What is Stellar? Stellar is an open-source network for currencies and payments. Stellar makes it easy to create, send and trade digital representations of all forms of money—dollars, pesos, bitcoin, pretty much anything. It’s designed so all the world’s financial systems can work together on a single network.
Stellar has no owner; if anything it’s owned by the public. The software runs across a decentralized, open network and handles millions of transactions each day. Like Bitcoin and Ethereum, Stellar relies on blockchain to keep the network in sync, but the end-user experience is more like cash—Stellar is much faster, cheaper, and more energy-efficient than typical blockchain-based systems.
What Is Stellar For?
The Stellar network launched in 2015. Since then it’s processed more than 450 million transactions made by over 4 million individual accounts. Companies as big as IBM and Franklin Templeton and as small as single-dev startups use Stellar for moving money and accessing new markets.
From the beginning, Stellar has been cryptocurrency-adjacent, but the software has always been intended to enhance rather than undermine or replace the existing financial system. Whereas, say, the Bitcoin network was made for trading only bitcoins, Stellar is a decentralized system that’s great for trading any kind of money in a transparent and efficient way.
The Stellar network has a native digital currency, the lumen, that’s required in small amounts for initializing accounts and making transactions (you can read more about that here) but, beyond those requirements, Stellar doesn’t privilege any particular currency. It’s specifically designed to make traditional forms of money—the money people have been spending and saving for centuries—more useful and accessible.
For example, here’s what you can do with Stellar. You can create a digital representation of a U.S. dollar—on Stellar you’d call this a “dollar token”—and you can tell the world that whenever someone deposits a traditional dollar with you, you’ll issue them one of your new tokens. When someone brings that “dollar token” back to you, you promise to redeem it in turn for one of the regular dollars in that deposit account. Essentially, you set up a 1:1 relationship between your digital token and a traditional dollar. Every one of your tokens out in the world is backed by an equivalent deposit. So while people hold the tokens, they can treat them just like traditional money, because they know that they’re exchangeable for traditional money in the end.
This might seem unexceptional—issuing electronic credits for dollars is basically what any local American bank does thousands of times a day. But in a global system this 1:1 promise of a token for a currency has important implications. For instance, no matter how a token moves through the economy, the underlying dollars never leave that bank account in the United States. So suppose someone loans their tokens to someone else, who then uses them to buy a car. No bank has to settle the purchase or approve the loan. And furthermore, it doesn’t matter if the seller of the car lives in Mexico or Singapore or anywhere, they can still own the tokens and can trade them however they please. The Stellar network makes money borderless.
Digital dollar tokens also mean people all over the world can own, buy, and sell the value of a dollar without themselves having a U.S. bank account. A Venezuelan can hold some of his family’s net worth in dollars. A Filipino expat can send dollars back home, and the recipient can hold them, safely and digitally, until she’s ready to exchange. An American company can pay a Mexican vendor in dollars, and the vendor can pay its suppliers in turn, with a five-second, rather than a five-day, wait to settle. Because the dollars represented by the digital token never actually move as the value changes hands, these transactions sidestep the friction and expense of the current banking system.
This exact dollar token example is in fact live on Stellar right now, implemented by a company called AnchorUSD—roughly $100,000 of value moves quickly and cheaply through their USDx token each day. Of course, Stellar works for any currency, not just dollars. And when you add peso tokens, naira tokens, yuan tokens, pound tokens, bitcoin tokens, euro tokens and everything else, you have a truly unified monetary system that keeps the best parts of what exists today.