Launched in 2009, Bitcoin code is open source, meaning it can be modified and freely used for other projects by anyone. Many cryptocurrencies have launched with modified versions of this original code, with varying levels of success. These cryptocurrencies are known as altcoins.
Similar to Bitcoin, altcoins are decentralized digital currencies that use blockchain technology. Many were invented as an effort to improve upon Bitcoin or offer a slightly different set of attributes to users. Altcoins can typically be traded on the same exchanges and platforms where Bitcoin is bought and sold. Their price varies and is often volatile.
While numerous altcoins have been created since Bitcoin was invented, the latter has remained the predominant cryptocurrency by market share. From 2020 to 2021, Bitcoin comprised 60% of the market cap of cryptocurrencies, on average.
Ethereum (ETH) is the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization after Bitcoin. (Its market share rose to an all-time high of nearly 27% in May 2021.) It was created in 2013 by developer Vitalik Buterin with the vision of expanding blockchain to use cases on top of financial transactions, such as smart contracts.
Other altcoins include Litecoin (LTC), Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Cardano (ADA), Binance Coin (BNB) and Solana (SOL).