Crypto 101: What Are Ethscriptions?

Ethscriptions are a new way to create digital artifacts on Ethereum, using calldata to embed images on the blockchain itself.

Crypto 101: What Are Ethscriptions?

Ethscriptions are a new way of creating and sharing digital artifacts on Ethereum.

In some ways, Ethscriptions are similar to NFTs, which take the form of ERC-721 tokens (and other token standards), and Bitcoin Ordinals. All of these enable the creation of unique, indivisible assets that can be used to represent digital art and other online items.

However, Ethscriptions differ in certain key ways from conventional Ethereum NFTs, being more similar to Ordinals.

How Do Ethscriptions Work?

Ethscriptions were launched on June 16, 2023 by Tom Lehman (aka Middlemarch), who also launched Ethereum Punks. Others have used the same mechanism in the past, but Lehman has popularized it with the Ethscriptions tools.

Digital artifacts in the form of NFTs are nothing new, especially for Ethereum. However, Ethscriptions—which take inspiration from Bitcoin Ordinals, which are "inscribed" on the blockchain—take a different approach to NFTs.

NFTs are managed using a smart contract that controls ownership and links to metadata. Ethscriptions simply store image information in transaction calldata: A read-only space where data to be used by a transaction or smart contract call is held.

To create an Ethscription, an image (no more than 96 kb) is converted into a special special format known as a Base 64-encoded data URI. This image data is sent using a zero ETH transaction to the recipient.

Every Ethscription must have unique data; trying to create a new Ethscription that contains the same data as an existing one will fail. Each Ethscription has a unique ID number that can be used to prove ownership or transfer it to a new account.

Pros And Cons

Ethscriptions are said to be cheaper and more decentralized than NFTs, with creator Lehman claiming they are 40x cheaper.

The reality is a little more complex, and as with any two similar technologies, there are pros and cons to using Ethscriptions over NFTs.

  • Ethscriptions use transaction calldata to store an image on-chain, while NFTs use smart contracts and a link to metadata stored externally, generally either on IPFS or a hosted (centralized) solution.
  • This means Ethscriptions can be considered to be more decentralized, since they do not rely on third-party storage: Everything is on the Ethereum blockchain itself. However, there are two caveats.
  • The first is that image data is limited to 96 kb, while NFTs have no built-in limit.
  • The second is potentially more serious. Ethscriptions have better data availability, for now, but there are questions about the long-term implications of storing images in calldata. The Ethereum “Purge” update includes a proposal to prune unnecessary data more than a year old, which could end up wiping Ethscriptions from the blockchain.
  • Ethscriptions may be cheaper to create and transfer than NFTs, since they only need a 0 ETH transaction and some calldata. However, because Ethscriptions do rely on a smart contract, they are less composable and flexible than regular NFTs.

The user interfaces and marketplaces for Ethscriptions are still in their early days. Use to explore this new technology for creating digital artefacts on Ethereum, and let us know what you think!

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