Most wallet applications are set up for experienced users, and leave newbies scratching their heads (if they even stick around that long). Forget convincing my parents to create a wallet?—?even I needed to wrap my head around it first.
Wallets are perhaps the most important?—?and most confusing?—?aspect of crypto. They are a huge obstacle to attracting more people to the space. Without them you can’t do anything?—?not even receive tokens?—?so getting users familiar with their workings is paramount.
Sadly most wallet applications are set up for experienced users, and leave newbies scratching their heads (if they even stick around that long). Forget convincing my parents to create a wallet?—?even I needed to wrap my head around it first.
The user interfaces of wallets are confusing, because they can actually do a lot of things on your behalf. First though?—?we need to discuss keys.
Where are my keys?
For most blockchains, your wallet will contain a hidden secret?—?a private key?—?basically a very long password that you keep secure. These wallet applications will either allow you to import an existing private key, or create a new one for you. They’ll strongly urge you to save a backup copy of it somewhere, either written on a piece of paper and stored securely or in a password vault (though as you can see below Electrum warns strongly against storing it digitally at all!).
Typically instead of a random collection of letters and numbers, the application will ask you to remember an ordered set of 12–24 words?—?a seed phrase or mnemonic?—?from which it can generate the private key.
Using the private key, the wallet will provide you with an address?—?effectively a string of characters?—?that is also referred to as your public key. That’s what you share with others when you want to receive tokens. You can think of your public key as a PO Box, and the private key your tool to open it.
As the backing of a wallet is simply public/private key encryption, there are a plethora of websites that can generate these pairs for you. I would advise against using them for anything other than demo purposes?—?who knows if the site administrators aren’t tracking the private keys they generate. (Recall from the previous article that all a malicious actor needs is your private key to transfer all of your funds to an address of their choosing.)
For sake of this article, I went to walletgenerator.net to create a new Bitcoin public/private pair:
You can see the public address of the above wallet is
12XUgG5jsEH5pyYU1vwbQ3cY8eQbfVY1f which was generated from the longer private key of
I did the same for Ethereum, using vanity-eth.tk to generate the following:
You can see the address and private key is hexadecimal (0–9 & A-F) in Ethereum, where in Bitcoin it is alphanumeric (0–9 & A-Z). In both cases, the private key could have been created from a 12–24 word seed phrase, but these websites didn’t provide that functionality.
Additionally, here’s an example of an EOS public/private pair from nadejde.github.io/eos-token-sale. EOS keys are also alphanumeric: