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Cryptocurrency classification

Thanks to blockchain technology, there are now 7400 different cryptocurrencies. They operate based on cryptography and consensus and are managed in a decentralized manner. In this way, cryptocurrency is distinguished as a separate class of digital currency and differs from electronic money, virtual currency, and CBDC.

In turn, cryptocurrencies are divided into two types: coins and tokens. A description of the fundamentals of tokens is given in the Tokens section. Here we’ll examine the technical and financial side of coins in order to explain how they differ from tokens.

What cryptocurrency coins are

A coin is an internal currency, or unit of account, in a crypto project built either on a unique blockchain or having moved to their own blockchain from a third-party one. As a rule, such projects are:

  • A purely peer-to-peer (P2P) payment system (PS), e.g., Bitcoin, Monero;
  • Protocols for adding useful functions to the P2P PS, such as anonymity (e.g., MimbleWimble by Beam, zk-SNARK by Zcash);
  • A blockchain platform with a PS and virtual machine, where decentralized applications and smart contracts can be created (e.g., EOS, Qtum);
  • A blockchain platform with a PS and VM, where one can also create tokens for other projects following the established standard (e.g., Ethereum, TRON);
  • A decentralized network and PS for collaborative work with third-party blockchains and sidechains (e.g., Cosmos, Nervos).

People often call projects ‘coins’ too, especially if it’s a peer-to-peer payment system with ‘-coin’ in the name. For example, Bitcoin’s units of account are called bitcoins, Litecoin’s are called litecoins (units are written in lowercase). Hence, both the system and the units circulating within are coins.

At times, the names of the internal currency can differ slightly from the name of the blockchain platform. For example, Ethereum’s currency is called ethers, TRON’s is called tronix. However, people may still sometimes call the whole project ‘coins,’ even though the units of account have their own names.

Sometimes teams may undergo rebranding and rename the currency. For example, coins in the Stellar payment system were first called stellars and were traded on exchanges under the ticker STR. After a year, the coins were renamed as lumens and the ticker was changed to XLM at the same time. Ripple Labs did the opposite — they renamed the Ripple payment system to XRP so that the name didn’t differ from the currency name and ticker, though the network is still called RippleNet.

What does not count as a coin

A crypto project’s internal currency without its own blockchain is called a token and, therefore, does not count as a coin. However, there is a small caveat. Some tokens may have the word ‘coin’ in their name, but work in a third-party blockchain and are, therefore, not coins by definition. Creators name them such when they are sure at the start of the project that they will soon move to their own blockchain and migrate, exchanging tokens for coins.

Binance Coin is a well-known example of a protracted conversion from token to coin. When the project was created in July 2017, it was Ethereum’s ERC-20 standard token. It wasn’t until April 2019 that the migration took place, during which all tokens were exchanged for the equivalent in coins, which were launched in their own blockchain, Binance Chain.

Using the word ‘coin,’ some projects can make it clear that tokens will be issued for some time while the testnet is being developed. As soon as everything is ready and tested, then they will move over to the mainnet. Other projects don’t show their intentions as clearly. However, if you’ve read in someone’s announcements, documentation, or white paper, that someone has launched a testnet, is working on a mainnet, and promises that there will be a migration, and there are also tokens in circulation, then this is a good sign. The possibility of migration and conversion into coins almost always attracts the interest of traders and investors, pushing the price of cryptocurrency up.

There are also stablecoins, which can muddy the waters somewhat. This is a separate type of token, which doesn’t technically become a coin. There is no need for them to do so, since they have no issues working in third-party blockchains and having their own blockchain won’t bring any extra advantages.

Categories of coins

Coins are categorised simply as Bitcoin and as altcoins, which is all the other coins that appeared after Bitcoin. Altcoin is an abbreviation of ‘alternative coin,’ i.e. alternative to Bitcoin.

Even coins that don’t have the suffix ‘-coin’ still count as altcoins. However, the first alternatives, like Namecoin, Litecoin, Peercoin, Primecoin, Gridcoin, Dogecoin, still followed this style. At that time before autumn 2013, only peer-to-peer payment systems existed, so project names were invented just to show their main purpose.

Anonymous and not very anonymous

Coins can be grouped by anonymity of their transactions:

  1. Pseudonymous. Almost all cryptocurrencies are pseudonymous because they operate in open blockchains. All transactions are registered in the blockchain and all coin movements can be observed. Although people don’t need to be verified to use payment systems and blockchain platforms, owners of addresses (public keys) can be tracked if they’ve published them on the Internet under their own real names, usernames, or nicknames.
  2. Anonymous. Only around 30 cryptocurrencies are anonymous. In closed blockchains, senders and receivers of coins cannot be tracked, because transactions are mixed in order to make it impossible to find out the owners of addresses in any way.

Original and not quite original

Coins can also be grouped by origin:

  1. Original. Creators develop their projects from scratch, rather than use code from other projects.
  2. Based on third-party code or protocol. Creators take some of another project’s code (sometimes even all of it) and develop an altered copy with some improvements and useful functions.
  3. Forks. These appear as an offshoot from the original chain. At first, there is a single cryptocurrency in a blockchain, but at some point, part of the team or community has a disagreement with the rest. As a result, they go their separate ways and now there are two cryptocurrencies. After separation, the projects no longer depend on each other, both have their own rules, but they both have the same transaction history up to the moment they split.

Limited by issue and not limited

Finally, coins can be grouped by limitations on their release:

  1. Limited by issue. Only a certain number of coins are issued and as more blocks are generated, there are fewer coins that can be mined.
  2. Not limited by issue. These can be periodically issued both manually and automatically, when the algorithm produces new cryptocurrency coins. However, they can also be mined if consensus allows, but it doesn’t create a deficit.

We’ve specifically divided coins into groups rather than types. Unlike tokens, they can belong to several groups or change their properties.

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