What Is NEAR Protocol? A Guide to the NEAR Ecosystem
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What Is NEAR Protocol? A Guide to the NEAR Ecosystem

Created 1yr ago, last updated 1yr ago

CoinMarketCap Academy takes a deep dive into NEAR Protocol, a highly-capable layer1 blockchain designed to host powerful decentralized applications. Read more!

What Is NEAR Protocol? A Guide to the NEAR Ecosystem

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NEAR Protocol is a highly-capable layer-1 blockchain designed to host powerful decentralized applications and new financial primitives.

The platform aims to provide an accessible, easy-to-use blockchain platform that can cater to the needs of individuals and businesses on a global scale. It accomplishes this through a unique mix of powerful technical solutions, in addition to an ultra-efficient consensus and crypto-economic system, and a focus on a refined, intuitive user and developer experience.

At the heart of NEAR Protocol is the NEAR token. Similar to ETH on Ethereum and ADA on Cardano, NEAR is used for paying gas fees (transaction and smart contract operation costs). It can also be delegated to validators to earn a share of the NEAR token emission (currently set at 5% per year) — different validators vary in the amount of commission they charge, but it’s usually around 5% of the yield.
The NEAR blockchain launched its mainnet in April 2020 and held an IEO for the NEAR token on Coinlist in August of the same year.

NEAR Protocol was co-founded by Illia Polosukhin and Alexander Skidanov. Polosukhin is an ex-Google engineering manager and experienced software engineer that also founded Sid Venture Partners — a Ukraine-based venture fund. Skidanov, on the other hand, is a two-time ICPC medalist who previously worked with OpenAI as a research engineer consultant and as an Architect and Director of Engineering at memSQL.

Besides the co-founders, NEAR Protocol is supported and developed by a team of more than 100 employees globally alongside a community of more than 14 million NEAR account holders.

At its peak, NEAR was the 16th largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization. It also achieved a peak DeFi total value locked (TVL) of $590 million in May 2022 — positioning it as one of the top 10 most popular non-EVM chains by TVL.

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What Makes NEAR Unique?

Like most layer-1 blockchains, NEAR attempts to distinguish itself from the competition by offering a variety of unique features. These include:

  • Carbon neutrality: NEAR is one of just a handful of blockchain platforms that can boast true carbon neutrality. The platform's carbon footprint has been audited by South Pole (a climate solutions provider) who found that NEAR generates 174 tons of CO2 annually from its operation — or roughly 200,000x less than Bitcoin. It is also committed to offsetting any residual footprint through a range of initiatives.
  • High speed: NEAR transactions generally achieve finality within 1 second — significantly faster than Ethereum's 14 seconds and Bitcoin's 10 minutes. It achieves this by limiting the maximum amount of gas per block to ensure they can be processed in a timely fashion.
  • High throughput: NEAR boasts a current maximum throughput of around 100,000 transactions per second (tps) — which, if accurate, edges out Solana's 65,000 tps. That said, the blockchain currently only processes somewhere around 5-20 tps due to a lack of activity.
  • Low fees: To help make the platform as accessible as possible to users and developers, NEAR keeps transaction fees down to a bare minimum. Most transactions cost just a fraction of a cent to complete. As with most other blockchains, these fees are used to compensate node holders — who are responsible for processing transactions.
  • Interoperability: Thanks to the Aurora EVM, Octopus Network, and several other cross-chain solutions, NEAR is interoperable with the broader blockchain landscape — allowing assets to be transferred between NEAR and several other popular blockchain platforms without friction.
  • Available funding: NEAR separates itself from other similar platforms by the variety of funding opportunities available. This includes a generous grants program with $350 million in funding, a project accelerator, and a community bounty program.
  • Human readable names: NEAR allows users to create easy-to-remember account IDs that consist of between 2 and 64 alphanumeric symbols, these end in the top-level domain extension .near (e.g. username.near). This makes transacting on NEAR a simpler task compared to blockchains that use public key hashes instead.
  • Developer friendliness: NEAR is designed to be as accessible to developers as possible. It helps to reduce barriers to entry by providing a comprehensive SDK for easily developing smart contracts and supports both Rust and AssemblyScript code — since both can be compiled to run on its WASM virtual machine.

How Does NEAR Protocol Work?

As a layer-1 blockchain designed to host an array of smart contracts and decentralized applications (DApps), NEAR Protocol leverages powerful architecture that helps it remain fast, secure, and efficient.

One of the key technical features separating NEAR from other blockchains is its unique sharding design — known as Nightshade. This will see the NEAR blockchain achieve mass scaling by processing multiple blocks in parallel across multiple shards. Initially, only a subset of NEAR validators will be allowed to process chunks on each shard. But in later versions, the team behind NEAR wants to ensure all validators are involved in tracking transactions across all shards.

At the heart of the platform is its sharded proof-of-stake (POS) consensus system. This allows validators to achieve consensus about the current state of the network through a system that penalizes bad actors and rewards good ones. Users need to stake NEAR tokens to join the network as a validator — the exact amount needed varies based on the seat price at the time. As of writing, the seat price is >158,090 NEAR (~$500,000).

Validators are selected for transaction processing using an auction mechanism and users can delegate their NEAR to validators that offer the service through a staking pool. Like most proof-of-stake blockchains, NEAR implements a slashing feature to deter malicious behavior among validators and maximize Sybil resistance. Attempts to produce invalid blocks or fork the chain will result in their stake being slashed.
Right now, a maximum of 100 validators are allowed to participate in block production. This number is set to increase in the future as NEAR looks to increase decentralization and open up validator slots for chunk producers. Roughly 46% of the NEAR token supply is staked/delegated, yielding roughly 11.7% APY for validators.

How to Buy NEAR?

The NEAR token sits at the heart of the NEAR protocol and powers its Proof-of-Stake mechanism and community governance system. Since it is the native gas token, used for paying for smart contract operations and transactions, you will need to hold NEAR tokens to begin using the platform.

As it stands, gas fees on the NEAR blockchain are extremely low. Because of this, even $1 worth of NEAR will be sufficient to conduct several transactions on the platform in most cases. That said, you may want to hold more near for speculative purposes or if you plan to engage with its broader DeFi ecosystem.

Where to Buy NEAR?

The NEAR token is currently available to buy and trade on a wide variety of popular exchange platforms — including the likes of Binance, Huobi Global, KuCoin, FTX, and Gate. Binance is currently by far the most liquid exchange for the token.

Here’s how to purchase your NEAR using Binance:

  1. First, you’ll need to log in to your Binance account and deposit a supported cryptocurrency to trade for NEAR (e.g. USDT, BUSD, BTC, or BNB).
2. Once cleared, navigate to the respective NEAR market via the 'Markets' tab. In this case, we’ll select the NEAR/USDT market.

3. At the bottom of the trading dashboard, find the order panel and select the 'Market' option. This will allow you to place a market order to buy NEAR at the best available price.

4. Here, enter the amount you want to spend on NEAR, or switch from ‘Total’ to ‘Amount’ to enter the specific number of NEAR you wish to purchase.

5. When you’re ready, click ‘Buy NEAR’ to execute your order. This will then be filled at the best available rate and your NEAR tokens will be available to trade or withdraw from your Binance wallet.

Where to Store NEAR Tokens?

The NEAR token is currently supported by a small handful of popular wallets. These include MetaMask (via the Aurora mainnet), Trust Wallet, Crypto.com's DeFi wallet, and the official NEAR wallet.

Ledger wallet owners will also be able to interact with the NEAR blockchain and manage their NEAR assets by installing the NEAR app. A hardware wallet like the Ledger Nano X is arguably the best option for those holding a large bag of NEAR tokens, whereas those with a smaller portfolio or who prioritize convenience would probably be best served by the official NEAR wallet.

NEAR’s DApp Ecosystem

Despite completing its mainnet genesis just over two years ago, NEAR already has an expansive DApp ecosystem, much of which is exclusive to the NEAR blockchain.

The vast majority of its DApps fall into the DeFi umbrella since most primarily deal with transacting value in different ways on-chain. But it’s also beginning to be leveraged by projects in the NFT and gaming niches since its technology can be used to deliver additional value to NFT and gaming enthusiasts.

Briefly, we take a look at some of the most popular projects currently built on NEAR:

Top DeFi Protocols on NEAR

  • Ref Finance: Currently by far the most popular DeFi app on NEAR by TVL, Ref Finance is a community-led suite of DeFi products — including a decentralized exchange (DEX), yield farm, lending protocol, stableswap platform, and synthetic asset issuer. The platform is noted for the high yields many of its farms' offer.
  • Burrow: Burrow is the NEAR Protocol-based equivalent to Aave. It allows users to easily supply and borrow interest-bearing assets on NEAR. By depositing assets to the protocol, users can earn an attractive yield while still being protected by its robust borrower liquidation mechanisms.
  • Aurora: Arguably the most powerful DeFi DApp in the NEAR ecosystem, Aurora brings Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) support to the NEAR blockchain, allowing solidity developers to easily leverage NEAR’s capabilities or migrate their DApps from competing EVM blockchains like Ethereum, BNB Chain, and Fantom.

Infrastructure Protocols on NEAR

  • Octopus Network: Octopus Network is a NEAR-based crosschain interoperable network designed to launch and run Substrate-based, EVM-compatible application-specific blockchains, aka appchains, which are both sovereign and customizable — even to the bottom of the tech stack. The Octopus Relay provides interoperability with the NEAR mainchain and its DeFi Ecosystem. Octopus Network appchains are also interoperable with Ethereum via the Rainbow Bridge and any IBC-enabled blockchains via an IBC palette, such as Cosmos and Polkadot.

Top NFTs DApps on NEAR

  • Paras: Currently the most popular NFT marketplace on NEAR, Paras allows users to easily sell their digital collectibles in a trustless way. Thanks to the efficiency of the NEAR blockchain, Paras ensures users can buy and sell their NFTs with extremely low fees and helps to make discovering new, promising NFT collections a simpler task through its curatorial approach to artist selection.
  • Mintbase: Billed as a next-generation NFT engine, Mintbase allows users to easily create their own NFT collection without any coding experience. Through Mintbase, anybody can create their own store to sell their NFTs using a variety of different sale formats. The platform also supports split revenues and royalties and only charges a 2.5% commission on each sale which is in line with larger platforms like OpenSea.
  • Secret Skellies Society: Arguably the most prominent profile picture NFT collection on NEAR, Secret Skellies Society is a collection of 3,333 Skellies and Grimms that were minted in January 2022 for 5 NEAR apiece. Since then, the average sale price for each NFT has climbed to over 144 NEAR. The designers of the project aim to provide utility to each token holder and also built a launchpad for other NEAR-based projects.

Top Gaming DApps on NEAR

  • Zomland: Currently by far the most popular game on NEAR, Zomland features play-to-earn mechanics and supports crypto-collectibles. The game is centered around plots of land, which players can use to mint zombies every day. These zombies vary in their rarity and desirability and can be used for battle, sold, or killed to receive ZML tokens.
  • Metaverse AI: The team behind Metaverse AI is leveraging the NEAR blockchain to build a powerful 3D virtual reality platform within which users can build novel experiences and interact with their favorite brands. They also plan to develop the world's first AI-powered digital humans which players will be able to interact with inside the metaverse.
  • Pumpopoly: As a virtual real estate simulator, Pumpopoly allows players to own digital land which can be improved and used to earn yields through rent collected when players park on their plots. Pumpopoly is unusual among blockchain games in that it can be tested for free thanks to a preview version deployed on the NEAR testnet.

Disclaimer: Octopus Network's description was updated to more accurately reflect its place as an infrastructure protocol on August 24.

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