What is Stellar (XLM)?
June 24th 2021
"Stellar is an open network for storing and moving money. - stellar.org
What is Stellar? How does it Work?
Stellar is an open-source network for currencies and payments. Stellar makes it possible to create, send and trade digital representations of all forms of money—dollars, pesos, bitcoin, pretty much anything. It’s designed so all the world’s financial systems can work together on a single network.Stellar has no owner; if anything it’s owned by the public. The software runs across a decentralized, open network and handles millions of transactions each day. Like Bitcoin and Ethereum, Stellar relies on blockchain to keep the network in sync, but the end-user experience is more like cash—Stellar is much faster, cheaper, and more energy-efficient than typical blockchain-based systems.
What is Stellar for?
The Stellar network launched in 2014. Since then it’s processed more than 450 million operations made by over 4 million individual accounts. Large enterprise companies and companies as small as single-dev startups have chosen Stellar to move money and access new markets.
From the beginning, Stellar has been cryptocurrency-adjacent, but the software has always been intended to enhance rather than undermine or replace the existing financial system. Whereas, say, the Bitcoin network was made for trading only bitcoins, Stellar is a decentralized system that’s great for trading any kind of money in a transparent and efficient way.
The Stellar network has a native digital currency, the lumen, that’s required in small amounts for initializing accounts and making transactions (you can read more about that here) but, beyond those requirements, Stellar doesn’t privilege any particular currency. It’s specifically designed to make traditional forms of money—the money people have been spending and saving for centuries—more useful and accessible.
Who builds on Stellar?
For end-users, Stellar is a fast, efficient network for trading, saving, and spending digital money. For builders, it’s open financial infrastructure. Anyone can access it; there’s no permission or application needed. That basket of currency tokens we just mentioned, those are on the network, ready to use. We have euros, bitcoins, dollars, Mexican pesos, Argentinian pesos, Brazilian reais, and Nigerian naira. Their respective issuers handle deposit, redemption, and compliance, so builders can focus on end-user experience.
This same openness also applies to the token layer: a financial institution can issue new digital tokens to fill a market need, say, for the Swiss Franc, without joining a proprietary “association” or dealing with a gatekeeper. The total power of Stellar grows with each new company and developer. See our robust SDKs and documentation to get started with your own wallet, app, or token.
The ongoing development of the basic Stellar technology is guided and supported by the Stellar Development Foundation, a non-profit company based in the U.S. The Foundation helps maintain Stellar’s codebase, supports the engineering and business communities around Stellar, and is a speaking partner to regulators and institutions. The Foundation has no shareholders, so it can be purely dedicated to the success of Stellar as a neutral, equitable, and public network.
Transparency is a tenet of the network. Stellar’s code is open-source and available to anyone’s audit or contribution. Many of SDF’s current employees were first inspired to get involved with the technology in their free time or for their own projects.
How does Stellar work?
At the lowest level, Stellar is a system for tracking ownership. Like accountants have for centuries, it uses a ledger to do so, but Stellar’s innovation is that there is no actual accountant. Instead there’s a network of independent computers each checking and rechecking the work of the others. Stellar is a system without a central authority—meaning no one can stop the network or secretly adjust the numbers to his liking—yet even without a central authority the ledgers are verified and updated, every five seconds.
Where is Stellar going?
To put it very simply, Stellar enables a future where everyday people can send money anywhere affordably and quickly. We at the Stellar Development Foundation believe we can only unlock the true power of the modern digital economy when value can flow unencumbered around the globe. That’s what Stellar is for, and that’s what Stellar is going to do.
A legion of developers, enterprises, and users share this vision. If you share it too, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch here, or keep learning.
Stellar was made to support digital representations of any currency, but it also has its own built-in token, called the lumen, created to fill a special role in the network. By design, Stellar requires that each account hold a small number of lumens at all times.This lumen requirement is modest—a few is more than enough for most accounts. The full technical details are covered in Stellar’s docs, but, below, we explore some high-level concepts.
Why does Stellar require lumens?
The need for lumens arose out of the fundamental design of Stellar’s ledger system. Simply put, it’s too easy to use. Without some nominal barrier or cost, the ledger could become filled with spam or nonsense, or used as a kind of arbitrary database system. These outcomes would defeat the intent behind Stellar: to be a fast, efficient payments system.
To solve this, we needed to introduce just the slightest bit of friction to deter bad or frivolous actors. Imposing a minimum balance on each account and a very small per-transaction fee were chosen as these deterrent costs. Right now, the minimum balance is 1 lumen and the minimum per-transaction fee is 0.00001 lumen. These are small enough to keep Stellar widely accessible, but big enough to discourage large-scale bad behavior.
Nearly 20 billion lumens are out in the open market, and the Stellar Development Foundation retains the other 30 billion or so to develop and promote Stellar, per its mandate. Those lumens will enter the public markets over the next few years. Anyone who wants a complete accounting for all lumens in existence should visit our Lumen Accounting guide for detailed explanations of major lumen metrics, as well as instructions on how to calculate supply details from the ground-up using Stellar’s APIs.