Today, I’m going to tell you about an exciting piece of crypto tech called MetaMask. I’m going to tell you where it came from, what it does and how it works. I’m also going to tell you what you need to know to get started.
I’ll be asking all the important questions like, is MetaMask safe and what can I use it for? When you finish reading, you’ll know exactly how to use MetaMask and, more importantly, whether or not you want to use it! Let’s get started, shall we?
The first question that needs to be answered about the MetaMask wallet is; what is a wallet?
Table of Contents
Cryptocurrency Wallet Bottom Line
Some people think that crypto wallets store cryptocurrency. This makes sense because that’s how the wallet in your pocket works. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Instead, cryptocurrency wallets simply store information about cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrencies only exist on huge databases called ledgers. These ledgers are a record of all the cryptocurrency transactions ever made. The most popular kind of cryptocurrency ledger is called a blockchain.
Want to know more about blockchain tech? Check out my Blockchain Explained guide.
Cryptocurrency can be moved around a blockchain but it can never leave it. You can’t withdraw all your coins and take them home! Users move their cryptocurrency around the blockchain using public and private keys. This is the information that’s stored in crypto wallets. Let’s have a quick look at the difference between public and private keys:
- Public keys can be seen by anyone. They work in a similar way to your email address. When someone wants to send you cryptocurrency, they will send it to your public key.
- Private keys shouldn’t be seen by anyone but you. If your public keys are like an email address, then your private keys are like the password. How do you prove that an email address is yours? You have the password!
Private keys are the only way of proving ownership of cryptocurrencies. This is why it’s so important that they are stored safely where no one can get access to them! There are several different kinds of wallets available:
They are removable storage devices like USB sticks. They are very safe but can be expensive. They a form of cold storage as they keep your private keys offline.
They can be used on lots of different devices but are at risk of being attacked by hackers. Online wallets are known as hot storage.
They are installed directly onto your computer. They can only be used on the computer they’re installed on. They are safer than web wallets, but not as safe as hardware wallets or paper wallets.
They are pieces of paper with your keys printed on them. They are very safe, just don’t spill coffee on them! Again, another form of cold storage as your private key is stored offline.
It’s strongly recommended that you always use more than one kind of wallet to store your cryptocurrency information. If one fails, gets hacked or goes missing, then at least you’ll have a backup! So, what kind of wallet is MetaMask?
What is MetaMask?
Metamask is a cryptocurrency wallet which can be used on the Chrome, Firefox and Brave browsers. It’s also a browser extension. This means that it works like a bridge between normal browsers and the Ethereum blockchain.
The Ethereum blockchain is a network where users can build their own apps (which are called dApps) and cryptocurrencies. Ethereum also allows its users to write transaction guidelines called smart contracts. MetaMask can be used to store keys for Ethereum cryptocurrencies only.
The cryptocurrency of Ethereum is called Ether. Other cryptocurrencies built on the Ethereum blockchain are called tokens. Most of the tokens built on the Ethereum blockchain are called ERC20 tokens because they follow the rules that Ethereum developers have set out for creating new cryptocurrencies.
So, the MetaMask wallet can be used for storing keys for Ether and ERC20 tokens on three different web browsers. It also allows users to browse the Ethereum blockchain from a standard browser. What other features does it have? And are they any good? Let’s find out, we’ll start with the good stuff…
MetaMask: The Good Stuff
- Open source: This means that all the MetaMask code is online and free to access. You can build your own version at home! I’m kidding, don’t do that. I mean, you could but don’t. Open-source software can be reviewed and updated by the community, meaning that it can be continuously improved.
- HD settings: Hierarchical deterministic settings help users back up their accounts. They do this by giving the user a list of words called seed phrases. Seed phrases can be used to reset lost account information.
- Built-in coin purchasing: MetaMask links directly with two exchanges where users can buy cryptocurrency. Users can select Coinbase to purchase Ether and ShapeShift to buy Ether or ERC20 tokens.
- Customer support: MetaMask wants to get as many people involved with the Ethereum network as it can. It has a video introduction on its homepage and a detailed support page.
- Simple interface: Once it’s set up, MetaMask is very simple to use. All of its features are laid out clearly so sending and receiving currency is easy, even for beginners!
- Local key storage: Some wallet providers store keys on their own servers. This is common on exchanges that provide wallets, like Coinbase. MetaMask keys are stored on the user’s own browser, not on any remote servers. This gives the user more control over their public and private keys.
- Community: MetaMask is an important part of the Ethereum community. It’s got more than a million active users and has over 40 thousand followers on Twitter.
We just passed 500k active installations!
Thanks to our half million users for their patience as we grow, and willingness to ride the cutting edge with us! pic.twitter.com/v4x0dwCotf
— MetaMask (@metamask_io) 18 December 2017
That’s a lot of good stuff! How about the bad stuff?
MetaMask: The Bad Stuff
- Browser access: MetaMask doesn’t have access to any of your information but the browser it’s installed on will. Your browser won’t have access to your private codes but it may collect information about when and how you use the app. Mozilla and Google aren’t very popular in the crypto community. Many crypto users will feel uncomfortable allowing these companies to collect information about them. This may stop some users from trying the MetaMask wallet.
- Online: Online wallets have advantages and disadvantages. One of the main disadvantages is security. Any information that’s stored online is more at risk from hackers than information that’s stored offline. MetaMask doesn’t provide enough security by itself. Remember, always use more than one kind of wallet (Wow, I sound like my mother! What’s happening to me!).
- Creepy fox: I wouldn’t normally mention this because I take my job seriously. However, the MetaMask fox mascot is really quite scary. Check out the way it follows the cursor around the screen with its dead eyes. Yuk! Who designed that thing!?
Now, you know a little bit about the MetaMask wallet. How does it compare to other Ethereum wallets? Let’s check out MetaMask vs MyEtherWallet…
MetaMask vs MyEtherWallet
MyEtherWallet is one of the most widely used Ethereum wallets. It’s an online platform but isn’t an online-only wallet. Think of MyEtherWallet more as a wallet generator. It’s a platform where users can create their own wallets and get access to the Ethereum blockchain. Users can view their cryptocurrencies which are held within any Ethereum private key using MEW.
The wallet’s users create to give them complete control of their keys. They can be used as hot or cold storage. MetaMask can only be used for hot storage. MyEtherWallet can also be used as a full node wallet. This means that it’s connected directly to the Ethereum blockchain and stores the whole ledger on your device.
MetaMask communicates with the Ethereum ledger through a system called Infura. This means that it trusts other computers to keep it up to date with the Ethereum network. Full node systems are generally preferred to systems that involve trusting middlemen like Infura.
MyEtherWallet can even be used access to write smart contracts, whereas MetaMask cannot. So, is MyEtherWallet better than Metamask? In some ways, it is, however, both platforms are flexible enough to be used together. When combined, the two systems offer an impressive wallet package. So, don’t think of it as MetaMask vs MyEtherWallet as they’re on the same team!
Now let’s get back to MetaMask. Next, I want to talk about MetaMask wallet safety…
There’s one very important question you should ask yourself when you’re deciding whether or not to download MetaMask; is MetaMask safe?
MetaMask hasn’t suffered any major hacks. It uses HD backup settings and has a strong community of developers updating its open source code. However, the wallet is online so it’s more at risk than hardware wallets and other forms of cold storage.
The most common risk facing the MetaMask wallet are phishing attacks. A phishing attack is a scam hackers use to steal personal information like usernames and passwords.
A phishing attack on a MetaMask wallet would work something like this:
Gene is working on his laptop with several tabs open in his browser. He unlocks his MetaMask wallet to make a transaction. An attacker uses the open tabs to see that Gene is using MetaMask.
The attacker sends Gene a pop-up message saying that his transaction has failed. This happens sometimes so Gene isn’t worried. He enters his password to remake the transaction. The attacker now has access to Gene’s wallet.
This kind of attack is quite common with online wallets. MetaMask is working on patches for this kind of problem but users are responsible for their own safety, so take care! When using MetaMask, only use one tab at a time to make transactions and keep the wallet locked when you’re not using it.
So, is MetaMask safe? The answer here is a nervous yes. Online wallets are only as secure as their users. So, if you’re illegally streaming episodes of Game of Thrones with an open MetaMask wallet and your Ether disappears, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Now that we’ve had a serious chat about browser safety, let’s get to the fun stuff! How to set up MetaMask and how to use MetaMask…
Setting up MetaMask
- You need one of the three browsers I mentioned earlier. If you don’t have one of these, you can download them here: Chrome, Firefox or Brave.
- Go to the MetaMask homepage and add the extension for whichever browser you’re using.
- A Metamask icon will appear in your browser. Click on the creepy fox to open the app.
- Next, click on Create New Vault and set a strong password.
- You’ll now be shown your twelve seed phrases. Write these down and keep them somewhere safe. This is extremely important!
- When you’ve done this, click on I’ve copied it somewhere safe.
That’s it! You’re now the proud owner of a MetaMask wallet. Are you ready to start using it? Let’s go…
How to use MetaMask
Buying and sending Ether and ERC20 tokens using MetaMask is quick and easy.
- To buy Ether or tokens, click on Buy and choose either Coinbase or Shapeshift to fund your account.
- To send Ether and ERC20 tokens, simply click on Send, enter the address where you want to send it and the amount. Then confirm the transaction by clicking Accept.
Now, you know how to use MetaMask, you can buy, send and receive Ether and ERC tokens with ease. That’s not all MetaMask can do though. Before you go I want to show you a few other ways that you can use your new MetaMask wallet.
Exploring Ethereum with MetaMask
What is MetaMask best at? The best thing about MetaMask is exploring the dApps of the Ethereum blockchain with it. For crypto newbies, it’s a great introduction to the blockchain because you’ll be using a browser that you’re comfortable with.
One dApp that is often used with MetaMask is MyEtherWallet, which I spoke about in the MetaMask vs MyEtherWallet section. So, what other dApps can you explore with MetaMask?
- CryptoKitties is a dApp where you can design and trade cartoon kittens. It’s probably the most well-known dApp on the Ethereum network. Creating adorable CryptoKitties is made easy with MetaMask, and so is selling them for a fat profit!
- Digital art is becoming more popular. Auctions are held where users can buy and sell unique collectibles. Blockchain technology allows artists to produce work that can’t be copied. With MetaMask, you could be bidding on a blockchain Banksy in no time!
- Blockchain arcades are being built where gamers can use Ether and tokens to enter video game tournaments. Sites like Etherplay require a MetaMask login to join the fun.
There you have it. Now you can answer the question, “what is MetaMask?” for yourself. I’ll leave you with a few final thoughts on this Ethereum superstar…
MetaMask is an important part of the Ethereum network. It allows crypto newbies to take their first steps into the world of blockchain. Its function as a wallet is secondary to its role as a bridge into Ethereum.
As a wallet, MetaMask is the perfect partner for a product like MyEtherWallet. I don’t think MetaMask has strong enough security features on its own. I would only recommend storing small amounts of cryptocurrency in a MetaMask wallet.
The best way to use Metamask is as a store for the coins you need to enjoy Ethereum dApps. Think of it like a bag of change you can take to the arcade or to the funfair. Take enough to have a great time but no more than you can afford to lose!
I hope you’re ready to give Metamask a try. What dApp will you use first? Maybe you could design me a CryptoKittie or buy me a digital Dali? Whatever you do, have fun and I’ll see you next time!