The Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) Simplified

CoinW Exchange
5 min readMay 14, 2024
Photo by Michael Förtsch on Unsplash

The Ethereum blockchain is more than just a digital ledger for recording transactions. It’s a platform for building decentralized applications (dApps) that run on their own virtual computer: the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM).

In this article, we break down what exactly the EVM is, what its key components are, and why it has been so significant in the growth of the Ethereum ecosystem.

What is the EVM?

Imagine a specialized computer program that exists across a network of computers. That’s the EVM in a nutshell. It’s a software layer that all Ethereum nodes run. This virtual machine provides a consistent environment for executing smart contracts, which are self-executing programs that power dApps.

To put it simply, it’s a standardized program that, when installed, enables all sorts of different computers with varying tech specifications on the Ethereum network to run smart contracts.

How Does the EVM Work?

Key components of the EVM (Source: Ethereum.org)

Think of the EVM as a simple machine with a set of basic instructions. When a smart contract is deployed on the Ethereum network, its code gets compiled into a format the EVM understands. Then, every node on the network executes the same instructions for the smart contract, ensuring everyone agrees on the outcome.

The Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) relies on three crucial components to function:

  1. Machine State (Volatile): Imagine a whiteboard during a brainstorming session. This ever-changing state represents the temporary storage of the EVM. It holds data specific to the current execution of a smart contract.This includes:
  • Stack: This acts like a temporary calculator memory, storing data used during calculations and manipulations within the smart contract.
  • Memory: It holds additional data needed by the smart contract during its execution.
  • Program Counter: This keeps track of where the EVM is in the smart contract code, ensuring it executes instructions in the correct order.

Unlike the other two components, the machine state is volatile. This means it gets cleared and reset to its initial state after each smart contract execution. It’s like wiping the whiteboard clean after finishing a brainstorming session.

2. Virtual ROM (vROM) (Immutable): This component is the permanent instruction manual of the EVM. It stores the machine code (a set of low-level instructions) that the EVM understands. This code is immutable, meaning it cannot be changed once deployed. Think of it as a factory-installed operating system that cannot be tampered with.

The vROM defines the basic functionalities of the EVM, such as performing mathematical operations, accessing storage,and sending messages to other contracts. This standardized set of instructions ensures all nodes on the network execute smart contracts consistently.

3. World State (Persistent): This component acts like the permanent storage of the entire Ethereum network. It holds all the crucial data points, including:

  • Account Balances: This tracks the amount of Ether (Ethereum’s cryptocurrency) each account holds.
  • Smart Contract Code and Storage: This stores the actual code of deployed smart contracts and any data they hold permanently.

Unlike the machine state, the world state is persistent. Changes made during smart contract execution (like sending or receiving Ether) are reflected and stored permanently in the world state. This ensures the network maintains a consistent record of all transactions and balances.

In essence, the machine state handles temporary calculations during smart contract execution, the vROM provides the core functionalities, and the world state acts as the permanent ledger of the Ethereum network.

Why is the EVM Important?

The EVM is the foundation of what makes Ethereum substantively different from Bitcoin. Here’s why it matters:

  • Standardization: The EVM provides a common platform for developers. They can write smart contracts in various languages knowing the EVM will execute them consistently across the network. This fosters innovation and a wider range of dApps.
  • Security: The simplicity and isolation of the EVM contribute to the security of the Ethereum network. Limited functionalities make it harder for malicious code to exploit vulnerabilities.
  • Decentralization: By running the EVM on every node, there’s no single point of failure. This reinforces the decentralized nature of the Ethereum network.

The EVM is the engine that powers the smart contract revolution on Ethereum. It provides a secure and standardized environment for developers to build innovative dApps, shaping the future of decentralized applications. Essentially, this was the missing piece in Bitcoin that Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin sought to address, leading him to create the world’s first programmable blockchain.

What is the impact of the EVM?

The EVM has been a game-changer for the Ethereum ecosystem, driving its growth in several key ways:

  • Network effects: The EVM fosters powerful network effects. As more developers build on Ethereum using the EVM, it becomes even more valuable. This attracts even more developers, creating a snowball effect.
  • Interoperability: EVM compatibility extends beyond Ethereum. Several other blockchains, like Avalanche and Solana, use the EVM or a variant. This allows developers to easily port their dApps across these chains, increasing their reach and potential user base.
  • Developer adoption: The EVM’s standardized environment makes it easier for developers to learn and build on Ethereum. They don’t need to learn a new language for each blockchain, accelerating innovation within the ecosystem.
  • Security by standardization: The limited functionality of the EVM, while seemingly restrictive, actually enhances security. By having a well-defined set of instructions, there’s less room for vulnerabilities and unexpected behavior in smart contracts. This fosters trust and wider adoption of dApps built on Ethereum.
  • Robust developer tools and community: The popularity of the EVM has led to a wealth of development tools, libraries,and tutorials specifically designed for building on Ethereum. Additionally, a large and active developer community has formed around the EVM, providing valuable resources and support for new developers entering the space.
  • Innovation through competition: The existence of EVM-compatible blockchains fosters a healthy sense of competition. While Ethereum remains the most established platform, other chains can experiment with different features and functionalities. This pushes the entire ecosystem forward as each chain strives to be the most attractive platform for developers and users.

In conclusion

The EVM has been a cornerstone of the Ethereum ecosystem’s growth. It has driven developer adoption,fostered innovation, and created a secure and standardized environment for building dApps. The impact of the EVM extends beyond Ethereum itself, shaping the entire landscape of blockchain development.

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