Crypto Currency Exchanges: A Beginner’s Guide on How It Works

Cryptocurrency exchanges

Crypto Currency exchanges are vital to the digital asset ecosystem, allowing users to easily buy, sell easily, and trade cryptocurrencies. They have emerged as a crucial infrastructure for the cryptocurrency market, providing liquidity and price discovery for various digital assets.

  • Coinbase, one of the most popular cryptocurrency exchanges, was founded in 2012 with just $600,000 in funding. 
  • The number of cryptocurrency exchanges has increased recently, with over 500 exchanges operating worldwide.

This shows the vast growth potential of this market and why it is essential to understand the inner workings of a crypto exchange.

The Different Types of Crypto Exchanges That Exist Today

There are several cryptocurrency exchanges, each with unique features and functions. Here are four common types of cryptocurrency exchanges and how they work:

1. Centralized Exchanges: Centralized exchanges are the most common. A single company and function operate as a trusted intermediary between buyers and sellers. They usually have an order book and matching engine to facilitate user trades. Centralized exchanges store user funds on their servers and are responsible for their security. They also charge fees for trading and withdrawals.

Some examples of popular centralized cryptocurrency exchanges:

  • Binance
  • Kraken
  • Bitfinex
  • Huobi

2. Decentralized Exchanges: Decentralized exchanges (DEXs) operate on a peer-to-peer basis without a central authority. They use smart contracts to execute trades automatically and allow users to trade directly with one another. DEXs do not store user funds and do not require users to provide personal information. Instead, users maintain control of their funds and trade them directly with one another.

Here are some examples of popular decentralized cryptocurrency exchanges:

  • Uniswap
  • PancakeSwap
  • Sushiswap
  • Balancer

3. Brokerage Exchanges: Brokerage exchanges are designed for users who want to trade cryptocurrency quickly and easily. They offer a simple user interface and allow users to buy or sell cryptocurrency at a fixed price. Brokerage exchanges often accept credit card payments and charge a premium for their services.

Some popular brokerage cryptocurrency exchanges are

  • Gemini
  • Bitpanda
  • Coinmama

4. OTC Exchanges: Over-the-counter exchanges operate like brokerages but are designed for high-volume trades. They allow buyers and sellers to negotiate prices directly and facilitate large cryptocurrency transactions without affecting market prices.

Here are some examples of popular over-the-counter cryptocurrency exchanges:

  • Circle Trade
  • Cumberland
  • Kraken OTC 
  • Genesis Trading
  • itBit OTC

5. Hybrid Exchanges: Hybrid exchanges combine the features of centralized and decentralized exchanges. They offer the speed and convenience of CEXs with the security and privacy of DEXs. Hybrid exchanges often use smart contracts to execute trades automatically and allow users to maintain control of their funds.

How Does a Cryptocurrency Exchange Work?

Crypto exchanges consist of different elements, each with its purpose, and they all work together to keep the platform running smoothly. These elements are

The User Interface: This is the exchange component that the users see and interact with. It consists of the website and mobile application of the platform. It is the product of designers and developers working together to provide a pleasant experience for all users. A well-designed UI can significantly enhance the user experience, making it easier for users to navigate the platform, execute trades, and manage their digital assets.

The Market Maker: It consists of the matching engine (in the case of CEX) or an Automated Market Maker(AMM) in the case of DEXs. 

When a user places a buy or sell order on a CEX, the order is sent to the matching engine, which matches it with a corresponding order on the opposite side of the market. The matching engine determines the most optimal match based on the orders’ price, quantity, and timing.

The matching engine typically operates continuously and can handle many transactions in real-time. It ensures that the trades are executed quickly, accurately, and efficiently, providing traders a seamless experience.

Automated Market Makers are the decentralized equivalent of matching engines that uses an algorithm to determine the price of assets traded on the platform. AMMs are a liquidity pool that eliminates the need for a traditional order book and market-making services.

In an AMM, traders can deposit two assets to form a liquidity pool. These assets are usually a cryptocurrency and a stablecoin but can be any assets the AMM supports. The pool’s price is determined based on the ratio of the two assets in the pool, and the AMM algorithm ensures that the pool remains in equilibrium by adjusting prices based on supply and demand.

When a trader wants to buy or sell an asset, they execute a trade against the liquidity pool rather than another trader. The price of the trade is determined by the AMM algorithm based on the trade size and the current liquidity pool ratios. As a result, traders can buy and sell assets without waiting for another trader to take the other side of the trade.

The Blockchain Network: Crypto exchanges rely on blockchain networks to facilitate the transfer of digital assets between buyers and sellers.

When a user sends a transaction to a crypto exchange, it is broadcast to the blockchain network, validating the transaction and adding it to the blockchain ledger. This process provides a transparent and immutable record of all transactions on the exchange, which anyone can audit and verify.

Blockchain networks also provide a high level of security for crypto exchanges. Cryptocurrencies are secured using complex cryptographic algorithms and private keys stored securely on the blockchain. By leveraging the security and transparency of blockchain networks, crypto exchanges can provide a secure and trustworthy platform for users to buy and sell cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin was the first and most well-known blockchain network that allowed for peer-to-peer transactions without intermediaries.

Ethereum was the first open-sourced blockchain network, marking the birth of the second generation of networks that enabled the creation and execution of smart contracts and decentralized applications (dApps). Ethereum is also a platform for launching new cryptocurrency projects through initial coin offerings (ICOs).

The latest generation of blockchain networks, such as Cardano, aims to improve scalability and security of previous blockchain networks.

Steps To Use a Crypto Exchange

Using a cryptocurrency exchange can initially seem intimidating, but it’s pretty straightforward. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Choose an Exchange: Before choosing an exchange, you’ll want to consider the security, fees, and availability of the cryptocurrencies you’re interested in trading.
  2. Creating an Account: It typically involves providing your name, email address, and password and completing the required verification steps.
  3. Fund Your Account: You must deposit funds into your exchange account before trading. This can typically be done using a bank transfer or credit card.
  4. Place an Order: To buy or sell cryptocurrencies on an exchange, you must place an order. Specify how much cryptocurrency you want to buy or sell and at what price.


As blockchain technology evolves, we can expect huge innovations and developments in cryptocurrency exchanges, greater regulatory scrutiny, and changes in user behavior and preferences. 2023 is a great time to partner with a crypto exchange development company to start your profitable crypto exchange! 

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