Protocols: Everything to Know

By  Beluga Research September 28, 2023

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  • Cryptocurrency protocols are sets of rules governing the behavior and interactions of participants in a blockchain network
  • These protocols are rules and guidelines that govern cryptocurrency networks, defining how transactions are conducted and how consensus is achieved
  • These protocols ensure secure transactions, transparency, decentralization, global accessibility, fast and low-cost transactions and programmability
  • There are disadvantages such as price volatility, scalability challenges, energy consumption, regulatory uncertainty and user responsibility for safeguarding funds


Cryptocurrency protocols are sets of rules governing the behavior and interactions of participants in a blockchain network.

The protocol of Bitcoin brought forward the concept of proof-of-work (PoW), involving miners who solve complex mathematical problems to authenticate transactions, thereby fortifying the security of the Bitcoin network. Alternately, protocols such as the one utilized by Ethereum have introduced the concept of smart contracts, which are autonomous contracts with predetermined rules, automating the process of asset exchanges.

A Brief History

Cryptocurrency protocols trace back to Bitcoin, the first decentralized digital currency. Bitcoin, introduced by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008, allowed peer-to-peer transactions without intermediaries. This protocol laid the foundation for other cryptocurrencies and inspired alternative protocols.

Protocols: Everything to Know

Consensus Mechanism. These validate transactions and maintain the blockchain's integrity. proof-of-work (PoW) is a well-known mechanism used by Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Miners solve complex puzzles to validate transactions and add blocks to the blockchain. Proof-of-stake (PoS) is another popular mechanism where validators are chosen based on the coins they hold.

Transaction Validation. Cryptocurrency protocols define how transactions are verified. Participants check digital signatures and senders' funds, and adherence to protocol rules. Validated transactions are added to blocks and appended to the blockchain.

Blockchains and Distributed Ledgers. Cryptocurrency protocols use blockchain technology to maintain a transparent and tamper-resistant transaction record. A blockchain is a decentralized ledger with blocks containing validated transactions. It eliminates the need for a centralized authority.

Smart Contracts. Some protocols, like Ethereum, include smart contracts. These self-executing contracts have predefined rules and conditions. They automatically execute transactions or actions when conditions are met. Smart contracts enable decentralized applications (dapps) and complex transactions without intermediaries.

Token Standards. Protocols often define token standards, like Ethereum's ERC-20, for creating and operating tokens. These standards provide a common framework for developers, ensuring compatibility and interoperability.

Getting Started

To understand cryptocurrency protocols, it's important to grasp the underlying blockchain technology. Blockchain is a distributed ledger that records all transactions across a network of computers. Each transaction is grouped into a block and added to the chain, creating an unchangeable record.

Cryptocurrency protocols govern how transactions are validated, added to the blockchain, and how consensus is reached. Bitcoin's protocol introduced proof-of-work (PoW), where miners solve math puzzles to validate transactions. This ensures the security of the Bitcoin network.

Unique Aspects

Other protocols, like Ethereum, introduced smart contracts. These are self-executing contracts with predefined rules that automatically facilitate asset exchanges. Ethereum's innovation led to decentralized applications (dapps) and decentralized finance (DeFi).

Ripple uses the Ripple Protocol Consensus Algorithm (RPCA) instead of PoW. It relies on trusted validators to confirm transactions, allowing for faster confirmations and lower energy consumption.

Privacy-focused protocols like Monero and Zcash enhance anonymity using advanced cryptographic techniques. Monero uses ring signatures and stealth addresses to obscure transaction details. Zcash employs zero-knowledge proofs (zk-SNARKs) to validate transactions without revealing sensitive information.


  • Security. Cryptocurrency protocols use strong cryptographic algorithms to secure transactions and protect user funds. Public-key cryptography ensures that only the intended recipient can access the funds, preventing unauthorized transfers. Additionally, the decentralized nature of cryptocurrency protocols makes them resilient to hacking attempts and single points of failure.
  • Transparency. Transactions on cryptocurrency protocols are recorded on a public ledger called the blockchain. This transparency allows users to verify transactions and ensures that all participants have access to the same information. It reduces fraud and enhances trust in the system.
  • Decentralization. Unlike traditional financial systems, cryptocurrency protocols operate in a decentralized manner. No single entity controls the network, making it resistant to censorship and manipulation. This distributed nature empowers individuals and communities, promoting financial inclusivity and autonomy.
  • Global Accessibility. Cryptocurrency protocols enable anyone with an internet connection to participate in the global economy, regardless of location or socioeconomic status. With just a digital wallet, individuals can transact with cryptocurrencies. This accessibility opens up opportunities for the unbanked population and fosters financial inclusion on a global scale.
  • Fast and Low-Cost Transactions. Cryptocurrency protocols facilitate near-instantaneous transactions, eliminating the need for intermediaries like banks. This efficiency reduces transaction costs and enables seamless cross-border transfers. Additionally, cryptocurrencies often have lower fees compared to traditional payment systems, making them attractive for micro-transactions and remittances.
  • Programmability. Smart contract platforms like Ethereum allow developers to build decentralized applications (dapps) on top of the protocol. Smart contracts execute automatically when predefined conditions are met, enabling the creation of complex financial instruments, decentralized exchanges and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). The programmability of cryptocurrency protocols opens up possibilities for innovation and new use cases.


  • Volatility. Cryptocurrencies are known for their price volatility, leading to significant value fluctuations over short periods. While this presents opportunities for traders and investors, it poses risks for those seeking stability in their financial holdings. Cryptocurrency values can be influenced by factors such as market sentiment, regulatory changes and technological developments.
  • Scalability. As cryptocurrencies gain popularity, scalability becomes a challenge for many protocols. Some blockchain-based networks face limitations in transaction throughput and confirmation times, causing congestion and higher fees during periods of high demand. Efforts are underway to address scalability issues through techniques like sharding, layer-two solutions, and improved consensus algorithms.
  • Energy Consumption. Proof-of-work (PoW) consensus algorithms, used by cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, require significant computational power and energy consumption. Mining, which secures the network and validates transactions, demands substantial electricity resources. This raises concerns about the environmental impact of cryptocurrencies and the need for more energy-efficient alternatives like proof-of-stake (PoS) or other consensus mechanisms.
  • Regulatory Uncertainty. The regulatory landscape for cryptocurrencies is still evolving in many jurisdictions. Governments and regulatory bodies are grappling with how to approach and regulate this new asset class. The lack of clear and consistent regulations creates uncertainty for businesses and users, hindering mainstream adoption and investment. Efforts are underway to establish regulatory frameworks that balance innovation and consumer protection.
  • User Responsibility. Cryptocurrency protocols give users full control over their funds, but this also means they are responsible for safeguarding their private keys and wallets. If a user loses their private key or falls victim to a phishing attack, they may permanently lose access to their funds. The decentralized and irreversible nature of cryptocurrency transactions means there is no central authority to reverse or recover lost or stolen funds.