How Much Ether Is Out There? Ethereum Developers Create New Scripts for Self-Verification

Ethereum and Bitcoin advocates have engaged in spirited exchange since Friday to answer an ostensibly simple question: What’s the total supply of ether?

AccessTimeIconAug 11, 2020 at 7:55 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 9:42 a.m. UTC

Ethereum and Bitcoin advocates have engaged in spirited Twitter exchange since Friday to answer an ostensibly simple question: What’s the total supply of ether?

It’s not quite clear where the question originated. But providing one agreed-upon value for Ethereum’s native currency, ether (ETH), proved contentious enough to warrant new code.

“Adding a proper total supply command to the client seems like a low-cost and reasonable thing to do,” said Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin in the Ethereum R&D Discord channel last Friday. 

Multiple independent developers jumped on the opportunity to set the “world computer’s” supply schedule straight.

The coin supply brouhaha takes place in the context of Bitcoin’s more-easily verifiable coin supply, thanks to the gettxoutsetinfo command, which every Bitcoin node can execute to calculate the current supply. Due to its distinct design features, Ethereum lacked such a command, hence the impetus behind independent developers writing code to calculate its supply.

The total supply of ether is 111,562,994 as of publishing time, according to Messari. (The firm pulls data directly off the blockchain, Messari director of research Eric Turner told CoinDesk.)

ETH supply
ETH supply

Ether, bitcoin and verifiability

The verifiability of assets is both a strong and novel feature of blockchains. Only rough supply counts exist for other assets such as gold or dollars. The supply of a given cryptocurrency, on the other hand, can be parsed down to the exact unit. This is valuable for modeling or auditing, among other reasons.

Bitcoin proponents – notably Kraken developer Pierre Rochard – recently pointed out that Ethereum had no simple method for verifying the supply of its native unit. 

Bitcoin’s value and perception as “digital gold” emphasizes its supply characteristics – namely scarcity – moreso than Ethereum, which aims to serve as a developer platform for decentralized financial applications. 

Indeed, many Ethereum community members were dismissive of the supply question. “I don’t give a shit about the supply,” said Augur co-founder and early cryptocurrency investor Jeremy Gardner on Twitter. 

Beyond simply running the numbers, however, an additional concern voiced after the fact was the difficulty of running a full Ethereum node. Users who run their own nodes can “self-verify” not only the number of ethers in existence but also the validity of transactions on the Ethereum network. 

Self-verification is a popular social concept, as well as an ethical touchstone, for Bitcoin proponents. The argument mainly relies on the ease of bootstrapping a Bitcoin node. Running an Ethereum node, on the other hand, is a much more time- and memory-intensive undertaking, one that’s led to the emergence of a small class of infrastructure service providers

Ethereum community members are more dismissive of running a full node based on arguments from Buterin in the project’s early days. Ethereum 2.0 developers are also shooting for self-verification via lightweight clients made possible through Proof-of-Stake (PoS).

Third-party scripts

As attention paid to the supply discussion on Twitter grew, Ethereum developers started building scripts to calculate the supply. 

Developers were quick to note that many data sites posted wrong figures because of faulty modeling of coin issuance.

In Ethereum, many third party-scripts fail to calculate a few complexities such as uncle or nephew blocks and burner addresses, cryptocurrency educator Andreas Antonopoulos said in a tweet.

Bitcoin developers have often made similar mistakes, Casa CTO Jameson Lopp tweeted. Lopp said many scripts fail to take into account block rewards, called the coinbase, left unclaimed by miners.

Regardless, Ethereum does have one actual supply figure even if it has been difficult to locate, Geth team leader Péter Szilágyi said in a tweet. If it did not, Ethereum wouldn't work.

“Ethereum has multiple client implementations, so a supply bug in one would instantly break consensus,” Szilágyi said.


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