Decoding Crypto: The 10 Most Popular Cryptocurrencies

box of cryptocurrencies
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Cryptocurrencies are typically ranked by their market capitalization, and with good reason: the value of a cryptocurrency is a direct reflection of investor appetite.

But behind the numbers, there are more complex stories about each cryptocurrency. Each has its own technological properties, appeal to buyers, and unique backstories.

Here are ten of the largest and most well-known cryptocurrencies -- and the key facts you need to know about them. 

1. Bitcoin (BTC)

Bitcoin is the original blockchain-based cryptocurrency. Created in 2009 by the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakomoto, bitcoin has since attracted millions of investors, becoming the largest cryptocurrency by market cap.

Bitcoin is inherently scarce: only 21 million Bitcoin will ever be minted. The crypto’s proof-of-work blockchain has become a template for other cryptocurrencies in building decentralized consensus mechanisms.

2. Ethereum (ETH) 

Ethereum was created in 2014 by Vitalik Buterin, a Russian-Canadian programmer, and Gavin Wood, an English computer scientist who later contributed to other cryptocurrency projects. The Ether currency is built on top of the Ethereum blockchain, which operates smart contracts.

Unlike Bitcoin, which investors primarily view as a store of value, Ether’s value derives from its enablement of smart contracts in decentralized applications. Most “DeFi” (decentralized finance) projects are built on Ethereum. Ether’s supply is unconstrained, meaning the total number of Ether minted is still undecided, but will be determined by Ethereum’s community members. The network is scheduled to transition from a proof-of-work mechanism to a proof-of-stake mechanism in the near future.

3. Stellar (XLM)

Stellar is an open source blockchain whose native currency is Lumen. The network was founded in 2014 by Jed McCaleb, a cryptocurrency evangelist who previously co-founded Ripple Labs and the infamous Mt. Gox Exchange.

Stellar’s goal is to enable inexpensive transactions in underdeveloped markets. The blockchain eschewed a standard mining network for transaction validations, relying instead on what’s known as a “federated byzantine agreement” algorithm.

4. Binance Coin (BNB)

Binance coin is the brainchild of Changpeng Zhao, CEO and Founder of Binance, a leading global exchange for buying and selling cryptocurrency. The BNB token was created with the aim of facilitating transactions on the Binance network, allowing users to pay their trading fees and access other products and services, such as Binance’s decentralized exchange.

Users of BNB enjoy lower trading fees on Binance than those paying in other cryptocurrencies. Since its creation, BNB’s popularity has grown beyond its utility on the Binance exchange, attracting speculators and day traders. BNB uses a proof-of-stake consensus model. 

5. Cardano (ADA)

Cardano was founded in 2015 by Charles Hoskinson, a computer scientist and cofounder of Ethereum, who left the project over disagreements with its other founders. Cardano’s cryptocurrency, ADA, is secured by a proof-of-stake protocol named Ouroboros, which runs both permissioned and permissionless blockchains.

The Cardano Foundation, a Switzerland based not-for-profit group, supervises the development of the project. The group has carried out extensive research and experimentation, writing over 90 papers on blockchain technology. Much of this academic work underlies Cardano’s technology.

6. Dogecoin (DOGE)

Dogecoin began in 2013 as a joke. The token’s mascot appropriates the doge internet meme, and was intended as an ironic take on the growth of so-called “altcoins” (cryptos that aren’t Bitcoin).

Dogecoin has a large, unconstrained supply, which means the coin could inflate infinitely. The cryptocurrency attracted millions of new investors in 2021, when Tesla CEO Elon Musk, NBA owner Mark Cuban, and other celebrities began tweeting about the erstwhile little-known cryptocurrency.

7. XRP (XRP)

XRP is the native currency of the Ripple blockchain. It was designed to serve as a currency of exchange within a remittance network used by financial institutions. The supply of XRP coins is finite: only 100 billion tokens will ever be minted. The RippleNet payments network is used by leading global banks and payment providers, such as Bank of America and American Express. 

In 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued XRP’s parent company and two of its executives, founder and executive chairman Chris Larsen and CEO Brad Garlinghouse. The SEC alleged that XRP token sales were unregistered securities offerings.

8. Litecoin (LTC)

Litecoin was created in 2011 by Charlie Lee, a former Coinbase and Google engineer. It was designed to be a faster version of Bitcoin: new blocks are created every 2.5 minutes, which is four times faster than Bitcoin’s 10-minute block intervals. Litecoin’s faster transaction throughput makes it a more nimble unit of currency.

Litecoin’s supply is also four times larger than Bitcoin’s: a maximum of 84 million Litecoin tokens will be mined. Like Bitcoin, Litecoin relies on a proof-of-work consensus mechanism, although it uses a different hashing algorithm that makes mining easier for individual investors.

9. Bitcoin Cash (BCH)

Bitcoin Cash is a fork of the Bitcoin blockchain. Launched in 2017, the Bitcoin alternative features larger block sizes, in order to facilitate more transactions and improve scalability. Bitcoin Cash uses the same proof-of-work consensus mechanism as Bitcoin, and it also has capped its supply at 21 million tokens.

Supporters of Bitcoin Cash tend to believe its currency should be used as a medium of exchange, whereas Bitcoin supporters view their favored crypto’s use as a store of value. In 2018, Bitcoin Cash was also subject to a hard fork, after a dispute over block size; Bitcoin SV was the result.

10. Chainlink (LINK)

Chainlink is a decentralized oracle network that links smart contracts (like those on Ethereum-run blockchains), with off-chain informational sources like data providers and APIs. 

The Chainlink token, LINK, incentivizes smart contract providers and investors to use this data. Chainlink does not feature its own blockchain; instead, its protocol can run on many blockchains simultaneously.

This article is part of our Decoding Crypto series, where we explore the fundamentals of cryptocurrency and how investors can start interacting with the digital asset. Check out our other articles: 

Decoding Crypto: What It Is, How It Works, and How to Get Started

Decoding Crypto: How to Buy, Sell and Track Cryptocurrencies

Decoding Crypto: What Was the First Cryptocurrency and Who Created It?

Decoding Crypto: Are There Regulations in the U.S. For Cryptocurrency? 

Decoding Crypto: Top 25 Crypto Terms You Need to Know

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

John Hyatt

John Hyatt is a freelance journalist covering financial services, market structure, stocks and IPOs, and private equity. Prior to entering journalism, John worked in public relations for clients in financial services, investment management, fintech and cryptocurrency. John is currently receiving his M.A. in business and economic reporting from NYU as a Marjorie Deane fellow.

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