The difference between cryptocurrency coins and tokens

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The terms “coin” and “token” are often used interchangeably, but there are a few key differences to be aware of.

If you’re new to the world of cryptocurrency, you’ll no doubt have found that there’s a whole lot of jargon and technical terminology to try and wrap your head around. Two terms that can be the source of much confusion are “coin” and “token”. Both of these words can be used to describe units of blockchain value and there are plenty of similarities between the two.

However, there are some important differences as well, which we’ll look at in this article.

Coins vs tokens

Coins are standalone cryptocurrencies based on their own blockchain. Tokens are built and hosted on existing blockchains.

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What is a cryptocurrency coin?

In general terms, a cryptocurrency coin is just that – an encrypted digital currency meant to be used as a form of payment. A coin is a unit of value that operates on its own blockchain, independently of any other platform. It can be used to store value and pay for services, in much the same way that you would use physical money.

Bitcoin (BTC) is easily the best-known cryptocurrency coin around the world, but it’s far from the only coin available. In fact, at the time of writing there were a total of 888 coins in existence. You may see many of these other coins referred to as altcoins, an abbreviation of alternative coins, simply because they offer an alternative to bitcoin.

Most altcoins are a fork of bitcoin and were developed using bitcoin’s open-source protocol. Examples include Litecoin (LTC), Dogecoin (DOGE) and Namecoin (NMC).

However, there’s also a long list of other altcoins that haven’t been derived from the Bitcoin protocol and have instead created their own blockchain and protocol. Some well-known examples include Ethereum (ETH), Ripple (XRP) and Cardano (ADA).

What is a cryptocurrency token?

Tokens are used to represent digital assets that are fungible and tradeable, including everything from commodities to voting rights. However, rather than operating on their own blockchain, tokens are hosted by another platform, such as Ethereum.

While tokens are also a medium of exchange, they offer functionality above and beyond that of coins. Tokens give their holders the ability to take part in some kind of activity – for example, if you want to bet on the outcome of future events through decentralised prediction market Augur, you’ll need to use REP, the Augur platform’s native cryptocurrency token. Tokens can also offer value to buyers, for example through buybacks.

Tokens are usually created and distributed to the general public through Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), which are a form of crowdfunding. Some of the best-known crypto tokens include EOS (EOS), Tron (TRX) and OmiseGo (OMG), with Ethereum being the most popular platform for token development.

However, there are also plenty of other platforms which tokens can be built upon, including Omni, NEO, Waves and Qtum.

At the time of writing, there were 591 tokens listed on CoinMarketCap.

Now that we’ve run through the similarities and differences between coins and tokens, let’s take a look at some real-world examples. The tables below show the 10 largest coins and 10 largest tokens in terms of market cap at the time of writing.

NameMarket capCirculating supply
Bitcoin (BTC)$138,503,657,56016,853,612 BTC
Ethereum (ETH)$78,782,955,05197,494,487 ETH
Ripple (XRP)$29,540,703,9239,009,215,838 XRP*
Bitcoin Cash (BCH)$22,320,941,99416,956,950 BCH
Cardano (ADA)$9,052,488,53225,927,070,538 ADA*
Litecoin (LTC)$8,104,684,54855,130,533 LTC
NEO (NEO)$7,220,395,00065,000,000 NEO*
Stellar (XLM)$6,522,701,17318,432,165,992 XLM*
IOTA (MIOTA)$4,931,136,8802,779,530,283 MIOTA*
NEM (XEM)$4,867,946,9998,999,999,999 XEM*

*Not mineable

Data taken from CoinMarketCap on 09/02/2018

NamePlatformMarket capCirculating supply
EOS (EOS)Ethereum$5,411,246,133657,116,921 EOS
TRON (TRX)Ethereum$2,381,274,61065,748,192,476 TRX
Tether (USDT)Omni$2,245,342,8452,217,140,814 USDT
VeChain (VET)Ethereum$1,981,611,785466,191,394 VET
ICON (ICX)Ethereum$1,634,255,971381,495,014 ICX
Populous (PPT)Ethereum$1,266,633,03937,004,027 PPT
OmiseGo (OMG)Ethereum$1,189,326,349102,042,552 OMG
Binance Coin (BNB)Ethereum$838,986,21899,014,000 BNB
Status (SNT)Ethereum$738,515,4803,470,483,788 SNT
Aeternity (AE)Ethereum$662,409,626233,020,472 AE

Data taken from CoinMarketCap on 09/02/2018

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