A Guide to ERC-20, ERC-721, and ERC-1155: Unraveling Ethereum’s Token Standards


Ethereum, a pioneer in blockchain technology, has redefined the digital landscape by introducing various token standards. Among these, ERC-20, ERC-721, and ERC-1155 stand out as prominent and versatile standards. This comprehensive guide aims to explore these Ethereum token standards, providing insights into their features, use cases, and the profound impact they’ve had on the blockchain industry and beyond.

Understanding Ethereum’s Token Standards

ERC-20: The Pioneering Standard

ERC-20, short for Ethereum Request for Comment 20, is arguably the most recognized and widely adopted Ethereum token standard. Proposed by Fabian Vogelsteller in November 2015, ERC-20 tokens have played a crucial role in the rise of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and the growth of the decentralized finance (DeFi) sector.

Key Features of ERC-20 Tokens:

  • Fungibility: ERC-20 tokens are fungible, meaning each unit is interchangeable with any other unit of the same type. This characteristic makes them ideal for representing cryptocurrencies and utility tokens.

Common Use Cases:

  • Cryptocurrencies: A significant number of cryptocurrencies issued on the Ethereum blockchain adhere to the ERC-20 standard.
  • Utility Tokens: Many projects create ERC-20 tokens to fuel their ecosystems and provide utility within their decentralized applications (dApps).
  • Stablecoins: Leading stablecoins like USDC and DAI are ERC-20 tokens.

ERC-721: Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)

ERC-20 vs ERC-721 vs ERC-1155
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ERC-721, also known as the Ethereum NFT standard, revolutionized the digital ownership landscape. Proposed by William Entriken, Dieter Shirley, Jacob Evans, and Nastassia Sachs in 2017, ERC-721 tokens are non-fungible, meaning each token is unique and not interchangeable with others.

Key Features of ERC-721 Tokens:

  • Non-Fungibility: Each ERC-721 token is distinct, making it ideal for representing one-of-a-kind assets such as digital art, collectibles, and virtual real estate.
  • Ownership and Provenance: ERC-721 tokens record ownership and provenance, making them suitable for digital art, collectibles, and virtual real estate.

Common Use Cases:

  • Digital Art: NFTs have revolutionized the digital art market, allowing artists to tokenize and sell their creations on the blockchain.
  • Collectibles: ERC-721 tokens have brought digital collectibles like CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shot into the mainstream.
  • Virtual Real Estate: In virtual worlds and metaverses, ERC-721 tokens are used to represent land parcels and virtual assets.

ERC-1155: The Hybrid Standard

ERC-1155, introduced in 2018, is often hailed as a hybrid standard, combining features of both ERC-20 and ERC-721. Authored by Witek Radomski of Enjin, ERC-1155 tokens can be both fungible and non-fungible within the same smart contract, providing flexibility for developers and users.

Key Features of ERC-1155 Tokens:

  • Fungible and Non-Fungible: ERC-1155 tokens can be both fungible and non-fungible within the same smart contract, allowing for a wide range of use cases.
  • Efficiency: They are more gas-efficient, reducing transaction costs compared to creating multiple smart contracts.

Common Use Cases:

  • Gaming: ERC-1155 tokens are widely used in the gaming industry, allowing players to own unique in-game items as well as fungible tokens like in-game currency.
  • Multi-Asset Wallets: These tokens are compatible with multi-asset wallets, simplifying user experiences and portfolio management.

The Impact and Use Cases of ERC Standards

The DeFi Revolution

ERC-20 tokens have become the lifeblood of the decentralized finance (DeFi) ecosystem. They power lending, borrowing, yield farming, liquidity provision, and more. The fungibility and composability of ERC-20 tokens have driven DeFi’s exponential growth.

Digital Art and Collectibles

The art world has witnessed a profound transformation with the advent of ERC-721 tokens. Digital artists can now tokenize their creations and sell them as NFTs, creating a new market for digital art and collectibles.

Gaming and Virtual Worlds

ERC-1155 tokens have revolutionized the gaming industry, allowing players to own unique in-game assets that can be traded across multiple games. Virtual worlds like Decentraland and The Sandbox use ERC-721 tokens to represent virtual real estate.

Challenges and Future Developments

Scalability and Gas Fees

High gas fees on the Ethereum network have made transactions expensive, particularly during times of network congestion. However, the transition to Ethereum 2.0 promises to mitigate these issues by introducing a more energy-efficient proof-of-stake consensus mechanism and implementing solutions like sharding to improve scalability.


Interoperability among different token standards and blockchains remains a challenge. Solutions enhancing compatibility and ease of use across various networks are actively in development.

Regulatory and Legal Considerations

The regulatory landscape for NFTs and token standards is evolving. Compliance and legal considerations are crucial for the long-term success and mass adoption of these technologies.

The Future of Ethereum Token Standards

As Ethereum continues to evolve and address its challenges, the future of token standards looks promising:

Scalability Solutions

Ethereum’s transition to Ethereum 2.0 and the implementation of Layer 2 scaling solutions will significantly enhance the network’s scalability and reduce transaction costs, making ERC standards even more efficient and appealing for various use cases.

Cross-Chain Compatibility

While Ethereum is a pioneer in token standards, the future lies in cross-chain compatibility. Many blockchains and Layer 2 solutions are emerging to address the limitations of a single blockchain. These solutions aim to facilitate seamless transfers of assets between different blockchains, enhancing the scope and utility of ERC standards.

Innovation and New Standards

Innovation is at the heart of blockchain technology. New token standards and improvements to existing ones will continue to drive innovation across multiple industries. Developers will explore and introduce token standards that address specific use cases and provide novel functionalities, opening doors to new opportunities.


ERC-20, ERC-721, and ERC-1155 have reshaped the blockchain landscape, offering new possibilities for digital ownership and decentralized applications. From powering the DeFi revolution to transforming the art and gaming industries, these standards have demonstrated the potential of blockchain technology.

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How are ERC-20 tokens used in the real world?

ERC-20 tokens have a wide range of use cases, including serving as cryptocurrencies, utility tokens within decentralized applications (dApps), and as the foundation for stablecoins like USDC and DAI.

What makes ERC-721 tokens unique?

ERC-721 tokens are non-fungible tokens (NFTs), meaning each token is unique and not interchangeable with others. They are widely used to represent one-of-a-kind assets such as digital art, collectibles, and virtual real estate.

How have ERC-721 tokens impacted the art and gaming industries?

ERC-721 tokens have transformed the digital art market, enabling artists to tokenize and sell their creations as NFTs. In gaming, these tokens have allowed players to own unique in-game assets that can be traded across multiple games.

What are the advantages of ERC-1155 tokens?

ERC-1155 tokens are versatile as they can be both fungible and non-fungible within the same smart contract. This flexibility makes them ideal for a variety of use cases, including gaming and multi-asset wallets.

How is Ethereum addressing the scalability challenges of these token standards?

Ethereum is transitioning to Ethereum 2.0, which includes a shift to a more energy-efficient proof-of-stake consensus mechanism and the implementation of solutions like sharding to enhance scalability and reduce transaction costs.

What are cross-chain platforms, and how do they relate to token standards?

Cross-chain platforms aim to enhance interoperability among different blockchains and token standards. They enable assets to move seamlessly between various networks, extending the utility of token standards.

Are there new token standards in development or on the horizon?

Yes, the blockchain space is dynamic, and innovation is ongoing. New token standards are continually emerging to address specific use cases and provide novel functionalities.

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