What is ENS? (a simple explanation)
If you find yourself struggling to wrap your head around ENS (Ethereum Name Service), how it works, and why people are excited about it, you’re not alone. The concept of ENS names as web3 usernames seems simple enough, but when mixing in blockchain technology (along with all of its unfamiliar terminology), it's easy to feel a little lost. So whether you’re looking for a simplified, TL;DR explanation or one with more technical details, consider this a digestible breakdown of ENS.
What is ENS?
Simplified: ENS provides usernames for crypto wallet addresses. ENS also provides the technology to actually use the names in place of our wallet addresses. They often end in .eth, like slobo.eth, and no two ENS names are the same.
Expanded: ENS is a blockchain domain naming service designed for crypto wallet addresses. Ethereum addresses are 42 characters long, take 0x57632Ba9A844af0AB7d5cdf98b0056c8d87e3A85 for example, but with ENS, it's possible to assign readable names like slobo.eth to them.
ENS is comparable to traditional domain name services (DNS), which assign readable domains like google.com and wikipedia.org to numerical IP addresses. Think of ENS as a web3 version of traditional DNS, with the difference being ENS operates on the blockchain. ENS is also reinventing today’s idea of domains by supercharging them into ownable social identities.
How does ENS work?
Simplified: ENS works like a search engine—when we look up a name, ENS will search the blockchain for any address connected to the name and display relevant information. Check out this comic explanation on our Twitter/X here.
Expanded: ENS defines itself as “a distributed, open, and extensible naming system based on the Ethereum blockchain” (source). ENS is a set of smart contracts (computer code on the blockchain) that allow wallet addresses to point to ENS domains and vice versa via reverse resolution. One of these smart contracts is the registry, which acts as a database of registered domain names. The second core contract is called the resolver, which allows other sites to search the registry and display the desired name.
How do ENS domain names work?
Simple: ENS names are NFTs that store information. People can buy them, sell them, own them, and even create more names from a single ENS name (called subdomains) to give to others, like friends and family.
ENS names also have profiles, called text records, where owners can add profile photos, social handles, websites, and more, even other wallet addresses like Bitcoin.
Expanded: ENS operates on the blockchain, which means the domain names themselves do as well. ENS names get their usability from being ERC721 NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens). They’re ownable assets that can be bought, sold, and traded on the blockchain, similar to other artistic NFTs that may be more familiar. ENS domains are able to store data on their text records—think websites, social handles, profile photos, descriptions, multichain wallet addresses, content hashes, IDs, and other arbitrary data. This is why ENS names are considered not just domains, but entire social identities.
ENS domains, like slobo.eth or tim.wassies.eth, typically end in .eth because it is ENS’s native TLD (top level domain). However, domain names with other TLD's can be imported into ENS too, like .com, .id, and .xyz and more.
Why are people excited about ENS domain names?
People are excited by ENS for many reasons, but here are four major ones:
1. Decentralized Usernames: In direct contrast to most usernames today, ENS names can be owned, meaning no one else can take them from your possession (this is specific to onchain names, check out this article on subdomains for more information).
2. Better UX: By having searchable, shareable names for our crypto wallet addresses, we enjoy a better user experience when interacting with decentralized apps and sites. Sending crypto and chatting on decentralized social apps are common examples.
3. Web3 Social Identities: ENS names are more than wallet domains. With text records (i.e. user profiles), creating one or many social identities to use while exploring the blockchain is possible. Choose to be anonymous behind your social identity, or let the world know it's you.
4. Offchain ENS subdomains: ENS names can be stored offchain, reducing the cost to use one. This is causing a rise in personal and business opportunities to give people ENS subnames. Learn more about gasless ENS subnames and how to issue them to entire communities on our main Namestone site.
Where can I learn more about ENS domain names?
Check out ens.domains for more information about ENS names. ENS names can be purchased on the official ENS app or on secondary markets like ENS Vision.
ENS domain names are just one part of the blockchain frontier, and as we spend time diving deeper into crypto and blockchain technology, we’ll discover more ways ENS can play a part in shaping it.