You don‘t need to understand details about SHA 256. It‘s only important you know that it can be the basis of a cryptologic puzzle the miners compete to solve. After finding a solution, a miner can build a block and add it to the blockchain. As an incentive, he has the right to add a so-called coinbase transaction that gives him a specific number of Bitcoins. This is the only way to create valid Bitcoins.

Ethereum is the pioneer for blockchain based smart contracts. When running on the blockchain a smart contract becomes like a self-operating computer program that automatically executes when specific conditions are met. On the blockchain, smart contracts allow for code to be run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third-party interference. It can facilitate the exchange of money, content, property, shares, or anything of value. The Ethereum network went live on July 30th, 2015 with 72 million Ethereum premined.
The validity of each cryptocurrency's coins is provided by a blockchain. A blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography.[23][26] Each block typically contains a hash pointer as a link to a previous block,[26] a timestamp and transaction data.[27] By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data. It is "an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way".[28] For use as a distributed ledger, a blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires collusion of the network majority.

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the founders of the Gemini Trust Co. exchange, reported that they had cut their paper wallets into pieces and stored them in envelopes distributed to safe deposit boxes across the United States.[101] Through this system, the theft of one envelope would neither allow the thief to steal any bitcoins nor deprive the rightful owners of their access to them.[100] 

The bitcoin blockchain is a public ledger that records bitcoin transactions.[75] It is implemented as a chain of blocks, each block containing a hash of the previous block up to the genesis block[c] of the chain. A network of communicating nodes running bitcoin software maintains the blockchain.[32]:215–219 Transactions of the form payer X sends Y bitcoins to payee Z are broadcast to this network using readily available software applications.
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^ Mooney, Chris; Mufson, Steven (19 December 2017). "Why the bitcoin craze is using up so much energy". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 9 January 2018. Retrieved 11 January 2018. several experts told The Washington Post that bitcoin probably uses as much as 1 to 4 gigawatts, or billion watts, of electricity, roughly the output of one to three nuclear reactors.
An increase in cryptocurrency mining increased the demand of graphics cards (GPU) in 2017.[37] Popular favorites of cryptocurrency miners such as Nvidia's GTX 1060 and GTX 1070 graphics cards, as well as AMD's RX 570 and RX 580 GPUs, doubled or tripled in price – or were out of stock.[38] A GTX 1070 Ti which was released at a price of $450 sold for as much as $1100. Another popular card GTX 1060's 6 GB model was released at an MSRP of $250, sold for almost $500. RX 570 and RX 580 cards from AMD were out of stock for almost a year. Miners regularly buy up the entire stock of new GPU's as soon as they are available.[39]
The successful miner finding the new block is allowed by the rest of the network to reward themselves with newly created bitcoins and transaction fees.[88] As of 9 July 2016,[89] the reward amounted to 12.5 newly created bitcoins per block added to the blockchain, plus any transaction fees from payments processed by the block. To claim the reward, a special transaction called a coinbase is included with the processed payments.[7]:ch. 8 All bitcoins in existence have been created in such coinbase transactions. The bitcoin protocol specifies that the reward for adding a block will be halved every 210,000 blocks (approximately every four years). Eventually, the reward will decrease to zero, and the limit of 21 million bitcoins[f] will be reached c. 2140; the record keeping will then be rewarded solely by transaction fees.[90]
Bitcoin (BTC) is a consensus network that enables a new payment system and a completely digital currency. Powered by its users, it is a peer to peer payment network that requires no central authority to operate. On October 31st, 2008, an individual or group of individuals operating under the pseudonym "Satoshi Nakamoto" published the Bitcoin Whitepaper and described it as: "a purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash, which would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution."

Ethereum blockchain applications are usually referred to as DApps (decentralized application), since they are based on the decentralized Ethereum Virtual Machine, and its smart contracts.[46] Many uses have been proposed for Ethereum platform, including ones that are impossible or unfeasible.[47][33] Use case proposals have included finance, the internet-of-things, farm-to-table produce, electricity sourcing and pricing, and sports betting. Ethereum is (as of 2017) the leading blockchain platform for initial coin offering projects, with over 50% market share.
While another less aggressive soft fork solution was put forth, the Ethereum community and its founders were placed in a perilous position. If they didn’t retrieve the stolen investor money, confidence in Ethereum could be lost. On the other hand, recovering investor money required actions that went against the core ideas of decentralization and set a dangerous precedent.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, four of the 10 biggest proposed initial coin offerings have used Switzerland as a base, where they are frequently registered as non-profit foundations. The Swiss regulatory agency FINMA stated that it would take a "balanced approach" to ICO projects and would allow "legitimate innovators to navigate the regulatory landscape and so launch their projects in a way consistent with national laws protecting investors and the integrity of the financial system." In response to numerous requests by industry representatives, a legislative ICO working group began to issue legal guidelines in 2018, which are intended to remove uncertainty from cryptocurrency offerings and to establish sustainable business practices.[50]

Ethereum's smart contracts are based on different computer languages, which developers use to program their own functionalities. Smart contracts are high-level programming abstractions that are compiled down to EVM bytecode and deployed to the Ethereum blockchain for execution. They can be written in Solidity (a language library with similarities to C and JavaScript), Serpent (similar to Python, but deprecated), LLL (a low-level Lisp-like language), and Mutan (Go-based, but deprecated). There is also a research-oriented language under development called Vyper (a strongly-typed Python-derived decidable language).
Blockchain analysts estimate that Nakamoto had mined about one million bitcoins[28] before disappearing in 2010, when he handed the network alert key and control of the code repository over to Gavin Andresen. Andresen later became lead developer at the Bitcoin Foundation.[29][30] Andresen then sought to decentralize control. This left opportunity for controversy to develop over the future development path of bitcoin, in contrast to the perceived authority of Nakamoto's contributions.[31][30]

By comparison to government-backed global currencies, Bitcoin remains fairly complex for the typical user to acquire and use in regular transactions. Growing interest and significant global investments in Bitcoin wallet and Blockchain technology have nonetheless made buying and selling Bitcoin far more accessible to the average user. And indeed growing acceptance by government entities have ameliorated the ambiguity of legal and regulatory status for Bitcoin and Bitcoin exchanges.

Ether is a token whose blockchain is generated by the Ethereum platform. Ether can be transferred between accounts and used to compensate participant mining nodes for computations performed.[3] Ethereum provides a decentralized virtual machine, the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), which can execute scripts using an international network of public nodes.[4] The virtual machine's instruction set, in contrast to others like Bitcoin Script, is thought to be Turing-complete. "Gas", an internal transaction pricing mechanism, is used to mitigate spam and allocate resources on the network.[4]