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How Do “Smart Contracts” Work?

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Smart contracts enable automation of certain aspects of a platform’s functionality. These digital agreements self-execute predetermined actions upon receiving a digital asset or cryptocurrency. Today, smart contracts are used everywhere in the blockchain space, but this wasn’t always the case. Let’s take a second to examine how these helpful protocols first came to be, and how they function without the need for any third-party intervention.

The original smart contract concept predates cryptocurrencies by fourteen years. Ironically, the man credited with developing smart contracts is no other than well-known Bitcoinist Nick Szabo. Many people believe Nick to actually be Satoshi Nakamoto because of his previous works.

Nick famously theorized about value-storing bits utilizing a proof-of-work system five years before Bitcoin existed. He has always been a pioneer in the cryptospace. In 1994, Nick released his smart contract code to the public. He also coined the phrase “smart contract”.

Nick Szabo via TMNews

Nick Szabo via TMNews

Why are “Smart Contract” Needed?

Every smart contract contains four core principals. First, you need the subject of the contract. The subject is what gives your contract access to the goods or services that the contract governs. Second, you need digital signatures (private keys) from everyone involved in the contract. These signatures are what initiates the contract. Next, comes specification of the contract terms. This part is where you lay out the exact sequence of operations that commence when the contract executes. Finally, you need a decentralized platform. A blockchain network keeps the smart contract stored in redundancy and safe from alterations.

Smart Contract Components

  1. Subject of Contract
  2. Digital Signatures
  3. Contract Terms
  4. Decentralized Platform

How are “Smart Contracts” Used?

There are endless smart contract uses. Smart contracts help you to exchange digital and real-world assets. Smart contracts live on the blockchain and cannot be altered. This added security makes these digital agreements ideal for many business scenarios.

Smart Contracts in ICOs

Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) utilize smart contract protocols during their crowdfunding events. The smart contracts automatically track, calculate, award, and distribute the funds sent between the company and the investor. The smart contract programming enables the automation of the entire process.

This automation allows companies to accept funding from a wider audience. The workload of the company is not increased, but the company’s fundraising exposure expands. The all-inclusive nature of this strategy helped push ICOs to record numbers this year. One report shows that ICO volume already doubled lasts year’s numbers by May.

Traditional Firms Look Towards Smart Contracts

Traditional firms continue entering the smart contract arena as blockchain integration continues. Today, platforms exist that utilize smart contracts for nearly everything including real estate, investments, royalties, elections, logistics, and much more.

Ethereum Powered “Smart Contracts”

The cryptocurrency, Ethereum, is best known for introducing the smart contract concept to the cryptospace. Ethereum’s ERC-20 protocol utilizes smart contracts to help automate token creation and distribution. ERC-20 is by far, the most widely used token issuance protocol in the market.

Ethereum Smart Contract Coding via Ethereum.org

Ethereum Smart Contract Coding via Ethereum.org

Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum’s developer describes smart contracts as a program that “automatically validates a condition and determines whether the asset should go to one person or back to the person who sent it or some combination.” Ethereum utilizes a second-layer protocol to accomplish smart contract capabilities without creating additional blockchain congestion.

Smart Contract Development

Since Ethereum raised smart contract awareness, more complex and advanced smart contract models entered the cryptospace. Platforms such as EOS, Steller, and NEO utilize less wasteful consensus mechanisms when compared to the Proof-of-Work system in place with Ethereum.

Smart contracts are removing the middleman from many of the most used business systems today. The trustless nature of these protocols allows businesses and investors the ability to increase efficiency and security simultaneously. You should expect further integration of this technology into traditional business systems as more platforms enter the market.

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David Hamilton is a full-time journalist and a long-time bitcoinist. He specializes in writing articles on the blockchain. His articles have been published in multiple bitcoin publications including Bitcoinlightning.com

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