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  • Writer's pictureGianluca Favorito

Understanding NFTs: What They Are and How They Work

A Non-Fungible Token (NFT) is a unique digital asset that represents ownership of a specific item or piece of content, typically stored on a blockchain. Unlike cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum, which are fungible and can be exchanged on a one-to-one basis, NFTs are unique and cannot be exchanged on a like-for-like basis. Each NFT has distinct information or attributes that make it unique, such as metadata, ownership history, and authenticity proofs. NFTs can represent various digital items, including artwork, music, videos, virtual real estate, in-game items, and more. The blockchain technology behind NFTs ensures the transparency, immutability, and provenance of the digital assets, making it possible to prove ownership and authenticity​.




How Does an NFT Work?

NFTs operate on blockchain technology, typically using the Ethereum blockchain and the ERC-721 standard. Here's a simplified overview of how NFTs work:

  1. Creation (Minting): An NFT is created, or "minted," when a digital asset (such as art, music, or video) is uploaded to a blockchain platform. This process involves creating a smart contract, which is a piece of code stored on the blockchain that defines the unique attributes and properties of the NFT. The smart contract includes metadata about the NFT, such as its name, description, and a link to the digital asset.

  2. Storage: The digital asset itself can be stored on-chain or off-chain. On-chain storage means the asset is directly stored on the blockchain, which can be expensive and resource-intensive. More commonly, NFTs use off-chain storage, where the actual file is stored on a decentralized storage system like IPFS (InterPlanetary File System), and the blockchain contains a pointer or link to this file.

  3. Ownership and Provenance: Each NFT has a unique identifier that distinguishes it from other tokens. This identifier, along with the metadata and ownership details, is recorded on the blockchain. This ensures that the NFT cannot be replicated or altered, providing a secure and transparent record of ownership. The blockchain records every transaction involving the NFT, creating a history of ownership (provenance) that can be verified by anyone.

  4. Transfer and Sale: NFTs can be bought, sold, and transferred between users. When an NFT is sold, the smart contract is updated to reflect the new owner. This transaction is recorded on the blockchain, ensuring transparency and security. Marketplaces like OpenSea, Rarible, and SuperRare facilitate these transactions, providing platforms for creators and collectors to interact.

  5. Smart Contracts: Smart contracts are crucial in the NFT ecosystem. They automate the execution of certain actions when predefined conditions are met. For example, a smart contract can automatically transfer an NFT to a buyer once payment is received. These contracts ensure that transactions are carried out exactly as programmed without the need for intermediaries.

By leveraging blockchain technology, NFTs provide a secure, transparent, and decentralized way to buy, sell, and trade digital assets. This has revolutionized the concept of digital ownership, allowing for the creation of unique and valuable digital items.



The Evolution of NFTs: From Quantum to the Present Day

The concept of NFTs can be traced back to 2014 when Kevin McCoy created the first known NFT called "Quantum." McCoy, together with his wife, designed this digital artwork and registered it on the Namecoin blockchain. The idea was to establish a method to authenticate and sell digital art by leveraging blockchain technology. This innovation laid the foundation for NFTs, providing a way to create indelible provenance and ownership for digital assets.


The real breakthrough for NFTs came with the launch of Ethereum and its ERC-721 standard in 2017, which allowed for the creation and trading of unique tokens on the Ethereum blockchain. This standardization led to the creation of early NFT projects such as CryptoPunks and CryptoKitties, which brought significant attention to NFTs. Over the years, the NFT market has grown exponentially, with high-profile sales like Beeple's "Everydays: The First 5000 Days" selling for $69 million at Christie's in 2021, marking a pivotal moment in the NFT boom​.



Modern Applications of NFTs: Art, Gaming, and Beyond

NFTs have found applications across a wide array of industries. In the art world, NFTs are used to sell and trade digital artworks, providing artists with new revenue streams and collectors with verifiable ownership. In gaming, NFTs represent in-game assets that players can buy, sell, and trade, often across different games or platforms. Virtual real estate platforms like Decentraland and The Sandbox use NFTs to sell parcels of virtual land. NFTs are also utilized in music, allowing artists to tokenize their music and sell it directly to fans, bypassing traditional distribution channels. Additionally, major brands are leveraging NFTs for marketing and customer engagement by creating unique digital experiences and collectibles.




NFTs and the Crypto Market: A Transformative Force

The advent of NFTs has significantly impacted the crypto market by introducing new forms of value and utility for blockchain technology. NFTs have expanded the market beyond cryptocurrencies, attracting artists, gamers, musicians, and mainstream users to the blockchain ecosystem. The NFT boom has driven innovation in smart contract development and interoperability between different blockchain networks. Moreover, NFTs have played a crucial role in the rise of the metaverse, where virtual worlds and economies are built on blockchain technology. This expansion has not only increased the adoption of blockchain technology but also opened up new investment opportunities and revenue streams​.




Final Thoughts on the Impact of NFTs

NFTs have revolutionized the way we think about digital ownership and value. From their inception with "Quantum" to their current widespread applications, NFTs have grown to become a central component of the blockchain ecosystem. They offer unique opportunities for artists, creators, and collectors while driving innovation across various industries. As the market continues to evolve, NFTs are likely to remain a vital part of the digital landscape, influencing the future of how we create, own, and trade digital assets.

By understanding the history, current uses, and market impact of NFTs, we can appreciate their transformative potential and anticipate their continued influence in the world of digital and blockchain technology​.

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