The Beginner’s Guide to MetaMask
For those new to Ethereum or perhaps even cryptocurrencies in general, the name MetaMask has probably already popped up in conversations. MetaMask is essentially a browser extension, and acts both as a wallet and access point to the Ethereum network. Explained even simpler, MetaMask is a hot wallet.
On the blockchain cryptocurrency networks, users can opt for a hot wallet (“live” or actively connected to the network) or a cold wallet (disconnected from the network). A wallet is necessary to store personal altcoins off exchanges or anywhere else after trading or transacting.
Although many early exchanges act as a bank for digital traders, current wisdom dictates that users maintain their funds offsite. In addition, a user will very often need to fund a trading account from a wallet, as many don’t allow for fiat or legacy payment protocols.
There are pros and cons to both, and current trends see most users employing the duo as their needs dictate. A hot wallet can be accessed and pilfered through phishing or user error, whereas a cold wallet is dead to the network, allowing no access at all. A cold wallet is also sometimes called a vault, as it’s silent, secure and access-restricted.
Many users will encounter the name when looking at ICOs, because ICOs are dominated by the ERC-20 token protocol. ERC-20 is a “type” of token, developed and employed on the Ethereum network, that has proven the most malleable and compatible token structure for crowdfunding purposes. The vast majority of ICOs, while employing their “own” tokens, are actually building those tokens out of the ERC-20 protocol.
Looking at a few nuances of the wallet, since it is an organic build from the Ethereum network, the MetaMask wallet will only hold ETH coins and other ERC-20 tokens of whatever origin. Bitcoin, for example, cannot be held in a MetaMask wallet.
The other major component of MetaMask is that it is a gateway to the Ethereum network. What this means is that all of the network’s dapps are available to use for MetaMask wallet holders. Dapps are “decentralized apps” and so named because their backend code is running on a decentralized network, in this case the Ethereum network.
If dapps seem obscure, examples would be the game Cryptokitties or casinos like Etheroll, a marketplace like OpenSea and of course digital exchanges like ForkDelta and IDEX.
Without a middleman like MetaMask, a PC’s browser can’t access the Ethereum network. Not unless a user runs a “full node” and installs the whole 400GB Ethereum blockchain on their PC.
Installation and Setup Of MetaMask
MetaMask is “open source,” which means anyone can view the code on GitHub. Currently, MetaMask functions on the FireFox, Chrome, Brave and Opera browsers. Links to MetaMask extensions for all relevant browsers are readily available on the MetaMask homepage. Once installed, the MetaMask logo will appear in the top right of the screen. Chrome, for one, will typically ask you to enable an extension, but these steps are all linked and users are done with a MetaMask installation in a minute or two.
Users don’t require a username when registering a MetaMask wallet, only a password. With MetaMask, a user’s password is called a “DEN.” although a clever play on words, since the logo is a fox’s face, although this appears to be more coincidence than any deliberate naming.
After creating a password, users are issued with a unique 12-word “seed phrase.” This is a bunch of words employed to safeguard a user’s account. It’s recommended that users stash their seed words in a competent password keeper like LastPass, or similar apps. Users can also generate multiple MetaMask accounts. Every account created by a user with MetaMask will share seed words and the password, but will have a different address.
Transacting With MetaMask
Paying someone or otherwise dispatching tokens from the MetaMask wallet is a simple matter. A single click on “Send” allows users to populate the subsequent screen with a user address. Send the funds and the transaction is done, and users receive a confirmation once the transaction is completed.
When interacting with dapps using MetaMask, provided a user is logged into their MetaMask account, they can access Ethereum network dapps automatically through their browser. Logging into a dapp like OpenSea, for example, the decentralized outlet for crypto collectibles, the dapp notes a user’s MetaMask address. There is no need to log into dapps separately, as the network has user intel integrated, recognizing an account holder wherever they go on the Ethereum blockchain.
MetaMask is free to use, users paying only the “gas” cost – the base cost of transacting on the Ethereum network. Gas is the fee required to effect any transaction on the Ethereum network. It is denominated in “Gwei,” one billionth of an ETH. Looking at overall UX, MetaMask is a reputable offering, with good support and a welcome absence of any dark press.
Protecting Your MetaMask Account
How Safe is MetaMask? In the world of cryptocurrencies, security is top of the list. Constant hacks and successful phishing attempts keep making the papers, while legislators are still battling to bring regulation up to the same level as legacy fintech. Since cryptocurrency thefts cannot be undone by identifying the thief and reclaiming funds, users should always have security uppermost in their minds when employing their MetaMask wallet.
It is advised to log out of a MetaMask account when it’s not being used. When a user is logged in, the account is considered “unlocked” and more vulnerable than when shut down. Open MetaMask accounts enable crooks to glean a user’s wallet address, token types, the wallet balance and especially transaction history.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that phishing can only happen via mail, however. Users should be aware of suspicious pop-ups or other notifications while signed into their wallet, as this can also be indicative of a phishing attempt.
Things like irregular pop-ups that ask a user to sign for a pending transactions are high risk. So too are messages telling users that their last transaction failed, then rerouting the repeat transaction to a different address. Much like cyber criminals emulate bank UIs and present with all the right logos and all the right colors in place, so too have there been instances of phony interfaces emerging.
For the best secure arrangement, users would employ a cold wallet like Ledger or Trezor Model T. For human reassurance, keeping the bulk of one’s altcoin holdings in a cold wallet can’t be beaten. That said, MetaMask has never suffered a hack nor had other instances of bad, sad press around lost funds and theft. To date, the wallet is impervious, and user losses stem from phishing attacks for which MetaMask can’t be blamed.
MetaMask is elegantly simple and easy to use. The wallet-stroke-network enabler has become the most popular and convenient route to navigating, paying and trading on the Ethereum network. Standing back and looking at the offer as a non-technical or, rather, non-crypto person might, as an offer it’s very simple and easy to install.
Even newcomers can quickly grasp the essence of it and get on with interacting on the Ethereum blockchain. MetaMask is intuitive and has been elegantly simplified because of its homegrown Ethereum nature. Any hot wallet, however, carries a higher risk than any cold wallet, and users should always have caution in mind when transacting via the wallet.
You can read more about MetaMask here: metamask.io