If you’ve been into cryptocurrencies for any length of time you’ve probably come across quite a few different ways to store your coins, including hardware wallets, desktop wallets, mobile wallets, and even paper wallets.
Today I want to talk about something a bit different, and if you need to store and manage any Ethereum or ERC-20 tokens you’ll want to know about this.
Not only will it help you store and manage all those ERC-20 tokens (of which there are hundreds), it also allows you to interact with all the cool Ethereum powered decentralized applications (Dapps) that are being released into the wild.
This is MetaMask, and if you haven’t heard of it yet, you’ll be glad you did today. And even if you have heard of it, this article will give you the basics you need to get started using it today.
What is MetaMask?
MetaMask is an Ethereum wallet with a difference.
Rather than being an app that you install, or a hardware device, it’s a simple web browser plugin that you can add to Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, or the new Brave browser. It’s installed the same way any other plugin is installed, and setting it up takes no more than minutes. But it will change the way you interact with the Ethereum blockchain forever.
Image Source: metamask.io
It was created with the purpose of making the Ethereum blockchain accessible to everyone. It seems blockchain technology, and the Dapps being built to utilize the decentralized blockchain, aren’t all that intuitive or user friendly. That’s where the team behind MetaMask decided to step in and make an interface that does make it easy to interact with the Ethereum blockchain.
Not only is MetaMask a fully functioning Ethereum wallet, running right in your browser, it also supports all the ERC-20 tokens, and you can even add custom tokens. What makes MetaMask really special however, is that you can use it to interact with Ethereum Dapps, and it works on Ethereum testnets as well, making it very useful as a developer tool. Finally, you can connect it directly with MyEtherWallet.
If you want to add the MetaMask plugin, you’ll find it’s a pretty quick and simple process.
First point your browser to metamask.io and choose the extension for whatever browser you’re using. Then click the extension to create a wallet address and a DEN (your protected vault).
Once you have MetaMask set up you’ll be able to view your past transactions, as well as being able to send and receive from your wallet. And most importantly, you’ll be able to visit any of the Dapp sites we’re going to talk about later in this article, and interact with the blockchain.
MetaMask is pretty straight forward as far as wallet applications go, and you’ll find all the functionality included to be no more than a click or two away.
Whenever you visit a Dapp site and want to interact in your browser, MetaMask will pop-up a confirmation of the address and any transaction information. Just follow the simple on-screen prompts and you’ll soon be interacting with the Ethereum blockchain right from your web browser.
MetaMask Interaction with MyEtherWallet
If you have the MetaMask plugin installed you are able to connect to, and directly exchange information with, your MyEtherWallet. You can even take advantage of a single click login, as long as your MetaMask account is also unlocked.
You won’t get the full functionality that’s available with MyEtherWallet, so for some tasks you’ll need to go directly to the wallet, but MetaMask provides enough functionality to make it extremely useful. And switching back and forth between the two is a breeze.
In addition to acting as your Ethereum wallet, MetaMask also allows you to manage more than one identity.
You are able to log into one Dapp with one address, and you can then head to another Dapp where you log in with a completely different address. Using MetaMask can keep you identity private, and your data disconnected from one Dapp to another.
MetaMask and Dapps
If you haven’t run into them before, a Dapp is a decentralized application that exists at least in part on a blockchain. Dapps can exists on many different blockchains, but for the purposes of this article we’ll focus on Ethereum based Dapps, because MetaMask is currently meant to interact with Ethereum based Dapps.
While Dapps are a fairly new thing, there are already several companies that have released live Dapps on the Ethereum mainnet, while others have Dapps in development on various testnets that are still publically accessible.
Dapps are interesting in that they are similar to websites in some ways, but far more powerful. A Dapp might have a highly detailed graphical interface, which is often quite user-friendly. The main difference is that a Dapp interacts with a blockchain on its back end, while a website interacts with a web server. It’s the blockchain interaction that makes Dapps decentralized.
MetaMask allows users to interact with those Dapps that have browser based interfaces. To give you a better idea of how this works I’m going to take a look at some browser based Dapps so we can see how MetaMask fits into the bigger picture.
Become a Lender with MetaMask
If you feel the itch to become a bank yourself, you can start with ETHLend, a smart contract based Dapp that runs on the Ethereum network, and allows users to lend, and borrow, Ethereum. It works by bundling Ethereum into a smart contract loan that is back by collateral from various ERC-20 tokens. Loans are repaid with interest to the lender, and if the borrower defaults on the loan the lender is able to collect all of the collateral that was put up against the loan. Kinda like the bank repossessing your car or boat.
The funds are never held directly by ETHLend, since they are based on smart contracts, which acts as a sort of escrow system to ensure repayment. In its current state the platform is a Dapp that requires MetaMask to be opened. Trying to open the Dapp with MetaMask installed and enable will result in an error screen.
Given the heavy focus on financial transactions in the blockchain world, ETHLend is likely just the first of many similar Dapp based lending or banking platforms.
Gaming with MetaMask and Dapps
Gaming is another very interesting use case for Ethereum Dapps, and you’ve almost certainly heard of the most successful gaming Dapp already – CryptoKitties.
The CryptoKitties game allows users to raise, breed, purchase, trade and sell digital cats, and has been a roaring success since its debut in November 2017. In fact, it was so popular in its first months of existence that it slowed the Ethereum network to a crawl.
Many people credit it for bringing the scaling issue with the Ethereum network to light, as before the game debuted the Ethereum network seemed more than capable of handling large volumes of network traffic.
The CryptoKitties game is entirely powered by Ether, and MetaMask is required to enable the Dapp to communicate with the blockchain. Some of the most popular digital cats have commanded amazingly high prices, and the success of CryptoKitties has encouraged other developers to create new Dapps in the collectibles space, such as CryptoFighters and CryptoCelebrities, as well as marketplaces for digital blockspace collectibles such as Open Sea and Rare Bits.
Dapps have also come to the gambling space, with some Dapps offering users the chance to make bets and receive payouts for playing a variety of casino games. One of the leading Dapps is FunFair, which is currently only available on the Ethereum test net. MetaMask allows you to connect to the test net, and if you do so you can demo the FunFair Dapp.
Once you connect FunFair will send you both FUN tokens and test net ETH to get started. Once you have that in place you can go ahead and play slots, roulette, blackjack, craps and various poker games, just as if you were in a real casino. Everything in provably fair, and is recorded on the blockchain, eliminating the chance of cheating or fraud on the part of the casino.
Is Metamask Safe to Use?
Image via Fotolia
MetaMask has seen no successful hacking attempts to date and is considered to be quite secure. All the local keys used are kept encrypted by a proprietary security system known as the Den, and exploits and harmful Dapps are unable to access keys.
With that being said, there have been previous concerns that in browser wallets have left users susceptible to a breach of privacy. However these potential exploits did not relate to any wallet information but merely about who was using the wallet online.
Irrespective of wallet security, there is no inherent protection against phishing attacks when using MetaMask, that remains up to your own discretion. Always, always avoid giving your private keys to anyone, and exercise the same caution you would use with any other cryptocurrency wallet when you’re using MetaMask.
Future Plans for MetaMask
With a goal of making Ethereum as easy to use as possible, the future of MetaMask will likely center around interface changes that make it even easier to connect and use Dapps. However, MetaMask isn’t the only browser-based Ethereum wallet and Dapp access point.
There’s another project called Mist, which has been in development for some time, and is currently in a beta testing phase. Of course with Mist being a work in progress it isn’t that useful for beginners, and MetaMask remains the best option for web browser based Dapp access. And with MetaMask having a pretty solid first mover advantage, any new projects will have a lot of catching up to do.
If you have any Ethereum or ERC-20 tokens, and any thought that you might want to store Ethereum related assets, then MetaMask is for you. It has become extremely useful in the collectible assets space, and that is only likely to increase.
It is also both flexible and secure, and there’s no risk that your Ethereum based coins will go missing. And of course if you plan on using any of the Ethereum based Dapps like CryptoKitties and ETHLend, well it’s really the only way to connect.
With competition on the way, MetaMask will need to continue developing to remain on top, and that’s good for us. It means that this extremely useful web browser plugin will continue to see development and improvements.
While it does get some boost from being the first of its kind, we all know how rapidly things move in the blockchain world, and what’s here today can easily be gone tomorrow.
With the functionality of MetaMask just coming into its own, and a plethora of Dapps on the horizon, I think it’s something that will last, and something to give a try.
Featured Image via Fotolia & Metamask