Blockchain explorers are more than just transaction history UIs. They hold huge potential to replace app dashboards and provide great tooling for developers.
Blockchain explorers are a fundamental part of the cryptocurrency world. They provide UIs for reading data from the blockchain and allow us to see important metrics, view who sent or received funds, and even search through blocks of the blockchain in order to investigate transactions, smart contracts, and assets in more detail. But these common uses of explorers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what block explorers can do. More advanced explorers can be used by developers as interfaces for their tooling, or even as full dashboards for their apps.
In this series of articles, we will take a look at some of the most popular blockchain explorers and what they can do, give an overview of more specific explorers with innovative and useful features, and look into why blockchain explorers are so much more than just transaction histories.
"A block explorer is essentially a search engine for the blockchain. Unlike Google, the data you enter is always true. It's like being able to look at all the accounts and transactions in your bank at any time."
Blocks with all transactions and data
Wallet address transaction histories
Mempool data and transaction statuses
Largest transactions, double-spend transactions
A list of miners or stakers that mined/staked specific blocks
Voting results in DAOs
Blockchain explorers connect to blockchain nodes through APIs to show recent transactions on the given blockchain. In addition to the data listed above, they can also help you audit wallet addresses and change them if necessary, which helps to avoid wasting input value on transaction fees. They are often used by developers to help debug their contracts, allowing them to track the progress of a contract or to view the transaction data for a contract that has already been deployed. Many of them can shed light on the inner workings of a particular cryptocurrency, providing crucial insights for trading decisions and allowing you to track your finances.
As the number of blockchains has increased, so has the number of blockchain explorers.
In the next instalment of this series, we’ll take a look at some of the more popular block explorers, what features they provide, and how they compare to each other.
Etherscan is a free Ethereum blockchain explorer that lets you search and view transactions, blocks, and smart contracts. It's designed for developers and can be used without connecting to a wallet. It allows you to quickly browse recent transactions and view the Ethereum network’s status. The popular explorer also offers data feed creation and alerts based on specific transactions and supports personal accounts to keep track of smart contracts and create watchlists.
Users can look up transactions using a transaction ID and/or wallet address. Etherscan displays transaction details, including the transaction hash (TxHash) and the amount transferred. Developers can also view the history of their wallets and approve smart contract transactions with Etherscan's Read Contract and Write Contract features. Users can review the status of their ETH balances and other tokens.
A highly popular feature of Etherscan is its gas tracker. This allows you to estimate transaction fees for various types of transactions and can help you track DeFi protocol founders’ wallets, as they use the same randomized letters and numbers as Ethereum addresses. If you're a developer, you can also use the Gwei/ETH conversion calculator to find out which currency is being used for Ethereum transactions.
Etherscan is constantly innovating and improving its explorer to provide even more value for Ethereum users. Some recent innovations include the ability to input data messages and a DEX tracker. With data messages, users can now input information about their transactions, making it easier than ever to track and manage transactions. The DEX tracker is a great tool for those who use decentralized exchanges, allowing them to see the most up-to-date information on prices and volume.
Even though the explorer is completely free, it offers advanced features like developer APIs and a database of Ethereum-related websites, projects, and exchanges. If you're not a developer but want to learn more about Ethereum, Etherscan is an invaluable resource for gaining insight into the blockchain.
Blockchair is a company that specializes in developing products that make blockchain data accessible to individuals, development teams, and research organizations. Their REST API is used by thousands of crypto companies, analysts, academics, and students to fetch data and power their projects. Some of the projects that Blockchair has powered include a Bitcoin cash flow analysis tool, a Bitcoin options pricing calculator, and a block explorer for the Ethereum network.
Blockchair has taken the explorer to another level by incorporating different blockchains into one browser. With over 20,000 installs of its browser extension, Blockchair supports 19 blockchains, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, and 14 others. This makes it easy to track transactions and activity across all supported chains. In addition, Blockchair provides tools for developers to build applications on top of its platform.
Blockchair is a powerful and versatile tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. Their suite of tools is available as a browser extension and provides features suitable for both developers and novice users alike.
Developers can use Kaleido to analyze smart contracts and gain a general understanding of how the blockchain operates. It provides access to contract data for a broad range of use cases.
Privacy coins such as Monero or Secret represent a major exception to the transparency of public blockchain ledgers. With their explorers, can see that a transaction has taken place, but who sent what to whom is completely hidden. Both coins have built their concept and reputation on protecting the privacy of users, but have also been criticized for their potential for facilitating criminal activity.
The Helium Geo Explorer is a web-based tool that shows the coverage of people-powered networks around the world. It allows users to search for specific locations and find the node nearest to them.
The Mintscan blockchain explorer is a beautiful and interactive 3D universe view of IBC blockchains that makes it easy to explore and visualize the relationships between various blockchain projects. It is also helpful in understanding inter-chain communications between different blockchains.
Bakers play an important role in the Tezos protocol by validating all transactions and adding them to the blockchain. If a baker behaves dishonestly, the protocol has a built-in mechanism that can cause them to lose their security deposit. With the Bakers blockchain explorer, you can view the different validators (bakers), their commission rate, capacity, and share, among other useful stats.
There are a few different gas fee estimators that can be helpful for predicting the gas fee of the next block in a blockchain. Blocknative's gas fee estimator is one such option. With Crypto.com's gas fee tracker, you can stay up to date on gas prices or find and compare the latest TX fees in DeFi. A third option is to use a gas price oracle like Gas Now.
In the Lisk observer, you can easily identify the type of any given transaction type upon first glance thanks to pictogram tags. These visual representations allow you to instantly distinguish the nature of a transaction: normal transactions, pending transactions, vote transactions, or others like token unlock transactions. This makes it easy to understand what's happening on the blockchain and makes it easier to track down specific transactions.
The Mintscan by Cosmostation is a great tool for browsing through all Cosmos-based DAO votes, allowing you to quickly view all proposals and monitor the status of each one. It also gives you access to the deposit period, voting period, whether or not the proposal passed, who proposed the idea in the first place, and the percentage of people who voted yes/no/abstain/veto.
DefiLlama is a great resource for anyone interested in the world of decentralized finance (DeFi). The site provides a variety of interesting perspectives on different protocols and aspects of DeFi, from airdrops and oracles to forks and yields. Perhaps most importantly, DefiLlama offers up-to-date information on the current yields of different protocols and how they have changed over time.
Snowtrace (by Avalanche) source code verification provides transparency for users interacting with smart contracts. When you upload source code, SnowTrace matches the compiled code with that on the blockchain. Just like physical contracts, a "smart contract" should provide end-users with more information on what they are "digitally signing" and allow them to audit the code to independently verify that it actually does what it is supposed to do.
Bloxy is a search engine created by Bitquery that allows users to search for on-chain data from more than 30 blockchains. The interface is similar to Google, allowing users to input their search query and see all related information. Bloxy makes it easy to find information about blockchain transactions, addresses, and smart contracts.
Layer 2 explorers are tools that help you navigate the different layer 2 systems built on top of Ethereum. They include Arbiscan, ZKscan, Optimism, Loopring, L2fees and others.. Each of these explorers has different features and capabilities, but they all allow you to view and interact with layer 2 data in one place.
Dune is a data platform that enables users to query data from datasets and create visualisations. It is widely used by crypto-asset investors and analysts to help them research individual projects, sectors, and blockchain ecosystems. Dune provides a user-friendly interface that makes it easy to create customised reports and visualisations. Additional features include the ability to export data, share reports, and collaborate with other users.
LibreScan is an open-source Decentralized Blockchain Explorer (DBE) that enables developers to contribute to the explorer project itself. It allows users to connect any blockchain platform, the main advantage being that it is self-hosted and decentralized. This means that users can run their own blockchain explorer on a PC and always have secure access to it without being tracked.
One particularly interesting practical application for explorers is using blockchain data to track transactions on any smart contract address, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, to see whether any transaction has been sent or received. Since these tools also provide public evidence regarding the ownership of a wallet, they can also help law enforcement find criminals who use cryptocurrencies for criminal activity. This information can be used to find out who is behind an act of fraud, and what their motives are. It is also possible to track criminals by following their transaction history.
In addition to explorers, blockchain analytical tools can help law enforcement track criminal activity with more powerful features. Chainlysis is a tool that can help track down criminals who use cryptocurrencies for illegal purposes by providing public evidence of wallet ownership. Maltego is another tool that can help law enforcement by using artificial intelligence to analyze blockchain data and identify patterns that may be associated with criminal activity.
For more on the topic, check out this video introduction. It outlines the issue nicely and provides useful tips on how to read different blockchains with practical use cases like NFTs.
There are two types of blockchain explorers: public and private. Public blockchains are permissionless, meaning anyone can view their ledgers of transactions. Private blockchains are permissioned, meaning only those with access can view their ledgers.
When using public data, you are being tracked, and everything is dependent on third-party infrastructure. If the infrastructure is down, you can't do anything about it. In the worst-case scenario, etherscan.io can collect and use data from blockchain explorer users to predict upcoming market events. And we’re not even getting into how much data they could potentially collect when you are logged into these pages.
One solution to these issues is to create a script that you can run locally, on your system. This script will monitor all traffic data for the specified address and display all activity. However, private solutions often run on a single node, so the potential for overloading the system would create a significant risk of it not functioning.
With the increasing popularity of blockchain technology, it is becoming more and more important to have tools that help explore and understand this complex ecosystem. Growing differences between protocols and apps makes data implementation and interpretation difficult, but blockchain explorers and similar tools can help overcome these difficulties. By providing a user-friendly interface for viewing transaction data, they make it easy to track the activity on networks and spot potential issues. For developers, they can be used to quickly test smart contracts and debug transactions, and can even be used to replace app dashboards and provide greater transparency for users.
We believe that blockchain explorers have great potential to improve the way we interact with cryptocurrencies and provide valuable insights into their movement.
This article was first published here.