Introduction to Block Explorers

Nope, it’s not a Minecraft add-on.

A Block Explorer is an online blockchain browser - it registers and displays the contents of transactions, transaction histories and balances of public addresses. If you’re wondering what a public or private address is, we’re going to look into that in more detail later on in a dedicated lesson.

So, now you know what a Block Explorer is – but why does it matter?

Block Explorer 101

Block Explorers are examples of decentralised websites. That means that all information comes directly from the blockchain, as opposed to a centralised database. In fact, the only thing centralised parties control at all are the front-end aspects of the website! The open source nature of Block Explorers also means that if one is shut down, another can be built in its place with relative ease.

Block Explorers come in many different flavours. Most of the best known are powered by the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains – the former has many website options, including blockexplorer.com and blockchain.info; while the latter has websites such as etherscan.io.

What these sites have in common is the ability to view blocks as they are being mined in real-time. Every transaction can be viewed and all data relating to it is made accessible. For advanced users, who already know about these blocks and understand their full significance, this is extremely valuable.

The relevant data which can be accessed includes:

  1. The block’s ‘reward’.
  2. The device used to mine said block.
  3. The ‘difficulty score’ of each block (how hard it was to mine).
  4. The byte size of each block. This is capped at 1MB for Bitcoin, but it varies for other cryptocurrencies.
  5. The constituent transactions of each block, which includes the amount sent and received, public addresses of senders and recipients, fees and confirmations - amongst other things.

What can a Block Explorer be used for?

Of course, knowing what a Block Explorer does isn’t the same as knowing why it’s important.

These websites have a variety of uses for the crypto-conscious user. By using a Block Explorer, you can:

  1. Check address balances.
  2. Track coin transfer histories.
  3. Keep an eye on transaction acceptance.
  4. Monitor other statistics and variables.

Decentralised websites also have other applications which are worth exploring.

Decentralisation in action

Block Explorers aren’t the only example of decentralised websites and applications (dApps). Other popular dApps include Steem (steem.io), a social media and blogging platform built on top of the Steem blockchain.

Contributing quality content to Steem and helping expand the community rewards you with a variable quantity of the platform’s cryptocurrency – the Steem dollar. If the server goes down, it won’t have too much impact - Steem’s open API means anyone can develop a new website or dApp on top of its blockchain.

Blockchain – as impressive as it is – may eventually simply be remembered for lighting the spark that led to mass decentralisation. Block Explorers are just one example of those sparks.

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Block Explorer CAN’T be used to…?
View private keys
View address balances
View transaction histories
View the difficulty score of each block