On a practical level, a crypto wallet is a device or program that is used to send and receive cryptocurrencies and digital assets. The term wallet can be a little confusing for people new to crypto. A physical wallet is used to store physical currency, however a crypto wallet does not store cryptoassets within it. How can this work?
Well, most people already have something similar to this in their physical wallets right now: a debit card. The debit card in your wallet is not money, but it does grant you access to your money. This is similar to how a crypto wallet works, with a key difference being that while a debit card is controlled by a centralized entity (a bank), no person or organization controls crypto. This difference means that crypto wallets must function somewhat differently than bank accounts.
Continuing with the debit card analogy from above, a crypto wallet holds at least one “account,” or sub-wallet. We can view this sub-wallet as being roughly equivalent to a debit card. For instance, debit cards have information associated with them, including an account number and a password. Each crypto “account” within a crypto wallet also has information associated with it. For our purposes, the two key pieces of information are the public crypto address and the private key. The public address is comparable to the debit card’s account number. The private key, meanwhile, is kind of like a debit card’s password in that it grants access to the crypto associated with that public crypto address. A private key is a 256-bit secret number. Here is an example:
As you can see, this secret number is extremely unwieldy. One of the key functions of a crypto wallet is to manage the private key. In fact, private keys are almost never handled directly by people. Crypto wallets provide a way to write down this private key in a much more human readable format, referred to as a recovery phrase, secret passphrase, or seed phrase. A recovery phrase is a list of words, usually between 12 and 24, that allow you to reconstruct your crypto wallet and gain access to your funds even if your crypto wallet is destroyed. Here is an example of a recovery phrase consisting of 12 words:
Because the recovery phrase is equivalent to a private key, you should never share the words with anyone, or store the plain text on your computer or online.
While the recovery phrase is an improvement upon the private key, it still leaves a lot to be desired. Since you shouldn't store your recovery phrase in plain text (unencrypted form) on your computer, for most people the best solution is to write it down on paper. This presents problems because safely storing a piece of paper can be hard. Further, if you're using a multi-coin wallet (like the Bitcoin.com Wallet), you'll have a separate recovery phrase for every different blockchain your wallet supports. Storing all those recovery phrases on paper quickly becomes onerous. For this reason, the Bitcoin.com Wallet integrates a “Cloud Backup” system. Here you can create a single custom password and use it to unlock all of your private keys, which are stored in encrypted form in your Google or iCloud account.
To set up Cloud Backup in the Bitcoin.com Wallet, just go to Settings > Cloud Backup and follow the instructions.
There are two main types of wallets: hardware wallets and software wallets.
Hardware wallets are the most secure type of crypto wallet because their private keys are stored on a physical device and theoretically cannot be accessed by a computer or from the internet. When a person wishes to make a transaction, they plug in the hardware wallet (usually via USB). The hardware wallet will sign transactions without compromising the private key. The downside to hardware wallets is the cost and availability of the devices. Ledger and Trezor are well known hardware wallets.
Software wallets exist on computing devices, like a desktop computer, a smartphone, or in a web browser. Since computing devices run many programs or applications, they are susceptible to viruses, malware, and phishing schemes, making all software wallets vulnerable to some degree. That being said, hacking incidents are extremely rare and software wallets are generally considered safe for everyday use.
There are many software wallet choices, which can make choosing overwhelming. We welcome you to try the Bitcoin.com Wallet, which is an easy-to-use but powerful multi-coin crypto wallet trusted by millions, but we have also written several useful articles to help you navigate the process of choosing:
比特币是根据 2008 年《比特币》白皮书中的想法创立的：一套点对点的电子现金系统
Understand Ethereum's key characteristics.