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The difference between cryptocurrency coins and tokens

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.

Learn more Buy coins and tokens

Coins vs tokens

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

Disclaimer: This information should not be interpreted as an endorsement of cryptocurrency or any specific provider, service or offering. It is not a recommendation to trade.

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

Where to buy cryptocurrency coins and tokens

Name Product Deposit methods Fiat Currencies Cryptocurrencies
KuCoin Cryptocurrency Exchange
Cryptocurrency, PayPal, Wire transfer, Credit or Debit Card, SEPA


Finder exclusive: Sign up and use code 1xf56 for one month of VIP 1 benefits. Deposit/transfer more than 0.1 BTC to KuCoin within 7 days of registration for 1 month of VIP 2 benefits. T&Cs apply.
Browse a variety of coin offerings in one of the largest multi-cryptocurrency exchanges and pay in cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency Exchange Cryptocurrency Exchange

cryptocurrencies is a full-suite crypto exchange, offering spot, futures, perpetual contract, options and savings. New users can enjoy up to 200% APY on savings, $245 trading coupons and earn free Bitcoin by only checking in on the mobile app daily.
Bybit Cryptocurrency Exchange
Bybit Cryptocurrency Exchange
Cryptocurrency, Simplex, Banxa, XanPool, MoonPay, Mercuryo, E-check, Legend Trading, Capitual


Disclaimer: Highly volatile investment product. Your capital is at risk.
Buy, sell, trade and earn hundreds of cryptos on this full-featured global trading platform.
OKX Cryptocurrency Exchange
OKX Cryptocurrency Exchange
Bank transfer, Cryptocurrency, iDEAL, PayPal, POLi, SEPA, Faster Payments (FPS)


Earn US$10 in BTC when you refer a friend and they purchase $100 of cryptocurrency. T&Cs apply.
Listing over 300 cryptocurrencies, OKX offers its users a variety of payment methods and coins to choose from. App
Credit card, Cryptocurrency, PayPal, TransferWise, SEPA


Buy 260+ cryptocurrencies, earn up to 14.5% p.a. on holdings, pay with your crypto for cashback at stores, get loans and more with this complete crypto-finance platform.

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Disclaimer: Cryptocurrencies are speculative, complex and involve significant risks – they are highly volatile and sensitive to secondary activity. Performance is unpredictable and past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Consider your own circumstances, and obtain your own advice, before relying on this information. You should also verify the nature of any product or service (including its legal status and relevant regulatory requirements) and consult the relevant Regulators' websites before making any decision. Finder, or the author, may have holdings in the cryptocurrencies discussed.

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