A blockchain explorer is simply a search engine allowing users to browse through blockchain records.
Blockchain explorers facilitate one of the most important features of blockchain technology — browsing through the records of the distributed ledger. Transparency is one of the main characteristics of cryptocurrencies, and blockchain explorers allow users to benefit from it. Most cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH) feature public ledgers, where all transactions approved by node operators are recorded. However, with the growing adoption of these tokens, thousands of transactions are processed each minute, making it hard to extract information from the blockchain.
This is where blockchain explorers play a vital role. They allow users to type in a public or private address and receive information about all transactions going to and from this address. Blockchain explorers also provide information about all blocks added to the chain and the rate at which transactions are being processed.
The way a blockchain explorer works is simple. When a user types in a search query in the interface of the explorer, the software sends it out. Through an application programming interface (API), the blockchain explorer connects to a node and starts extracting the requested information. Once all relevant data has been extracted, the blockchain explorer orders and lists it and presents it to the user in a searchable format. Depending on the explorer you decide to use, you might also be able to check the current status of transaction validation, how many outstanding requests there are and explore the list of unconfirmed transactions.
While blockchain explorers are designed to facilitate and promote the transparency of distributed ledger technology (DLT), there are tools that can protect the anonymity of addresses transacting on the blockchain. Coin mixers are the most popular tool used to hide the origin of a transaction. When a user sends their fund to a coin mixer, the software combines several other incoming transactions and sends the final address a completely new set of tokens, which cannot be traced. This means that while the transaction will be recorded on the blockchain, its destination address will not be revealed in the record, as it will show up as the address of the coin mixer.
Even so, blockchain explorers are an essential service, as they facilitate important access to data recorded in the ledger. If you are curious to know more about blockchain explorers and would like to try using one, check out our detailed Blockchain Explorer Guide, and jump right in.