

Proof of Stake

A Proof of Stake (PoS) is a form of consensus algorithm used to achieve agreement across a distributed network. As such it is, together with Proof of Work, among the key consensus algorithms for Blockchain protocols (like the Ethereum’s Casper protocol). Proof of Stake has the advantage of security, reduced risk of centralization, and energy efficiency.

Proof of Work vs. Proof of Stake


Proof of Activity

Proof-of-Activity (PoA) is a blockchain consensus algorithm that facilitates genuine transactions and consensus amongst miners. That is a consensus algorithm combining proof-of-work and proof-of-stake. This consensus algorithm is designed to prevent attacks on the underlying Blockchain.

Blockchain Economics

According to Joel Monegro, a former analyst at USV (a venture capital firm) the blockchain implies value creation in its protocols. Where the web has allowed the value to be captured at the applications layer (take Facebook, Twitter, Google, and many others). In a Blockchain Economy, this value might be captured by the protocols at the base of the blockchain (for instance Bitcoin and Ethereum).

Blockchain Business Model Framework

A Blockchain Business Model is made of four main components: Value Model (Core Philosophy, Core Value and Value Propositions for the key stakeholders), Blockchain Model (Protocol Rules, Network Shape and Applications Layer/Ecosystem), Distribution Model (the key channels amplifying the protocol and its communities), and the Economic Model (the dynamics through which protocol players make money). Those elements coming together can serve as the basis to build and analyze a solid Blockchain Business Model.


Blockchain companies use sharding to partition databases and increase scalability, allowing them to process more transactions per second. Sharding is a key mechanism underneath the Ethereum Blockchain and one of its critical components. Indeed, sharding enables Blockchain protocols to overcome the Scalability Trilemma (as a Blockchain grows, it stays scalable, secure, and decentralized).


A decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) operates autonomously on blockchain protocol under rules governed by smart contracts. DAO is among the most important innovations that Blockchain has brought to the business world, which can create “super entities” or large entities that do not have a central authority but are instead managed in a decentralized manner.

Smart Contracts

Smart contracts are protocols designed to facilitate, verify, or enforce digital contracts without the need for a credible third party. These contracts work on an “if/when-then” principle and have some similarities to modern escrow services but without a third party involved in guaranteeing the transaction. Instead, it uses blockchain technology to verify the information and increase trust between the transaction participants.

Non-Fungible Tokens

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are cryptographic tokens that represent something unique. Non-fungible assets are those that are not mutually interchangeable. Non-fungible tokens contain identifying information that makes them unique. Unlike Bitcoin – which has a supply of 21 million identical coins – they cannot be exchanged like for like.

Decentralized Finance

Decentralized finance (DeFi) refers to an ecosystem of financial products that do not rely on traditional financial intermediaries such as banks and exchanges. Central to the success of decentralized finance is smart contracts, which are deployed on Ethereum (contracts that two parties can deploy without an intermediary). DeFi also gave rise to dApps (decentralized apps), giving developers the ability to build applications on top of the Ethereum blockchain.

History of Bitcoin

The history of Bitcoin starts before the 2008 White Paper by Satoshi Nakamoto. In 1989 first and 1991, David Chaum created DigiCash, and various cryptographers tried to solve the “double spending” problem. By 1998 Nick Szabo began working on a decentralized digital currency called “bit gold.” By 2008 the Bitcoin White Paper got published. And from there, by 2014, the Blockchain 2.0 (beyond the money use case) sprouted out.


An altcoin is a general term describing any cryptocurrency other than Bitcoin. Indeed, as Bitcoin started to evolve since its inception, back in 2009, many other cryptocurrencies sprouted due to philosophical differences with the Bitcoin protocol but also to cover wider use cases that the Bitcoin protocol could enable.


Ethereum was launched in 2015 with its cryptocurrency, Ether, as an open-source, blockchain-based, decentralized platform software. Smart contracts are enabled, and Distributed Applications (dApps) get built without downtime or third-party disturbance. It also helps developers build and publish applications as it is also a programming language running on a blockchain.

Ethereum Flywheel

An imaginary flywheel of the development of a crypto ecosystem, and more, in particular, the Ethereum ecosystem. As developers join in and the community strengthens, more use cases are built, which attract more and more users. As users grow exponentially, businesses become interested in the underlying ecosystem, thus investing more in it. These resources are invested back in the protocol to make it more scalable, thus reducing gas fees for developers and users, facilitating the adoption of the whole business platform.


Solana is a blockchain network with a focus on high performance and rapid transactions. To boost speed, it employs a one-of-a-kind approach to transaction sequencing. Users can use SOL, the network’s native cryptocurrency, to cover transaction costs and engage with smart contracts.


In essence, Polkadot is a cryptocurrency project created as an effort to transform and power a decentralized internet, Web 3.0, in the future. Polkadot is a decentralized platform, which makes it interoperable with other blockchains.


Launched in October 2020, Filecoin protocol is based on a “useful work” consensus, where the miners are rewarded as they perform useful work for the network (provide storage and retrieve data). Filecoin (⨎) is an open-source, public cryptocurrency and digital payment system. Built on the InterPlanetary File System.


BAT or Basic Attention Token is a utility token aiming to provide privacy-based web tools for advertisers and users to monetize attention on the web in a decentralized way via Blockchain-based technologies. Therefore, the BAT ecosystem moves around a browser (Brave), a privacy-based search engine (Brave Search), and a utility token (BAT). Users can opt-in to advertising, thus making money based on their attention to ads as they browse the web.

Decentralized Exchange

Uniswap is a renowned decentralized crypto exchange created in 2018 and based on the Ethereum blockchain, to provide liquidity to the system. As a cryptocurrency exchange technology that operates on a decentralized basis. The Uniswap protocol inherited its namesake from the business that created it — Uniswap. Through smart contracts, the Uniswap protocol automates transactions between cryptocurrency tokens on the Ethereum blockchain.

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