Cardano’s goal is to be the most environmentally sustainable blockchain platform. It uses a unique proof-of-stake consensus mechanism called Ouroboros, as opposed to the energy-intensive proof-of-work system currently used by Bitcoin and Ethereum.
What is proof of work?
Decentralised cryptocurrency networks need to make sure that nobody spends the same money twice without a central authority like Visa or PayPal in the middle. To accomplish this they use a “consensus mechanism.” The original crypto consensus mechanism is called proof of work, first popularized by Bitcoin mining.
What is proof of stake?
Rather than using a network of miners racing to solve a puzzle, proof of stake uses a network of invested participants called validators. Instead of contributing processing power to secure the network and verify transactions as miners do, validators stake their own ADA.
The Cardano blockchain is also divided into two separate layers: the Cardano Settlement Layer (CSL) and the Cardano Computing Layer (CCL). The CSL contains the ledger of accounts and balances (and is where the transactions are validated by the Ouroboros consensus mechanism). The CCL layer is where all the computations for apps running on the blockchain are executed — via the operations of smart contracts.
The idea of splitting the blockchain into two layers is to help the Cardano network to process as many as a million transactions a second.
On March 1, 2021, the Cardano blockchain introduced the ability to create native tokens. Like Ethereum tokens — which can include things like NFTs or stablecoins like USD Coin — Cardano native assets can be created and distributed on the blockchain and are able to interact with smart contracts.
But unlike Ethereum-based tokens, Cardano native tokens aren’t created via smart contract. Instead, they run on the same architecture as the ADA cryptocurrency itself. According to the nonprofit Cardano Foundation, this makes Cardano native assets “first-class citizens” on the blockchain. Their native architecture can theoretically make these tokens more secure and reduce the fees associated with transactions.
Cardano was launched in September 2017 by Ethereum co-founder Charles Hoskinson, and aims to be a third-generation blockchain (or blockchain 3.0) project — building on top of the technology pioneered by Bitcoin (first gen) and Ethereum (second gen). Cardano’s goal is to be a highly scalable and energy-efficient smart contract platform.
The Ouroboros consensus mechanism is based on peer-reviewed research by a team of computer scientists and cryptographers from the University of Edinburgh, Tokyo University, and other institutions. Their goal was to build a decentralized network that could validate transactions in a scalable, secure way — while ensuring that the Cardano platform would be as energy-efficient as possible.
ADA is the native cryptocurrency of the Cardano platform (named after Ada Lovelace, the 19th-century mathematician often referred to as the “world’s first computer programmer”).
ADA tokens fuel the Cardano platform much like ETH tokens fuel the Ethereum platform. They’re used to pay transaction fees and are staked by validators (and delegators) who want to help maintain security and stability of the network in exchange for earning rewards.
In the future, ADA will also be used as a governance token, which will allow holders to vote on changes and upgrades to the Cardano platform.
Cardano plans to become completely decentralized through the implementation of community-driven governance and an automated treasury system to fund the future of the network.