Understanding Decentralized Exchanges: A Beginner's Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. What is a decentralized exchange?
  2. How does a decentralized exchange work?
  3. Benefits of using decentralized exchanges
  4. Drawbacks of decentralized exchanges
  5. Types of decentralized exchanges
  6. How to use a decentralized exchange?
  7. Security tips for using decentralized exchanges
  8. Future of decentralized exchanges

Embarking on a journey to grasp the basics of decentralized exchanges can seem daunting—especially if you're new to the world of crypto. But have no fear! In this easy-to-follow guide, we're going to break down the nitty-gritty of decentralized exchanges, or DEXs, in a way that even a sixth-grader could understand. So grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and let's dive into the world of DEXs together.

What is a decentralized exchange?

If you picture a traditional stock exchange like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), you probably think of a centralized entity where trades are managed and executed. Well, in the world of crypto, we also have exchanges. But there's a twist. Some of them are decentralized. These are called decentralized exchanges, or DEXs.

While a centralized exchange is controlled by a single entity—like a company or organization—a decentralized exchange operates in a different way. It's more like a network of people trading directly with each other. Imagine playing a game of poker with your friends where you're all trading chips directly—no bank or casino in sight. That's a bit like how a DEX works. Let's break it down:

  • Peer-to-peer trading: In a DEX, you're trading directly with other people. This is called peer-to-peer trading. It's kind of like swapping football cards in the playground—you give someone a card, and they give you one in return. Only in this case, you're swapping crypto.
  • No intermediaries: Because you're trading directly with other people, there's no need for a middleman. This means there's no company or organization holding your crypto for you. It's all in your hands. This is what we call a non-custodial system.
  • Control over funds: One of the key features of a DEX is that you have control over your funds at all times. This is different from a traditional bank where your money is held by the bank. In a DEX, your crypto is always in your wallet—unless you decide to trade it, of course.

So, in a nutshell, that's the basics of decentralized exchanges. They're places where you can trade crypto directly with other people, without the need for a middleman, and while maintaining control of your funds at all times. Cool, right?

How does a decentralized exchange work?

Now that we've covered the basics of decentralized exchanges, let's delve into how they actually work. Remember, we're trying to keep things as simple as possible, so think of this as the crypto version of baking a cake. You have your ingredients, your recipe, and your oven—let's start baking!

  1. Gather your ingredients: In the world of decentralized exchanges, your ingredients are your cryptocurrencies. These could be Bitcoin, Ethereum, or any other cryptocurrency you wish to trade.
  2. Follow the recipe: The recipe, in this case, is the protocol or set of rules that the exchange follows to facilitate trades. Protocols like Uniswap or Balancer use something called smart contracts—pieces of code that automatically execute trades when certain conditions are met.
  3. Bake in the oven: Here's where the magic happens. When you place a trade, the smart contract springs into action, finding a match for your trade within the network. Once it finds a match, the trade is executed, and the cryptocurrencies change hands.

One thing to note is that all of this happens on a blockchain—a kind of digital ledger that records all transactions. The blockchain ensures that everything is transparent and secure. Plus, it's decentralized, meaning no single entity has control over it.

And there you have it. That's how a decentralized exchange works. Not too difficult, right? Think of it as a recipe for trading crypto—with the right ingredients and a good oven (or blockchain), you're all set to start baking (or trading).

Benefits of using decentralized exchanges

Now that we understand the basics of decentralized exchanges and how they work, it's time to consider why you might want to use one. Just like opting to go to a farmer's market instead of a supermarket, there are specific perks to decentralized exchanges.

  1. Control Over Your Funds: With decentralized exchanges, you're the master of your own crypto domain. This means you have full control over your assets, and they're not held by a third-party service. This can reduce the risk of losing your funds due to hacking or misconduct.
  2. Privacy: Decentralized exchanges typically require less personal information than their centralized counterparts. This can offer a higher degree of privacy when trading.
  3. Transparent and Trustworthy: Since all transactions are recorded on the blockchain, it's almost impossible for anyone to manipulate the system. You can see all the transactions, and they can't be changed or erased.
  4. Accessible: Anyone with an internet connection can access a decentralized exchange. This opens up the world of cryptocurrency trading to people in areas with limited banking services.

While these benefits make decentralized exchanges sound like a dream come true for crypto traders, keep in mind that they also have their challenges. But that's a topic for another section. For now, let's appreciate the beauty of these platforms in empowering individuals and making the world of cryptocurrency trading a bit more accessible and transparent.

Drawbacks of decentralized exchanges

Just like any other tool, decentralized exchanges aren't perfect. While they may come with some impressive benefits, it's also crucial to understand their limitations. It's kind of like enjoying a homemade meal—sure, it's satisfying and you know exactly what's in it, but it also requires some effort and can be a bit messy at times. So, what are the potential drawbacks of decentralized exchanges?

  1. Complexity: The basics of decentralized exchanges can be hard to grasp, particularly for newcomers to the cryptocurrency world. This can make the learning curve steeper compared to centralized exchanges.
  2. Speed and Volume: Because of the way they're designed, decentralized exchanges can sometimes be slower than their centralized counterparts. They also might not handle large volumes of transactions as smoothly.
  3. Less User-Friendly: Decentralized exchanges often lack the same level of customer service and user-friendly interfaces provided by centralized exchanges. This can make troubleshooting and navigation a bit tougher for users.
  4. Lack of Fiat Options: Decentralized exchanges typically only deal with cryptocurrencies, which can limit options for users wishing to trade with fiat currencies like dollars or euros.

While these challenges may seem daunting, don't let them scare you away. They're just part of the journey when learning the ropes of cryptocurrency trading. After all, even the tastiest homemade meal can result in a few burnt pans. It's all part of the process, and with time, you'll become more comfortable navigating the world of decentralized exchanges.

Types of decentralized exchanges

Now that we've covered the pros and cons, let's dive into the different types of decentralized exchanges. Think of it as a buffet of options — each one comes with its unique flavor, and it's up to you to decide what suits your palate best. Remember, we are exploring the basics of decentralized exchanges, so we'll keep this as simple as possible.

  1. Automated Market Makers (AMMs): These are the most common type of decentralized exchanges. AMMs use smart contracts to create markets for any given pair of tokens. They work with liquidity pools instead of order books. Popular AMMs include Uniswap and SushiSwap.
  2. Orderbook DEXs: These exchanges work similarly to traditional stock exchanges. Buyers and sellers place orders in a common ledger, and the exchange matches these orders. Examples include Binance DEX and StellarTerm.
  3. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Exchanges: Here, the exchange directly connects buyers and sellers without an intermediary. You've probably used a P2P exchange before if you've ever sold something online directly to a buyer. In the crypto world, examples include LocalBitcoins and Paxful.

Now, you might be wondering, "Which type of decentralized exchange should I use?" Well, it depends on your needs and preferences. If you value simplicity and automation, an AMM might be your best bet. If you prefer having more control over your trades, you might want to opt for an orderbook DEX. And if you prefer dealing directly with other people, a P2P exchange could be a good fit. It's all about finding what feels right for you.

How to use a decentralized exchange?

Alright, now that we've tackled the types, let's get down to business: how do you actually use a decentralized exchange? Well, friend, let's walk through the steps together. We'll keep it simple — just like we're learning the basics of decentralized exchanges.

  1. Create a Wallet: First things first, you need a digital wallet. This is where you'll store your cryptocurrencies. There are many options out there, but some popular ones are MetaMask and Trust Wallet. Once you have a wallet, make sure to secure it with a strong password and never lose your private key.
  2. Connect Your Wallet: Now that your wallet is set up, you need to connect it to the decentralized exchange. Each exchange will have different steps for this, but generally, you'll find an option to "connect wallet" somewhere on the exchange's homepage.
  3. Choose Your Trade: Once your wallet is connected, it's time to trade! You can either buy or sell cryptocurrencies. Just select the tokens you want to trade, enter the amount, and confirm the transaction.
  4. Confirm the Transaction: Before your trade is complete, you'll need to confirm the transaction in your wallet. This step is crucial as it's your final chance to check all the details of the trade.
  5. Wait for Confirmation: After you confirm the transaction, all that's left to do is wait. The time it takes for your trade to process can vary based on network congestion. So, patience is key here.

And voila! You've just made your first trade on a decentralized exchange. That wasn't too hard, was it? Of course, different exchanges might have slightly different processes, but these steps provide a solid foundation for getting started. Happy trading!

Security tips for using decentralized exchanges

Now that we've covered the basics of decentralized exchanges, let's talk about something equally important—security. While decentralized exchanges are generally safer than their centralized counterparts, that doesn't mean they're completely risk-free. Here are some tips to help you stay safe:

  1. Protect Your Private Key: Remember when we set up that digital wallet? Well, your private key is like the key to your house. If someone else gets it, they can access your wallet and all your cryptocurrencies. So, keep it safe and don't share it with anyone.
  2. Double Check Transaction Details: Before confirming any transaction, double-check all the details. Make sure the amount, the tokens, and the wallet addresses are all correct. One wrong number or letter could send your tokens to the wrong place.
  3. Use Secure Networks: Avoid using public Wi-Fi when accessing your wallet or making trades. Public networks can be insecure, making it easier for hackers to access your information.
  4. Be Aware of Scams: Unfortunately, scams are common in the world of cryptocurrencies. Be wary of offers that seem too good to be true, and always do your own research before investing.
  5. Update Your Wallet: Just like with any software, keeping your wallet updated is important. Updates often include security enhancements, so don't skip them.

As long as you keep these tips in mind and stay vigilant, you can enjoy the benefits of decentralized exchanges while minimizing the risks. Remember, knowledge is power—especially when it comes to navigating the world of cryptocurrencies!

Future of decentralized exchanges

Before we wrap up our journey through the basics of decentralized exchanges, let's take a moment to peep into the future. With their potential to democratize finance and give power back to the people, decentralized exchanges are being heralded as the next big thing in the crypto world. But what does the future hold for them? Let's explore.

Firstly, interoperability is a big word you're going to hear a lot. This fancy term simply means that different blockchain networks will be able to communicate and work together. Imagine being able to easily trade Bitcoin for Ethereum, regardless of the blockchain network they're on. That's the power of interoperability that many experts believe the future of decentralized exchanges will bring.

Next up, we're likely to see increased regulation. As decentralized exchanges grow in popularity, they're bound to catch the eye of regulators. This could mean more rules and regulations, which could help protect users but might also limit some of the freedoms that make decentralized exchanges appealing.

Lastly, expect to see improvements in usability. Many people find decentralized exchanges a bit tricky to use. But as they become more mainstream, we're likely to see improvements that make them more user-friendly. This means even if you're not a tech whiz, you'll be able to navigate and trade on these platforms with ease.

So, while we can't predict the future with certainty, it's safe to say that decentralized exchanges are set to play a big part in it. And by understanding the basics of decentralized exchanges, you're well-equipped to be part of that future. Happy trading!

If you're interested in diving deeper into the world of decentralized exchanges and want to expand your knowledge about web3 technologies, check out the workshop called 'Start Your web3 Journey' by Tom Glendinning. This workshop will provide you with essential information and practical tips to help you navigate the rapidly-evolving landscape of decentralized finance and blockchain technology.