There are many different ways to store and manage Ethereum and ERC-20 tokens. Those could include hardware wallets, mobile wallets, desktop wallets, you name it. But there is one unique piece of software that not only allows you to safely store and manage Ethereum and all ERC-20 assets, but it also allows you to directly interact with Ethereum-powered Dapps right in your browser. This article is all about MetaMask, the increasingly popular doorway to the exciting world of web-based Dapps.
What is MetaMask?
Unlike other wallets, MetaMask is a web browser plug-in that works with Google Chrome, Opera, and Firefox. It can be installed the same way as any other Google Chrome extension or Firefox add-on. The service also works on the new Brave browser. Needless to say, set up is quite easy for the most part.
Once MetaMask is set up and running, you now have a fully functional Ethereum wallet built right into your browser. MetaMask is capable of interacting with any and all ERC-20 assets as it allows for custom tokens to be added.
What’s also interesting is that MetaMask can also interact with the various Ethereum test networks. So it can be a useful tool for developers, as well as those that want to preview various Dapps.
Interacting with MyEtherWallet
The ever popular online Ethereum wallet service, MyEtherWallet, can connect with and directly exchange information with MetaMask. This means that when you visit MyEtherWallet using a browser that has MetaMask on it, you have the option of having a single click login, assuming that your MetaMask account is unlocked as well.
While MetaMask is quite capable by itself, some may still prefer the finer controls available on MyEtherWallet.com. Having the choice to switch back and forth between the two can be quite useful for those that desire such functionality.
The main event – interacting with Dapps
If you’re not familiar, a Dapp is a type of application that exists at least in part on a blockchain, such as Ethereum. Not all Dapps run on Ethereum, but in this article, we’re going to be focusing on a few that do use Ethereum specifically.
A number of projects and companies either already have live Dapps that one can interact with today, or they have test Dapps that are open for public review. Dapps are in many ways similar to other websites. They can have detailed graphical interfaces, and they can have highly advanced and user-friendly interfaces. The only difference between a Dapp and a normal web application is that Dapps interact with a blockchain on the back and.
MetaMask allows its users to use web browser based apps. Let’s take a look at a few Dapps now to see what they look like and how MetaMask fits in.
ETHLend is a smart contract based platform to facilitate the borrowing and lending of Ethereum. Users of the platform can put their Ether into a smart contract loan that is collateralized by various ERC-20 tokens. If the loan is repaid successfully, then the lender will receive their Ether back, plus interest. If the borrower defaults, then the lender can claim all of the loan collateral.
ETHLend itself does not ever hold funds as it is entirely based on smart contracts. Currently, the system works using an online Dapp that requires MetaMask in order to open. If you attempt to open the Dapp on a browser without MetaMask installed, you will get an error screen.
Is an excellent example of this. Using MetaMask, one can play the currently available demo games using the Ethereum test net. In MetaMask, you can choose to connect to the Ethereum main net or a test net. As FunFair is not working yet, only the test net is supported.
Once you are on the test net, the FunFair showcase app will send you test FUN tokens and some test net ETH to pay the transaction fees. With that done, you can now go through the whole process that would be involved if actually gambling. Once the Dapp receives your deposit, the game will run and all results will be recorded on the test net chain once you press the ‘cash out’ button.
Another type of blockchain gaming that has grown in popularity recently is CryptoKitties. In this game, users can purchase, raise, breed, and trade various digital avatars. The system is powered purely on Ether, and some of the most popular digital cats can command astonishingly high prices when the market is right. Naturally, Crypto Kitties requires MetaMask in order for the game to be able to communicate with the blockchain.
At it’s peak, the game was so popular that it brought the entire Ethereum network down to a crawl. In fact, many people consider Crypto Kitties as one of the main catalysts for bring the scaling debate to Ethereum, a previously the network seemed more than capable of handling large transaction volumes.
Is Metamask Safe to Use?
So far, MetaMask has proven to be quite secure and there have thus far been no successful hack attacks that have resulted in currency losses. The software uses a security system it calls a Den that keeps all local keys encrypted so that harmful Dapps or exploits cannot gain access to them. Of course, MetaMask does not offer any protection against phishing attempts and those who give out to their private keys to nefarious individuals. Therefore, one should exercise normal amounts of caution when using meta-mask as with any other cryptocurrency wallet.
Finally, MetaMask is not the only game in town in terms of browser-based Ethereum wallet and Dapps access. Another project called Mist has been deep in development for quite some time now and there are currently beta versions available for the public to try. However, as Mist is a work in progress, it’s not advisable for those who are not developers or serious enthusiasts to get involved in it just yet. Case in point, the development team recently spotted a bug that could potentially allow an attacker to steal a users private keys. This exploit appears to have never been used, as the development team repaired the issue early on.
When the project is complete and the full version launches, it could prove to be a compelling competitor to MetaMask.
To sum everything up, MetaMask is indeed a highly useful, secure, and flexible application. It allows for the safe and convenient storage of any Ethereum related assets, it offers convenient connections to MyEtherWallet, and most importantly it is currently the only game in town when it comes to using web-based Dapps like ETHLend and Crypto Kitties.
MetaMask is not without its competition though, so it will need to work card to stay on top. However, as MetaMask is the first truly functional product of its kind, it definitely has the advantage of being first to market.