ERC-20 Tokens: Everything to Know

By  Beluga Research August 2, 2023

Image for ERC-20 Tokens: Everything to Know


  • ERC-20 tokens are digital assets on the Ethereum blockchain, adhering to standardized rules and enabling seamless interoperability between applications
  • They were introduced in 2015 and simplified the creation of new tokens, leading to their widespread adoption as the foundation for various projects
  • ERC-20 tokens are structured as smart contracts, offer interoperability, and have various use cases, such as utility tokens, governance tokens, and tokenized assets
  • They face challenges like scalability, vulnerability to bugs, lack of upgradability and dependency on Ethereum.


ERC-20 tokens are digital assets built on the Ethereum blockchain. They adhere to a set of standardized rules and protocols, enabling seamless interoperability between different applications and platforms. These tokens have gained widespread adoption due to their versatility and ease of creation. As a result, they have become the foundation for numerous blockchain projects, powering a multitude of decentralized applications (DApps), initial coin offerings (ICOs), and tokenized assets.

A Brief History

The concept of ERC-20 tokens was first introduced in November 2015 by Fabian Vogelsteller, a developer at Ethereum. ERC stands for Ethereum Request for Comments, and the number 20 represents the unique proposal identifier. This standardization proposal aimed to establish a common set of rules and interfaces for tokens on the Ethereum blockchain, ensuring compatibility and enabling seamless integration with other smart contracts and DApps.

The introduction of ERC-20 tokens marked a significant milestone in the development of Ethereum and the broader cryptocurrency ecosystem. Before ERC-20, creating a new cryptocurrency or token on a blockchain required significant technical expertise and a considerable amount of time. ERC-20 tokens simplified this process, empowering developers to create and deploy their own tokens quickly and efficiently.

ERC-20 Tokens: Everything to Know

  • Token Structure: ERC-20 tokens are structured as smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. They follow a specific set of functions and events that define their behavior and interaction with other contracts. These functions include transferring tokens, checking balances, and approving token transfers on behalf of another address.
  • Interoperability: One of the key advantages of ERC-20 tokens is their interoperability. Since they adhere to a standardized set of rules, ERC-20 tokens can seamlessly interact with other tokens and smart contracts on the Ethereum network. This compatibility fosters liquidity and facilitates the integration of tokens into various decentralized exchanges and wallets.
  • Token Standards: ERC-20 tokens are just one of several token standards on the Ethereum blockchain. Other notable token standards include ERC-721 (non-fungible tokens) and ERC-1155 (multi-token standard). Each standard serves specific use cases and has its own unique set of rules and functionalities.
  • Fungibility and Divisibility: ERC-20 tokens are fungible, meaning that each token is interchangeable with another token of the same type. This fungibility allows for seamless trading and liquidity. Additionally, ERC-20 tokens can be divided into smaller units, similar to how traditional currencies can be divided into cents or pence. This divisibility enables fine-grained control over token amounts and enhances their practicality in daily transactions.
  • Token Creation and Distribution: ERC-20 tokens can be created and distributed through smart contracts. Developers specify the initial supply, token name, symbol, and decimal places during the token creation process. Once the token is created, it can be distributed to users through various mechanisms such as ICOs, airdrops, or direct transfers.
  • Security and Standards Compliance: ERC-20 tokens benefit from the security and robustness of the Ethereum blockchain. However, token developers must follow best practices and conduct thorough security audits to mitigate potential vulnerabilities and risks. Compliance with the ERC-20 standard ensures that tokens can be seamlessly integrated into a wide range of wallets, exchanges, and other applications.
  • Token Utility and Use Cases: ERC-20 tokens serve a myriad of use cases within the cryptocurrency ecosystem. They can represent utility tokens, used to access and utilize specific services or platforms. Additionally, ERC-20 tokens can serve as governance tokens, granting holders voting rights and decision-making power within decentralized organizations. Tokenized assets, such as real estate or artwork, can also be represented as ERC-20 tokens, enabling fractional ownership and facilitating efficient trading.

Getting Started

To understand ERC-20 tokens, it is essential to grasp the basics of Ethereum, the blockchain platform that introduced them. Ethereum is a decentralized, open-source blockchain network that enables the development of smart contracts and decentralized applications (DApps). Smart contracts are self-executing contracts with predefined rules and conditions, eliminating the need for intermediaries.

ERC-20, which stands for Ethereum Request for Comments 20, is a technical standard used for creating fungible tokens on the Ethereum blockchain. Fungible tokens are interchangeable and identical to each other, allowing for seamless exchange and transfer. The ERC-20 standard defines a set of rules and functions that tokens must adhere to in order to be compatible with the Ethereum ecosystem. This standardization ensures that ERC-20 tokens can work seamlessly with various wallets, exchanges, and other applications built on Ethereum.

Creating an ERC-20 token typically involves writing and deploying a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain. The smart contract defines the token's characteristics, such as its total supply, name, symbol, and decimal places. Once the smart contract is deployed, the token becomes operational, and users can interact with it using various Ethereum wallets and DApps. Additionally, ERC-20 tokens can be traded on decentralized exchanges (DEXs) and traditional centralized exchanges, providing liquidity and enabling investors to participate in token sales or trade them on secondary markets.

Unique Aspects

One of the unique aspects of ERC-20 tokens is their compatibility with a wide range of Ethereum wallets and DApps. Since ERC-20 tokens follow a standardized set of rules, developers can confidently integrate them into their applications without worrying about compatibility issues. This compatibility has contributed to the rapid adoption and proliferation of ERC-20 tokens across the blockchain ecosystem.

Another significant aspect of ERC-20 tokens is the ability to program additional functionality through smart contracts. Smart contracts can be used to implement features such as token burning, minting, and time-locking, providing token creators with flexibility and control over the token's behavior. For example, a project may choose to implement a burn function that permanently removes a certain number of tokens from circulation, thereby potentially increasing the value of the remaining tokens.

ERC-20 tokens have also paved the way for the rise of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and token sales. ICOs allow blockchain projects to raise funds by selling their ERC-20 tokens to investors in exchange for established cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ether. The ERC-20 standard simplifies the process of creating and distributing tokens, making it more accessible for startups to launch their own fundraising campaigns. However, it is important to note that the regulatory landscape surrounding ICOs has evolved, and conducting proper due diligence before participating in any token sale is crucial.

Furthermore, ERC-20 tokens have facilitated the development of decentralized finance (DeFi) applications. DeFi encompasses a wide range of financial services and applications built on blockchain technology, including decentralized lending, decentralized exchanges, and yield farming. Many DeFi protocols utilize ERC-20 tokens as the underlying asset for lending, borrowing, and liquidity provision. The interoperability of ERC-20 tokens has played a crucial role in the growth and innovation within the DeFi space.


  • Interoperability - ERC-20 tokens are highly interoperable, meaning they can seamlessly interact with other tokens and decentralized applications (dApps) built on the Ethereum blockchain. This allows for the easy integration of ERC-20 tokens into various platforms and enhances their overall utility.
  • Standardization - The ERC-20 standard provides a common set of rules and guidelines for token developers, ensuring compatibility and consistency across different projects. This standardization simplifies the process of creating, managing, and integrating tokens, making it easier for developers to build decentralized applications and for users to interact with them.
  • Wide Adoption - ERC-20 tokens have gained significant traction and widespread adoption within the crypto community. This popularity has led to a large number of exchanges, wallets, and services supporting ERC-20 tokens, making it convenient for users to store, trade, and use these tokens.
  • Liquidity - Due to their extensive adoption, ERC-20 tokens generally have higher liquidity compared to tokens on other blockchain platforms. Increased liquidity means that these tokens can be easily bought or sold on exchanges, allowing users to quickly convert them into other cryptocurrencies or fiat currencies.
  • Smart Contract Functionality - ERC-20 tokens are built on the Ethereum platform, which supports smart contracts. Smart contracts are self-executing contracts with predefined rules and conditions. By leveraging smart contracts, ERC-20 tokens can incorporate advanced functionalities such as automated transactions, token burning, and time-based restrictions.


  • Scalability Challenges - The Ethereum network, which hosts ERC-20 tokens, has faced scalability challenges, especially during periods of high demand. As more tokens and dApps are built on Ethereum, the network can become congested, leading to slower transaction processing times and higher fees. This scalability issue has prompted the development of layer 2 solutions and the ongoing transition to Ethereum 2.0, aimed at improving scalability and reducing costs.
  • Vulnerability to Bugs - While the ERC-20 standard provides a robust framework, it is not immune to bugs or vulnerabilities in smart contracts. In the past, some ERC-20 tokens have experienced security issues, leading to hacks or loss of funds. Token developers must exercise caution and conduct thorough audits to ensure the security and integrity of their contracts.
  • Lack of Upgradability - Once an ERC-20 token is deployed on the Ethereum blockchain, its code and functionality are immutable. While this immutability ensures transparency and prevents unauthorized changes, it can be limiting if developers need to upgrade or fix issues in the token's code. However, there are techniques and frameworks, such as token migration or proxy contracts, that can help address this limitation to some extent.
  • Dependency on Ethereum - ERC-20 tokens are dependent on the Ethereum network for their existence and functionality. Any changes or disruptions in the Ethereum network can impact ERC-20 tokens and the applications built around them. This dependency introduces an element of risk, as the success and stability of ERC-20 tokens are tied to the overall health of the Ethereum ecosystem.