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What Are Decentralized Exchanges and Why Should You Try Them?

6 mins
Updated by Ryan Glenn
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There are various ways of purchasing cryptocurrencies. You could buy them through an individual or an exchange. However, regardless of how you procure your digital assets, you’ll always find the need to use a decentralized exchange.

Cryptocurrencies are on their way to global penetration, as their prominence continues to grow, and people find more use for them. Bitcoin, Ether, and other prominent cryptocurrencies have seen their use cases expand significantly. People buy them for varying reasons. Some buy them to use for payments, hedge against the failures of traditional financial systems, and as investment vehicles.

How Cryptocurrency Exchanges Work

Cryptocurrency exchanges are platforms where investors can buy, sell, and trade one digital asset for another or for fiat currency. Their major function is to facilitate the transfer of digital assets, but they do so much.

The function of cryptocurrency exchanges is rather extensive, and the most popular exchanges have been able to diversify their operations, providing services such as custody and leverage trading. Some exchanges also tap up traditional companies to open up spending options for cryptocurrencies. It’s not unusual to find exchanges creating Debit Cards that are pre-filled with crypto and used to withdraw fiat at an Automated Teller Machine (ATM).

Types of Cryptocurrency Exchanges

Cryptocurrency exchanges have several forms based on the functions they provide and the type of users they suit. Generally, we have three types. We have centralized crypto exchanges, decentralized crypto exchanges (DEX), and hybrids (combines centralized and decentralized functions.)

Centralized Exchanges

Centralized exchanges are the most popular form of exchanges. Users buy and sell cryptocurrencies at CEX. They come in different forms and sizes, and the most popular exchanges- Coinbase, Binance, BitMEX, Huobi, and OKEx- are examples of centralized platforms.

One aspect that distinguishes centralized from other types of exchanges is in their ownership structure. A single individual or a group often own centralized exchanges. They controls the platform and charge you a fee for using it.

Most centralized exchanges are often incentivized to keep innovating by producing new products and services to keep their customers in a fierce market. This is why so many of them often launch multiple products frequently. Some exchanges offer margin trading, custodial services, staking, and others provide specialized services in a bid to keep customers.

Decentralized Exchanges

A single group or individual does not own a decentralized exchange (DEX), like a centralized exchange. It’s a platform that decentralizes the core functions of an exchange. These include asset trading/exchange, order matching, capital deposits, and order books. Decentralization means there’s no central figure or server.

The network’s nodes are distributed, thereby cutting out the middleman, allowing users to execute trades using smart contracts. This reduces the costs associated with centralized exchanges and speeds up the processes. Here are some of the most popular decentralized exchanges:


Bancor is an on-chain liquidity protocol that automates swaps on Ethereum and other blockchains. The exchange uses Bancor’s smart token to facilitate trades with quick throughput and low fees. It uses the principle of a reserve currency, in this case, BNT, to automate exchanges between different assets.

Furthermore, Bancor also features a liquidity mining program and the ability to provide automated liquidity to any asset. It also allows the provision of single-sided liquidity, impermanent loss protection, and BNT rewards.


One of the market’s most popular Automated Market Makers is Uniswap. Like others of its kind, users can become liquidity providers to earn rewards. What distinguishes it from other decentralized exchanges is its constant product market maker model, which is its pricing mechanism.

To continue, the latest version, Uniswap V3, also introduced concentrated liquidity and multiple fee tiers. This leads to better capital efficiency and risk management.


Stackswap is a relatively new entrant to the decentralized exchange market and is the first complete DEX and launchpad on the Bitcoin network, powered by the Stacks blockchain. It is due for a full release in November 2021

The Stacks blockchain acts as a layer 2 chain on top of Bitcoin and thus enables smart contract functionality. Besides token swaps and liquidity mining, it also enables trading pools through liquidity provision, a launchpad, and token compensation programs.

Proof of Transfer-Lite(PoXL) is a peculiar type of token . It resembles Stacks Blockchain’s Proof of Transfer(PoX) consensus mechanism on its operation. PoXL tokens possess inherent potential to provide holders not only yield in STX, but also in BTC.

Up until now, deploying PoXL tokens required significant development resources due to its complexity, but Stackswap’s token launchpad enables non-programmers to quickly issue PoXL tokens on the blockchain and provide a mining interface for the users without a single line of coding. This streamlines the onboarding process of new ecosystem members. It is already cooperating with the popular MiamiCoin.

Types of Decentralized Exchanges

Decentralized Exchange DEX Growth

There are mainly two types of decentralized exchanges. We have the currency-centric and currency-neutral DEX. The difference lies in the blockchain the DEX is built on and the number of currencies you can trade on them. Platforms built on a particular blockchain Currency-centric DEX,. The Ethereum blockchain for example.

For exchanges like this, the platform is limited to allowing users to trade the asset it’s built on, such as ERC20 assets. Currency-neutral allows for more freedom. The system allows users to connect different digital assets for secure order handling and matching in a decentralized manner.

The Pros and Cons of Decentralized Exchanges

Pros of Using a DEX

When compared to centralized exchanges, decentralized platforms are secure. The lack of a centralized storage location means they don’t have a single point of failure. Even the best centralized exchange can be compromised, and millions of customer funds can be stolen from the company’s storage.

This is impossible on a decentralized exchange. On DEX platforms, the users have control over their private keys. They don’t store it on the exchange. Another benefit of a decentralized exchange is censorship-resistance. DEX platforms are not subject to government laws or censorship.

A single individual does not own a decentralized exchange. As such, the government can’t exert any form or control or monitor their transactions. This is a big deal as many countries have taken the ban route to limit or stifle the growth of the cryptocurrency sector in their region.

Cons of Using a DEX

The major drawback of DEX companies is limited functionality. DEXs lack quite a number of useful features. Features like margin trading, stop loss, and much more are missing from the DEX arsenal, all of which could hinder your performance as a trader.

Some exchanges are working on adding new features, but it might take a while before these features roll out. Decentralized exchanges are also quite challenging to use, but their user interface is getting better by the day. Another drawback is fiat conversions.

Due to their makeup and opposition to any form of centralization, you can’t make fiat conversions, as this opens the platform to everything it’s not. Cryptocurrency investors can only trade using crypto deposits.

Why DEX Adoption is Slow

Due to the lack of functionality, decentralized exchange adoption is slow. Many investors use centralized exchanges for reasons that go beyond just buying and selling cryptocurrencies. DEX platforms are just too limited for now to attract a wide base of investors. Low liquidity is also a concern for investors with deep pockets.

Then, you also have the government’s need to put a leash on the crypto sector. In the U.S., several government agencies have given reasons why they need to monitor transactions on the blockchain. The FBI says it wants to monitor illicit transactions and protect investors from dubious operators. The IRS wants to monitor every cryptocurrency transaction for tax purposes.

Whatever the reason, DEX platforms are created to hide user detail and transactions from central authorities. This means the government is blind to their activities. If they end up replacing central exchanges, billions of dollars could fly under the radar. This could become concerning for a lot of investors who run legitimate businesses.

Decentralized | Next In Series >

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should you use a decentralized exchange?

What are the cons of centralized exchanges?

What are some popular DEXs on Ethereum?

What are some of the cons of decentralized exchanges?

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Jimmy Aki
Based in the United Kingdom, Jimmy is an economic researcher with outstanding hands-on and heads-on experience in Macroeconomic finance analysis, forecasting and planning. He has honed his skills, having worked cross-continental as a finance analyst, which gives him inter-cultural experience. He currently has a strong passion for blockchain regulation and macroeconomic trends as it allows him peek under the global bonnet to see how the world works.