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What is the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM)?

One of the most important pieces of the Ethereum Ecosystem lays the groundwork for a myriad of blockchain developments.

What is the Ethereum Virtual Machine

The Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) is responsible for powering most of the blockchains that exist. The EVM is a complex phenomenon that is likely what most of us think of as Ethereum itself. It is considered to be the part of Ethereum that executes smart contract deployment.

The EVM is at the center of the smart contract revolution and is a key reason why the EVM processes billions of dollars daily. The EVM can be thought of as its own environment, a place where smart contracts and blockchain addresses exist and manifest.

At its most simple, the EVM is a decentralized CPU; the EVM is the function of the current state of Ethereum. The current state of the Ethereum Virtual Machine is the collection of the blockchain processes linked and coded into the mainnet.  

The EVM gives a readout––a snapshot––of the current state. The state of the machine is in constant evolution, changing with each and every new smart contract execution. At any one point, a snapshot could be made to view and ‘define’ what the Ethereum canonical state is. 

In other words, the Ethereum Virtual Machine is a virtual CPU for Ethereum to execute and show the speed of smart contracts. As long as there is a single Ethereum node still powered up, we will continue to have the EVM.  

This is also pretty theoretical jargon, so let’s take a step back. And define a virtual machine itself.

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What is a Virtual Machine?

Virtual Machines (VM) have been around computers for quite some time. Developers and computer programmers have long known that virtual machines can help run different software on compilers to run different non-native programs. In essence, VMs can help facilitate computer programs to distribute architecturally neutral data on top of another software or operating system.

A Virtual Machine is a useful tool to run programs on differing systems at the same time independent of their native environments. VMs can simulate how a CPU does all its executions on top of another CPU. A classic example would be an Apple Mac computer that can emulate and run a Windows application or software on top of its own software––or a Linux operator that is running a Windows program. There are myriad examples. 

When it comes to Ethereum, unlike a normal CPU that has hardware––like the computer you’re likely using right now––the Ethereum Virtual Machine is a distributed connection of nodes that maintain the virtual machine. EVM (VMs) are sandboxed in the native system and cannot access other files or processes.


Why do we need EVM?

When blockchain technology emerged with Bitcoin, it was merely a currency for transactions. Unlike Bitcoin, Ethereum shows more than accounts or balances for a single currency, as it has developed an entire machine state. 

EVM adds a neutral interpretation of contracts to blockchain technology. The main Ethereum website describes itself as a “distributed state machine” because it develops and executes the idea of neutral ownership and facilitation of action. The virtual machine state can allow neutral arbitration across all transactions, realizing a true mantra of blockchain enthusiasts. 

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The state has become the de facto measurement of how blockchain transaction speeds and processes. It’s a common understanding that the EVM has served as a catalyst to redefine how global transactions are completed.

With Ethereum, we have seen the first blockchain to implement smart contracts, which opened the crypto world we more or less know today. While doing so, the developers behind Ethereum created a new programming language called Solidity and more programming languages. The growth and success of Ethereum increased the demand for Solidity programmers.  

One of the elegances and beauties of the EVM is that it makes the Ethereum ecosystem compatible and efficient. Without the EVM, blockchain programmers and developers would need to develop respective compilers for each operating system. 


What is EVM Compatibility?

EVM Compatibility is a common concept around blockchain and Decentralized Finance (DeFi). Entire blockchains can be created with EVM Compatibility and look no further than Binance Smart Chain, Polygon, or Cronos to find digital ecosystems of decentralized applications and protocols with EVM compatibility. 

When a blockchain says that it has EVM compatibility it means that the developers have written the code to function and execute smart contracts in line with the EVM standards. Many blockchains aim for EVM compatibility to simplify the migration from Ethereum to their blockchain.

As more and more blockchains emerge, the need difficulty to scale grows if a new code is needed. Imagine if every blockchain smart contract needed a new programming language to write its new contract. Getting new programmers to join and write would be a monumental task.

Creating an environment for EVM compatible code execution makes it easy for Ethereum developers to migrate smart contracts to the EVM-compatible chain without having to write the code from scratch again. It is not lazy, but efficient for scalability. 

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