Block Explorers: Everything to Know
By Beluga Research July 10, 2023
- Block explorers allow users to view all blockchain transactions
- Block explorers act like a search engine for a cryptocurrency network where users can see everything that happens on-chain
- All major cryptocurrency networks have block explorers, and many are tailored to the specific needs of each
- Not all block explorers are made equal - some of them are easy to use while others may be too complex for the average user
A block explorer is an online interface that provides easy access to blockchain information and allows users to navigate, verify and understand the transactions, accounts and overall activity on a blockchain network. They act a bit like Google for crypto and allow investors to browse and explore the contents of various blockchains.
A Brief History
Blockchain explorers have existed since the emergence of cryptocurrencies. The first one, "Block Explorer," was created in 2010 following Bitcoin's debut. It was a basic application that allowed users to view bitcoin transactions on the network. It became helpful in tracking bitcoin movement between addresses. Block explorers were key early on in crypto, providing basic information about each transaction, such as the total number of bitcoin distributed and the fees involved.
As Bitcoin became more popular, people sought additional blockchain explorers for other networks. There are now block explorers for other blockchain networks, such as Etherscan for Ethereum. Some block explorers also introduced sophisticated features, such as the ability to view and interact with smart contract code. Other explorers kept things simple with basic search tools and designs that are easily understandable by users.
What is a Block Explorer?
A block explorer is an online tool that helps people explore and examine blockchain networks' transactions. More simply, it enables users to view several aspects of blockchain activity including addresses, transactions and blocks (the digital container holding relevant transactions).
Block explorers play a significant role in connecting people to the decentralized world of blockchain. They serve as a bridge between users and these widespread chains of information used in verification. Users can examine the information recorded on the blockchain and verify it without relying on a central authority. It's a way to be self-sufficient and informed while experimenting with crypto.
The primary purpose of block explorers is to provide information on individual transactions. This includes sender and recipient information, amount and time of transaction. With block explorers, users can view transaction history for specific addresses, allowing them to track their activities, such as making money transfers.
It's important to choose a block explorer that is trustworthy and provides accurate information. Look for well-known block explorer brands with a strong reputation and excellent user reviews. Also, ensure that the block explorer supports the relevant blockchain. (i.e. matches up with Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.)
Here's a quick reference guide to getting started with block explorers:
- Finding blockchain addresses. Every block explorer has a search bar. Simply enter the address to learn more about it. For example, when examining transactions for an Ethereum or Bitcoin address, copy and paste it into the search field. This will provide information to view all facts associated with that address. These details include how much money it has, the transaction history and other linked addresses.
- Checking transaction history and details. The block explorer lists transactions in order, displaying their unique IDs, when they happened, where they came from and their destinations. The amount involved in each transaction is also shown.
- Tracking transaction progress. Block explorers are used to view progress of an initiated transaction. Put the transaction ID or code into the search bar to check on the verification status. The block explorer will provide information on the number of confirmations and to which block the transaction belongs, allowing users to assess the transaction progress.
- Analyzing block and network numbers. Block explorers provide information about a blockchain network. It's possible to investigate the current block number, the average time it takes to create a new block, the total transaction amount and the network's power and speed. These figures help users understand what's happening in the network.
Block explorers have the potential to be helpful to individuals, miners, traders, validators, companies and hobbyists - pretty much all crypto stakeholders. For cryptocurrency traders, a block explorer is necessary for verifying transaction progress. It also provides critical information about blockchain addresses.
Block explorers provide transparency for all types of users - from the miners looking to verify new blocks created to companies looking to verify important transaction data. Users can access high level or specific information depending on their needs.
- Enhanced analytics. Blockchain explorers promote transparency on blockchain networks. Advanced block explorer tools provide users with more information and insights. They can offer insights into transaction trends, network operations and even smart contracts.
- Smart contract exploration . As decentralized applications (Dapps) become more popular, block explorers might let users explore them more thoroughly. They could allow users to look at the inner workings of Dapps, check their code and assess their safety measures.
- Cross-chain exploration. As multiple blockchains begin to collaborate together, block explorers will be able to do the same. These platforms make transaction data available to the public. As some are able to "talk" to each other, block explorers may integrate with more blockchains, allowing users to see transactions and information on connected networks.
- User Interfaces. Users have access to a blockchain's internal functions using blockchain explorers. A blockchain explorer helps users understand the functionality of blockchain networks. Block explorers also validate wallet addresses while transferring cryptocurrency.
- Hard to use. Block explorers could certainly benefit from improvements related to user experience including a better design and a more intuitive user interface. This could make it easier for crypto newbies to understand and navigate the crypto space given that block explorers as they're currently designed may be confusing for less advanced users.
- Too much information. Block explorers are loaded with data, which can be overwhelming for users and making it hard for them to find what they're looking for. A block explorer user could get stuck diving into a pile of transactions, only to realize it's really hard to find the right information.
- Minimal multi-chain support. As it stands today, each blockchain network has its own constellation of block explorers. Given blockchains don't always work well together, crypto investors may have to utilize several different block explorers for their various blockchains. The concept of a "multi-chain" block explorer, while it would be beneficial to crypto users, has yet to be developed.
- Competition from analytics. Blockchain analytics is a field where companies use special data mining software to link transactions and dates together. Unlike block explorers, which only display blockchain data, analytics tie this information together to provide insights that may offer a lot more value to users than what block explorers currently provide.