What Is a Crypto Wallet?
A crypto wallet is a software (or hardware) that stores private and public keys used to send, receive, and manage cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, or other digital assets. It allows users to interact with the blockchain network and manage their cryptocurrency holdings securely. This article covers an explanation of crypto wallets and the various types.
There are various crypto wallet types, which can be divided into three groups: software, hardware, and paper wallets. Depending on their working mechanisms, they may also be referred to as a hot wallet, connected to the internet or a cold wallets, which is kept offline for increased security. The wallet’s private key is used to access and control the user’s cryptocurrency holdings, making it important to keep it secure and not share it with anyone.
The majority of crypto wallet providers are based on software, which makes their use more convenient than hardware wallets. However, hardware wallets tend to be the most secure alternative. Paper wallets, on the other hand, consist of a “wallet” printed out on a piece of paper, but their use is now deemed obsolete and unreliable.
How do cryptocurrency wallets work?
Contrary to popular belief, crypto wallets don’t truly store digital assets. Instead, they provide the tools required to interact with a blockchain. In other words, these wallets can generate the necessary information to send and receive cryptocurrency via blockchain transactions. Among other things, such information consists of one or more pairs of public and private keys.
The wallet also includes an address, which is an alphanumeric identifier that is generated based on the public and private keys. Such an address is, in essence, a specific “location” on the blockchain to which coins can be sent to. This means you can share your address with others to receive funds, but you should never disclose your private key to anyone.
The private key gives access to your cryptocurrencies, regardless of which wallet you use. So even if your computer or smartphone gets compromised, you can still access your funds on another device – as long as you have the corresponding private key (or seed phrase). Note that the coins never truly leave the blockchain; they are just transferred from one address to another.
Do I need a crypto wallet to trade crypto?
The simple answer is yes. Whether you are a frequent trader or a bitcoin HODLer, you need to have a wallet address to store and trade crypto. You can use the hot wallet provided by your crypto exchange, a mobile wallet you install on your phone, a browser extension, a desktop wallet, or a hardware wallet. There are several options out there. Below are some examples of the different wallet types:
- Hot wallet: Exchanges e.g Binance, Coinbase, KuCoin etc
- Mobile crypto wallets: Trust Wallet, MetaMask.
- Browser extension crypto wallets: MetaMask, MathWallet.
- Desktop crypto wallets: Electrum, Exodus.
Hot vs Cold Wallets
As mentioned, cryptocurrency wallets may also be defined as “hot” or “cold” according to the way they operate.
A hot wallet is any wallet that is connected somehow to the Internet. For example, when you create an account on a Crypto Exchange and send funds to your wallets, you are depositing into the Exchange’s hot wallet. These wallets are quite easy to set up, and the funds are quickly accessible, making them convenient for traders and other frequent users.
Cold wallets, on the other hand, have no connection to the Internet. Instead, they use a physical medium to store the keys offline, making them resistant to online hacking attempts. As such, cold wallets tend to be a much safer alternative to “storing” your coins. This method is also known as cold storage and is particularly suitable for long-term investors or “HODLers.”
Software wallets come in many different types, each with its own unique characteristics. Most of them are somehow connected to the Internet (hot wallets). The following are descriptions of some of the most common and important types: web, desktop, and mobile wallets.
Hardware wallets are physical, electronic devices that use a random number generator (RNG) to generate public and private keys. The keys are then stored in the device itself, which isn’t connected to the Internet. As such, hardware storage constitutes a type of cold wallet and is deemed as one of the most secure alternatives.
While these wallets offer higher levels of security against online attacks, they may present risks if the firmware implementation is not done properly. Also, hardware wallets tend to be less user-friendly, and the funds are more difficult to access when compared to hot wallets.
You should consider using a hardware wallet if you plan to hold your crypto for a long time or if you’re holding large amounts of cryptocurrency. Currently, most hardware wallets allow you to set up a PIN code to protect your device, as well as a recovery phrase – which can be used in case your wallet is lost.
A paper wallet is a piece of paper on which a crypto address and its private key are physically printed out in the form of QR codes. These codes can then be scanned to execute cryptocurrency transactions.
Some paper wallet websites allow you to download their code to generate new addresses and keys while being offline. As such, these wallets are highly resistant to online hacking attacks and may be considered an alternative to cold storage.
Owing to the numerous flaws, however, the use of paper wallets is now considered dangerous and should be discouraged. If you still want to use it, it’s essential to understand the risks. A major flaw of paper wallets is that they aren’t suitable for sending funds partially, but only their entire balance at once.
Technically, if you import your paper wallet private key into a desktop wallet and spend just part of the funds, the remaining coins will be sent to a “change address” that is automatically generated by the Bitcoin protocol. If you don’t manually set the change address to one that you control, you will likely lose your funds.
Most software wallets today will handle the change for you, sending the remaining coins to an address that is part of your wallet. But the important thing to remember is that your paper wallet will be empty after sending its first transaction out – regardless of the amount. So don’t expect to reuse it later.
The importance of backups
Losing access to your cryptocurrency wallets can be quite costly. So it’s important to back them up regularly. In many cases, this is achieved by simply backing up wallet.dat files or seed phrases. Essentially, a seed phrase works like a root key that generates and gives access to all keys and addresses in a crypto wallet. Also, if you opted for password encryption, remember to back up your password as well.
What crypto wallet should I use?
There is no definite answer as to which crypto wallet you should use. If you are a frequent trader, using a web wallet allows you to quickly access your funds and trade conveniently. Assuming you have taken extra steps to secure your account with two-factor authentication (2FA) methods, your crypto is generally safe. However, if you HODL a large quantity of crypto that you are not looking to sell in the meantime, cold wallets are better alternatives as they are not connected to the Internet, thus more secure and are resistant to online phishing attacks or scams.