Smart Contract Basics: Understanding How They Work
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. What are Smart Contracts?
  2. How do Smart Contracts Work?
  3. Benefits of Smart Contracts
  4. Limitations of Smart Contracts
  5. Smart Contracts in Blockchain
  6. How to Design a Smart Contract
  7. Real-World Applications of Smart Contracts

Welcome to a simple guide on understanding smart contracts. If you're keen on exploring the world of blockchain technology, then this is a great place to start. We'll break down the basics of smart contracts, how they work, their benefits and limitations, and why they're such a big deal in the digital world today. So, let's dive right in and start understanding smart contracts, shall we?

What are Smart Contracts?

Imagine you're selling your old bike online. Usually, you'd have to trust the buyer to send money to your account after you've shipped the bike. But what if there was a way to ensure that as soon as the buyer receives the bike, the money gets transferred to you immediately? That's where smart contracts come in!

A smart contract is like a digital pact you create with someone else. It's a program that runs on a blockchain network and automatically enforces itself once certain conditions are met. Simply put, it's a tamper-proof deal that does all the heavy lifting for you. You can think of it like a vending machine: you put in money (the condition), and out pops your favorite snack (the result). No middleman needed!

Understanding smart contracts is like understanding a new way of doing business. Here's how they work:

  • Creation: First, the smart contract is created. This is the stage where the conditions and the results are defined.
  • Deployment: Next, the smart contract is put onto a blockchain network. This is like putting the contract out in the open for everyone to see.
  • Execution: Finally, the smart contract is executed. This happens when the conditions are met. The contract automatically does its thing and delivers the agreed result.

So, why are smart contracts so important? Well, they can speed up transactions, reduce costs, and remove the need for a middleman. But like anything else, they also have their limitations—which we'll explore in the next sections. Stay tuned as we continue our journey of understanding smart contracts!

How do Smart Contracts Work?

If you've ever tried to follow a recipe, you'll have a head start in understanding smart contracts. Just like a recipe, a smart contract contains certain instructions, or 'conditions', that need to be met in order for something, or 'the result', to happen.

Let's use baking a cake as an analogy. You have your recipe (the smart contract), which tells you what ingredients you need (the conditions) and how to bake the cake (the result). You can't get a cake without following the recipe just like a smart contract can't execute without its conditions being met.

Here's a step-by-step breakdown:

  1. Step 1: The smart contract is written. This is like writing out your cake recipe. You specify what conditions need to be met and what the result will be.
  2. Step 2: The smart contract is deployed on a blockchain. This is like posting your recipe online for everyone to see. It's transparent and can't be changed once it's live.
  3. Step 3: The conditions are met. This is like gathering all the ingredients for your cake. Once all the conditions are fulfilled, the smart contract is ready to execute.
  4. Step 4: The smart contract executes. This is like baking the cake. Once all the conditions are met, the smart contract automatically carries out the actions specified in the 'recipe'.

So, in essence, understanding smart contracts is like understanding a baking recipe. It's all about the conditions and results, and the contract does the rest. It's a neat, efficient way of doing transactions, don't you think?

Benefits of Smart Contracts

Now that we have a basic understanding of smart contracts, let's look at why they are so beneficial. Here are some of the key advantages:

  1. Speed: Imagine if you could bake a cake in a fraction of the time it normally takes, wouldn't that be great? That's kind of what smart contracts do. They automate processes, which speeds up transactions and reduces waiting times.
  2. Accuracy: We all know how important it is to measure ingredients accurately when baking a cake. A little too much or too little can ruin the whole thing. Similarly, smart contracts eliminate the errors that come with manual processing. They are precise and accurate, just like a well-measured recipe.
  3. Trust: With a smart contract, you don't have to worry about someone changing the recipe halfway through baking. Once a smart contract is live, it can't be altered. This creates a level of trust between parties that's hard to beat.
  4. Savings: Who doesn't like to save money? With smart contracts, there's no need for intermediaries like lawyers or notaries. This cuts out extra costs, making transactions cheaper. It's like making a homemade cake instead of buying one from a fancy bakery.

So, next time you're baking a cake, remember how similar it is to a smart contract. Both require precision, trust, speed, and can save you some dough (pun intended!). Understanding smart contracts and their benefits can be as easy as pie!

Limitations of Smart Contracts

Just as every rose has its thorns, so does every smart contract have its limitations. Despite their remarkable benefits, smart contracts are not without their fair share of challenges. Here are some of the key limitations:

  1. Code Errors: Picture this: you are assembling a model airplane, following the instructions to a T, but the last piece just won't fit. The instructions have an error. Similar issues can occur in smart contracts. If there's an error in the code, the contract won't function as expected. And unfortunately, once the contract is live, these errors can't be easily corrected.
  2. Legal Issues: Imagine playing a game where the rules aren't clear. Frustrating, right? This is a reality in the world of smart contracts as well. Currently, there is a lack of clear legal framework around smart contracts, which can lead to complications.
  3. Lack of Flexibility: Imagine preparing a meal with a fixed menu where you cannot substitute any ingredient. It's the same with smart contracts. Once a contract is live, it's set in stone. This rigidity can cause problems if circumstances change.

Understanding smart contracts also involves acknowledging their limitations. Just like our model airplane may not fly perfectly due to a manual error, smart contracts may not always function flawlessly. However, their potential benefits make them a compelling choice for many applications.

Smart Contracts in Blockchain

Think about a vending machine. You insert a coin, select your snack, and out it comes—no shopkeeper needed. That’s pretty much how smart contracts work in blockchain. In a way, they are like self-operating vending machines, but for transactions.

  1. Trustless Transactions: Imagine you're trading your old guitar for a friend's bicycle. You both trust each other, so no middleman is needed. When it comes to understanding smart contracts in blockchain, that's the key idea—they allow for trustless transactions without a middleman.
  2. Transparency: Ever bought something online and wondered, "Where's my order at in the shipping process?" Smart contracts on a blockchain are fully transparent, so everyone involved can see the terms and whether they've been met.
  3. Security: What if you could put a lock on that guitar until your friend handed over the bicycle? That's what smart contracts do—they lock up assets until the terms are met, making transactions more secure.

So, whether it's trading a guitar for a bicycle or buying a house, smart contracts in blockchain can make the process smoother, safer, and more efficient. They are like the superhero sidekicks of the blockchain world, helping to enforce the rules without needing a third party.

How to Design a Smart Contract

If you're starting to think, "Hey, these smart contracts sound pretty neat. Can I make one?" The answer is: Yes, you can! But how do you design a smart contract? Well, let's break it down:

  1. Define the Terms: Just like any contract, a smart contract starts with terms. These are the rules of your contract. For instance, if you're selling a car, the terms might include the price, the payment method, and the delivery date.
  2. Code the Terms: Here's where things get a bit techy. You'll need to translate your terms into code. Don't worry if you're not a coding whiz—there are platforms and languages, like Ethereum and Solidity, which can help you with this step.
  3. Test the Contract: Before you set your smart contract loose in the blockchain, you'll want to test it. This means running it in a controlled environment to make sure it works as expected. Think of it like a dress rehearsal for a play.

And there you have it! You've just designed your first smart contract. Remember, designing a smart contract takes time and patience. But once you've gotten the hang of it, you'll be able to streamline many transaction processes, making life a little bit easier for everyone involved.

Real-World Applications of Smart Contracts

At this point, you might be wondering, "Where can I see smart contracts in action?" Well, you're in for a treat. Smart contracts are no longer just a concept—they're already being used in a variety of real-world applications. Let's take a look at a few:

  1. Insurance: With smart contracts, claim processes can become faster and more efficient. For instance, if your flight gets cancelled, a smart contract can immediately process your claim and deposit the compensation into your account. No more waiting for weeks to hear back!
  2. Real Estate: Buying a house involves a lot of paperwork and middlemen. But with smart contracts, the process can be simplified. The contract can securely hold the buyer's money until all conditions are met, and then release it to the seller—no need for an escrow account.
  3. Supply Chain: Smart contracts can help monitor goods as they move through a supply chain. For example, a smart contract could automatically pay a supplier once a shipment arrives at its destination, reducing the need for manual verification.

These are just a few examples of how smart contracts are changing the way we do things. As more and more industries start to see the benefits, we can only expect the use of smart contracts to grow. So, now that you're gaining an understanding of smart contracts, are you ready to explore the possibilities?

If you're interested in exploring more about contracts, especially for creatives, check out the workshop called 'A Contract For All Creatives' by Harry Vincent. This workshop provides valuable insights and practical advice on how to navigate and understand contracts in the creative industry, which may help you better grasp the concept of smart contracts as well.