Almost no one can verify the precise supply of Ethereum (ETH) or its future issuance. Indeed, in order to know the supply of Ethereum, one must possess a complete copy of the valid blockchain and execute a query to count the number of coins outstanding in that blockchain.
However, because almost no one can afford to run a fully validating and archival node on Ethereum, the vast majority of the world simply trusts data from Etherscan or other centrally managed block explorers. (Like the cost of downloading an Ethereum archive node, it is similarly, prohibitively expensive to operate one’s own Ethereum blockchain explorer.)
Incredibly, estimates of when ETH’s supply will equal 100 million coins range from five to 38 years.
Even planning on ETH’s supply reaching 100 million by the year 2061 requires significant assumptions about future ETH forks, changes in issuance schedules, slashing, and other penalties assessed to validators. Plus, Ethereum has hard forked over a dozen times — including unscheduled, unannounced hard forks. Ethereum can and often does change its long-term supply schedule when it hard forks.
In contrast, Bitcoin has a fixed issuance schedule with a hard-capped supply of 20,999,818. Over 91% of all bitcoin that will ever exist are already circulating. It costs less than $500 to buy a pre-built, fully validating, archival Bitcoin node — and it’s even cheaper to build one yourself.
These nodes can run fine on spotty, residential internet with minimal data and electricity needs and any operator can query the total amount of bitcoin in circulation and verify that figure instantly, without trusting any managed block explorer or node.
The supply of Ethereum is a matter of trust
It’s unaffordable to accomplish these tasks with Ethereum. Almost no one can query their hard drive and know exactly how much ETH exists. Even Ethereum’s founder Vitalik Buterin admitted that the supply of Ethereum may only be roughly estimated.
Occasionally, hobbyists attempt to query for an exact figure. MakerDao’s Marc-Andre Dumas claims he ran across some code that retrieves a number close to the amount of ETH in circulation. He put it on GitHub for testing.
However, Buterin expressed skepticism that Dumas’ estimate was close. According to Ethereum’s consensus code’s comments, the reward for finding a block includes a static block reward and an additional reward for including “uncles.” Of course, all of that is even more complicated due to Ethereum’s move to Proof-of-Stake.
If no one knows how much ETH is circulating right now, it might be less horrifying to learn that no one can predict when its circulating supply will reach 100 million.
Ethereum core developer Justin Drake estimated that it could take between five and 38 years to reach a supply of 100 million. Some variables, like future forks and changes to issuance schedules, often change with little warning.
According to the managed block explorer Etherscan, circulating ETH supply stood at just over 120 million at publication time.
Read more: Comparing Binance Smart Chain and Ethereum
Requirements for running a fully validating Ethereum archive node
Below are the minimum hardware requirements for operating an Ethereum archive node. It costs nearly $7,000 for an entry-level device and requires an interruption-free internet connection to avoid slashing or other penalties.
- High-quality hard drive prepared for frequent, random read/write tasks with at least 16TB of solid state storage. (Ethereum’s Geth already exceeds 12TB).
- High-quality power supply, heat syncs, and fans for cooling. Machines will make intensive use of random writes to disk plus frequent CPU interruptions and syscalls.
- At least 16GB RAM.
- Non-residential, business-class internet with at least 25Mbps download speed and uncapped data allowance for several GB of peak data transfer days.
Once the archive node begins downloading all blocks since Ethereum’s genesis, it could take several days to sync.
If any reader is lucky enough to have the capital to spin up their own fully validating and archival node, please submit your circulating supply of Ethereum to us at [email protected] with a timestamp so that we can compare your figure to Etherscan. We’d be happy to publish an update to this story crediting you with your unique submission.
Edit 12:50 UTC, Oct 10: Corrected the name of the Ethereum core developer referenced in paragraph 11 from Jason Drake to Justin Drake.