What Is an Atomic Swap?
An atomic swap is an exchange of cryptocurrencies from separate blockchains. The swap is conducted between two entities without a third party’s involvement. The idea is to remove centralized intermediaries like regulated exchanges and give token owners total control.
The term atomic derives from the term “atomic state” in which a state has no substates; it either happens or it doesn’t—there is no other alternative. This refers to the state of the cryptocurrency transaction; it happens or it doesn’t.
Most atomic swap-enabled wallets and blockchains use smart contracts. Smart contracts are programs within blockchains that execute when certain conditions are met. In this case, the conditions are that each party agrees to the transaction before a timer runs out. Using a smart contract in the trade prevents either party from stealing a cryptocurrency from the other.
Atomic swaps are also called cross-chain atomic swaps.
- An atomic swap is a cryptocurrency exchange between two parties that wish to exchange tokens from different blockchains.
- Atomic swaps are helpful if you only have one cryptocurrency but need to use another in a transaction.
- Special wallets or exchange services are needed to conduct an atomic swap because the technique is still being developed and refined.
Understanding Atomic Swaps
Each cryptocurrency is supported by a blockchain, designed only to accept transactions in specific tokens. For example, Bitcoin (BTC) has a blockchain, and ETH (ether) has another. You cannot easily exchange BTC and ETH without first converting to fiat currency then buying the other; another technique is to convert between cryptocurrencies and exchanges multiple times to get the one you want. Atomic swaps allow you to exchange tokens from different blockchains in one trade.