What are inscriptions?

January 17, 2024


Written by: Algorand Foundation

The emerging concept of "crypto inscriptions" refers to the ability to directly embed cryptographic data representations onto blockchains, providing a unique way to store and access permanent records. This article explores crypto inscriptions by outlining their origins and functionality, then compares how Algorand specifically enables inscriptions. Finally, it will look at the benefits of inscriptions and important considerations, as well as how to mint permanent crypto records directly on the Algorand blockchain.

What are inscriptions?

Inscriptions refer to cryptographic data embedded directly onto a blockchain with no outside server needed. These embedments can take various forms and file sizes, from simple text-based information to highly complex data structures. The direct placement of encoded data, including entire image files, onto the immutable distributed ledger provides a unique method for permanently storing and accessing records in a trustless manner. Inscriptions harness the core benefits of blockchain technologies like decentralization, security, and transparency to digitally archive information for individuals and organizations alike.

Where do inscriptions come from?

The origins of inscriptions can be traced back to early blockchain experiments involving embedding data payloads known as "ordinals" directly onto the Bitcoin network. Developed in 2012, Ordinals served as a precursor to non-fungible tokens (NFTs) by allowing arbitrary strings to be burned into the Bitcoin blockchain through unspent transaction outputs. This proved instrumental in supporting the creation and transfer of unique digital assets before smart contract capabilities existed. As blockchains incorporated more advanced scripting languages over time, it became possible to embed richer cryptographic representations of assets, agreements, and records using inscriptions. The term has grown in use as decentralized applications leverage the permanent storage abilities of distributed ledgers.

Does Algorand support inscriptions? 

Yes, Algorand supports the creation of both NFTs and inscriptions. It has developed inscription standards that allow for cryptographic representations of data to be seamlessly embedded on the blockchain through a simple minting process. Algorand's inscription capabilities are enhanced by several aspects of its technical infrastructure:

Scalability: Transaction throughput of over 10,000 TPS ensures a smooth user experience for minting inscriptions and for millions of inscriptions to be minted quickly and cost-effectively.

Predictability: Transactions are confirmed with instant finality, and fees are pre-determined. This allows inscription creators to foresee costs and deliver reliable minting experiences.

Low fees: With minimal overhead needed to participate in Algorand's pure proof-of-stake consensus, transaction fees are kept to a negligible 0.0001 Algo, which makes minting inscriptions very affordable.

See what people are inscribing on ALGOxNFT.

Inscriptions on Algorand vs other blockchains 

Algorand's approach to inscriptions diverges from platforms like Ethereum and other smart contract blockchains that rely on the EVM. Where those networks require complex smart contract executions to embed and retrieve data from the chain, Algorand prioritizes the direct on-chain storage of cryptographic information without those underlying dependencies. This results in significantly more efficient and affordable operations when minting, transferring, or viewing inscriptions compared to EVM-based ledgers that incur gas costs for each manipulation of data.

Compared to earlier protocols, Algorand takes a distinct path with Algorand Standard Assets (ASAs), which provide a framework for fungible and non-fungible tokens. By natively incorporating standards for direct inscription minting through ASAs, Algorand offers a simpler and more optimized experience versus alternative ledgers that rely on external dependencies like smart contracts.

Learn more about ASAs.

Algorand also differentiates itself from earlier blockchains like Bitcoin, which only allow for limited embedded data through methods like ordinals. While helping prove the concept, Bitcoin lacks the transaction throughput, scalability, and low fees required to viably support complex, rich inscriptions at scale. By natively incorporating standards for direct inscription minting, Algorand offers a simpler and more optimized experience versus alternative ledgers. Its pure proof-of-stake model provides the high performance, minimal fees, and instant finality needed to establish itself as the preferred home for burgeoning varieties of crypto inscriptions.

Benefits of inscriptions

Immutability: Once an inscription is minted on the Algorand blockchain, its contents cannot be altered or removed, providing permanence for valuable records.

Verifiability: The decentralized nature of blockchains means inscriptions and their creation/transfer history can be publicly verified by anyone at any time. This ensures transparency.

Accessibility: As long as the Algorand network remains online, inscriptions will remain accessible to authorized viewers. They are not dependent on a centralized storage provider.

Flexibility: Inscriptions support various data types, allowing people to memorialize personal details, official documents, digital artwork, and more in a single standardized manner.

Monetization: Like other crypto assets, inscriptions can be imbued with economic value if attached to domains/websites or used as unique digital identifiers.

Considerations of inscriptions

Costs: While Algorand keeps fees low, bigger files will require more signatures, and therefore transaction fees can be higher.

Regulations: The legal status of public crypto records must be followed locally. Inscriptions may be subject to compliance norms, depending on the attached content.

Censorship resistance: Though decentralized, inscription accessibility relies on the Algorand network remaining functional. 

Identifiability: The nature of public blockchains means inscriber identity and records may become identifiable if tied to real names/profiles without anonymization.

Permanence: Data changes are impossible, so inscribers must ensure accuracy before minting records immutably on-chain.

Read also:  What are smart contracts?

How to mint on Algorand 

The Algorand blockchain enables creators to leverage the power and permanence of blockchain technology through the minting of unique crypto inscriptions. Whether storing personal records, artworks, or blockchain domain identities, Algorand's advanced yet streamlined platform empowers all users to generate immutable cryptographic assets.

Through various user-friendly tools that simplify the technical processes, individuals can leverage Algorand's native capabilities to easily tokenize digital content into verifiable inscriptions with just a few clicks. 

  • Bulk and on-demand inscription minting can be achieved through platforms like The Laboratory and ALGOxNFT with minimal coding required.
  • Smart contracts also allow more nuanced customization of complex assets if developers require rich additional functionality.
  • The foundational ASA framework provides a standardized starting point for all creations.

For a breakdown of the inscription minting process on Algorand, refer to How To Mint An NFT on Algorand.

Useful links