Ethereum Virtual Machine: Everything to Know

By  Beluga Research November 2, 2023

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  • The Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) processes smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, which enables decentralized applications (dapps)
  • The EVM is the execution engine for the Ethereum network and provides a secure and deterministic environment for executing smart contracts
  • The EVM operates using a stack data structure and has its own instruction set, gas mechanism, memory space and storage
  • The advantages of the EVM include flexibility, decentralization, interoperability and security advantages


The Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) is a programmable machine that processes smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, an action that enables decentralized applications (dapps). The EVM updates the data on the blockchain as each block is added.

The point of the EVM is to enable the storage of data for the blockchain and allow more interaction on it. The code and data for the EVM is within the software like Geth and Nevermind that a validator uses to run a node on Ethereum. The nodes retain copies of data on transactions. The EVM processes these to ensure that the ledger of the blockchain is accurate.

A Brief History

Computer programmer Vitalik Buterin introduced the concept of the EVM in late 2013. He envisioned it as a platform to allow the development and execution of dapps on the Ethereum blockchain. Buterin wanted to create a larger financial ecosystem with the EVM, which would encourage decentralization. The Ethereum blockchain launched in 2015. Since then, the EVM has gained more nodes and offered more potential for users and developers.

Ethereum Virtual Machine: Everything to Know

Operates using a stack data structure. The term "stack" here refers to a method of processing data. The EVM has its own instruction set, including various operations such as arithmetic, bitwise operations and cryptographic functions. These instructions can be combined to create complex smart contracts with sophisticated logic and functionality.

Use of gas mechanism. Gas is a unit of measurement that represents the computational effort required to execute an operation or contract. Each operation in the EVM consumes a certain amount of gas. A transaction's overall gas consumption determines the cost of executing a smart contract. Gas prevents infinite loops and allocates computational resources fairly among participants.

Includes a memory space where smart contracts can store and manipulate data during execution. This memory is organized as a byte array. A user can access it with EVM instructions. The size of the memory adjusts dynamically based on the needs of the executing contract.

Capability to store data is a persistent and long-term solution for smart contracts. In other systems, memory is temporary and cleared after contract execution. On the Ethereum blockchain, each contract has its own storage space. This can be modified and read during execution.

Operates based on the concept of "state," which represents the current state of the Ethereum network . This includes account balances and contract storage contents. The EVM executes every transaction that modifies the state. This ensures consistency across the blockchain. It also maintains a unified view among all network nodes.

Designed to be deterministic. The term "deterministic" means that the EVM produces the same outputs given the same inputs and state. This property is crucial for achieving consensus within the network. It is also necessary to ensure consistent contract execution across all nodes.

Getting Started

  • Processes smart contracts. Smart contracts are written in programming languages like Solidity. They are compiled into bytecode for the EVM to execute.
  • Utilizes the computing power of nodes. The EVM runs on Ethereum network participants' computers, called nodes. The nodes must download software such as Geth that allows them to become part of the EVM.
  • Ensures consistent contract execution across all nodes . This is true regardless of hardware or operating system.

Unique Aspects

Turing completeness . The EVM is a Turing complete machine. This means it is able to compute anything computable if it has enough resources. The fact that the EVM is Turing complete allows Ethereum to engage in complex applications.

Uses stack-based architecture . A machine that uses stack-based architecture stores and manipulates data that is in a stack. The machine supports various data types like integers, booleans and strings. Stack-based architecture simplifies contract execution by managing data efficiently.

Uses a gas mechanism. Each operation consumes gas. Users pay for the gas used. This mechanism prevents inefficient or malicious code from overwhelming the network. The mechanism also ensures efficient resource usage.

Ability to interact with external contracts and access data from the Ethereum blockchain. Smart contracts on Ethereum can call other contracts and retrieve information. This enables complex dapps that interact with each other. The dapps can access a wide range of data and functionality.


  • Flexibility - The EVM allows developers to write smart contracts using the Solidity programming language. This flexibility enables the creation of a wide range of dapps with varying functionalities.
  • Decentralization - The EVM is a decentralized platform. No single entity has control over it. This ensures that applications running on the EVM are not subject to censorship or single points of failure.
  • Interoperability - This provides a common platform for developers to build and deploy smart contracts. This allows for seamless integration between different applications. It also creates a more connected and efficient ecosystem.
  • Turing completeness - The fact that the EVM is Turing complete enables Ethereum to execute complex and sophisticated smart contracts. This opens up many possibilities for developers.
  • Smart contract execution - The EVM executes smart contracts in a deterministic manner. This feature of the EVM enhances trust and transparency in contract execution. All participants can verify the results.
  • Security - The EVM is designed with security in mind. It includes built-in mechanisms to protect against common vulnerabilities. These include reentrancy attacks and integer overflows. The EVM has undergone rigorous testing and auditing to identify and address potential security issues.


  • Scalability - One of the main challenges of the EVM is scalability. As the Ethereum network becomes more popular and the number of transactions increases, the EVM may face limitations in processing transactions quickly and efficiently. This can result in higher fees and slower transaction confirmations.
  • Gas costs - The EVM introduces the concept of gas to prevent abuse and ensure efficient use of network resources. The cost of gas can be volatile and unpredictable. This makes it challenging for developers to estimate the costs of running their applications.
  • Upgradability - Once a smart contract is deployed on the EVM, it becomes immutable. The contract cannot be modified or upgraded. Immutability enhances security and trust, but poses challenges if a bug or vulnerability is discovered in a deployed contract. In such cases, developers need to deploy a new contract. This can lead to fragmentation and compatibility issues.
  • Learning curve - Developing and interacting with the EVM requires technical expertise and an understanding of blockchain concepts. The learning curve can be steep for newcomers. This limits the platform's accessibility to a wider audience. There are resources and developer tools available to help individuals get started with Ethereum development.