Ethereum is one of the most popular cryptocurrency platforms in existence. One could even argue that Ethereum is the only cryptocurrency that has proven itself to be a serious rival to Bitcoin in terms of popularity. A reason for this is the inclusion of specific features that are unique to the Ethereum blockchain.
One of the Ethereum elements that you will hear mentioned is the Ethereum Virtual Machine, or EVM. The EVM is used to read data which has been complied into “bytecode” from other specific programming languages. In this role the EVM is critical to the execution of smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain.
What is the Ethereum Virtual Machine?
The Ethereum Virtual Machine is the run-time environment for smart contracts that are used in Ethereum. Smart contracts are a concept developed by the creators of Ethereum which allow developers to program unique functionalities. These smart contracts can be written in a variety of programming languages.
In order for the smart contracts to be executed on the Ethereum blockchain, it is necessary to compile them into a common language. This language is known as bytecode. The Ethereum Virtual Machine is the environment which is capable of reading and processing bytecode.
The EVM also has a much more important role. It is the fundamental consensus mechanism for Ethereum. Without the EVM the Ethereum blockchain would not function as we experience it today.
Cutting Through the Technical EVM Jargon
It can be pretty easy to get lost in the technical jargon that is used to describe the Ethereum Virtual Machine. This is especially true for those who want to learn more about cryptocurrencies but have little technical background.
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The technical explanation of the EVM goes something like this. The EVM creates a level of abstraction between executable code and the machine which processes it. The creation of this layer accomplishes a few important necessities. It helps to maintain separation between different smart contracts or applications. It improves software portability. Finally, the EVM creates separation between smart contracts and their host.
Still confused? That’s okay because most people who have an interest in Ethereum as a cryptocurrency platform may never have a desire or the need to create a smart contract. You don’t need to have any understanding of the EVM in order to buy and sell Ethereum on a cryptocurrency exchange.
But for those who do have a deeper interest let’s break it down some. Ethereum is more than just a cryptocurrency. It is an entire ecosystem that is decentralized. Within the decentralized framework it is possible for developers to create their own applications and products. The EVM is what maintains order in the midst of what would otherwise be chaos.
Imagine what goes on under the hood of your car. There are hundreds of parts which function as a whole to keep your car running. Some of these parts can become weakened and fail while only having a mild effect on your car’s performance. Others will cause you to be stranded on the side of the road when they fail.
All of the parts also has a specific job to do that exists independently of the whole. Because of this the modern automobile uses technology to monitor performance and alert you when there could be a potential problem. But most of the time the business of your car is going on without you being aware of it.
Your engine has a smart contract with your spark plugs. Your car battery has a smart contract with the alternator. In order for you to achieve the goal of a working automobile these smart contracts are executed automatically as intended. You generally don’t know when your alternator kicks in to charge the battery, but it happens. All you know is that your car will start when you need it to.
The Ethereum blockchain and smart contracts are a little bit like that on a much larger scale. Your car is the ecosystem for its moving parts. The EVM is the ecosystem for Ethereum.
There are some downsides. For one, it can be more expensive using smart contracts on a blockchain that it can be to use traditional servers. The tradeoff here is that some people prefer decentralization over expense when it comes to deploying their apps and smart contracts.