Ripple (payment protocol)

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Original author(s) Arthur Britto, David Schwartz, Ryan Fugger
Developer(s) Ripple
Initial release 2012
Stable release 0.31.0[1] / 2016[1]
Development status Active
Operating system Windows, OSX, iOS
Type Real-time gross settlement, currency exchange, remittance
License ISC license[2]

Ripple is a real-time gross settlement system (RTGS), currency exchange and remittance network by Ripple. Also called the Ripple Transaction Protocol (RTXP) or Ripple protocol,[3] it is built upon a distributed open source Internet protocol, consensus ledger and native currency called XRP (ripples). Released in 2012, Ripple purports to enable "secure, instant and nearly free global financial transactions of any size with no chargebacks." It supports tokens representing fiat currency, cryptocurrency, commodity or any other unit of value such as frequent flier miles or mobile minutes.[4][5] At its core, Ripple is based around a shared, public database or ledger,[6] which uses a consensus process that allows for payments, exchanges and remittance in a distributed process.[7] The security of the Ripple consensus algorithm was challenged by rivals in 2014,[8] with Ripple defending the safety of the system.[9] As of 2016, Ripple is the third-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization,[10][11] after bitcoin and ethereum.[12][13][14][15] Currently implemented by companies such as Fidor Bank, the Ripple protocol has been increasingly adopted by banks and payment networks as settlement infrastructure technology,[16] with American Banker explaining that "from banks' perspective, distributed ledgers like the Ripple system have a number of advantages over cryptocurrencies like bitcoin," including price and security.[17]


Early development (2004–12)

The predecessor to the Ripple payment protocol, Ripplepay, was first developed in 2004 by Ryan Fugger,[18][19] a web developer in Vancouver, British Columbia.[20] Fugger conceived of the idea after working on a local exchange trading system in Vancouver, and his intent was to create a monetary system that was decentralized and could effectively allow individuals and communities to create their own money. Fugger's first iteration of this system,,[21] debuted in 2005 as a financial service to provide secure payment options to members of an online community via a global network.[20][22]

This led to the conception of a new system by Jed McCaleb of eDonkey network,[23] which was designed and built by Arthur Britto and David Schwartz.[24] In May 2011, they began developing a digital currency system in which transactions were verified by consensus among members of the network, rather than by the mining process used by bitcoin, which relies on blockchain ledgers.[21] This new version of the Ripple system[20] was therefore designed to eliminate bitcoin's reliance on centralized exchanges, use less electricity than bitcoin, and perform transactions much more quickly than bitcoin.[20] Chris Larsen,[21] who had previously founded the lending services companies E-Loan and Prosper, joined the team in August 2012,[23] and together McCaleb and Larsen approached Ryan Fugger with their digital currency idea. After discussions with long-standing members of the Ripple community, Fugger handed over the reins.[21] In September 2012 the team co-founded the corporation OpenCoin,[21] or OpenCoin Inc.[23][25]

OpenCoin and Ripple Labs (2012–13)

OpenCoin began developing a new payment protocol called the Ripple Transaction Protocol (RTXP) based on Ryan Fugger's concepts.[21] The Ripple protocol enables the instant and direct transfer of money between two parties.[26] As such the protocol can circumnavigate the fees and wait times of the traditional correspondent banking system,[26][27] and any type of currency can be exchanged including USD, euros, RMB, yen, gold, airline miles, and rupees.[28] To maintain security OpenCoin programmed Ripple to rely on a common ledger that is "managed by a network of independent validating servers that constantly compare their transaction records." Servers could belong to anyone, including banks or market makers.[26] The company also created its own form of digital currency dubbed XRP in a manner similar to bitcoin, using the currency to allow financial insititutions to transfer money with negligible fees and wait-time.[29]

Among OpenCoin's early investors were[30] Andreessen Horowitz and Google Ventures.[26] On July 1, 2013, XRP Fund II, LLC (now called simply XRP II)[31] was incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of OpenCoin, and headquartered in South Carolina.[31] The following day, Ripple announced its linking of the bitcoin and Ripple protocols via the Bitcoin Bridge. The bitcoin Bridge allows Ripple users to send a payment in any currency to a bitcoin address.[32][33] Ripple also developed early partnerships with companies such as ZipZap.[34] On September 26, 2013, OpenCoin Inc. changed its name to Ripple Labs Inc.,[25] with Chris Larsen remaining CEO.[35] On the same day the Ripple reference server and client became free software, released as open source under the terms of the ISC license.[2] Ripple Labs continued as the primary contributors of code to the consensus verification system behind Ripple, which can "integrate with banks’ existing networks."[36] In October 2013, Ripple partnered further with ZipZap, with the relationship called a threat to Western Union in the press.[37]

Focus on banking market (2014–15)

By 2014, Ripple Labs was involved in several development projects related to the protocol, releasing for example an iOS client app for the iPhone that allows iPhone users to send and receive any currency via their phone.[38][39][40] This Ripple Client client app no longer exists.[41] In July 2014, Ripple Labs proposed Codius, a project to develop a new smart contract system that is "programming language agnostic."[42]

"...we think that the bigger opportunity is not just to create another digital currency – there are plenty of those - but rather to use that technology as a way of building a settlement system with no central operator."
— Ripple CEO Chris Larsen in December 2014[28]

Since 2013, the protocol has been adopted by an increasing number of financial institutions to "[offer] an alternative remittance option" to consumers.[43] Ripple allows for cross-border payments for retail customers, corporations, and other banks, and Larsen was quoted stating that "Ripple simplifies the [exchange] process by creating point-to-point and transparent transfers in which banks do not have to pay corresponding bank fees."[28] The first bank to use Ripple was Fidor Bank in Munich, which announced the partnership in early 2014. Fidor is an online-only bank based in Germany.[44] That September the New Jersey-based Cross River Bank and Kansas-based CBW Bank announced they would be using the Ripple protocol.[3] By December Ripple Labs began working with global payments service Earthport, combining Ripple's software with Earthport's payment services system. Earthport's clients include banks such as Bank of America and HSBC, and it operates in 65 countries. The partnership marked the first network usage of the Ripple protocol.[45] In December 2014 alone, the XRP price value rose over 200%, helping Ripple surpass litecoin to become the second biggest crypto-currency, and setting Ripple's market capitalization at close to half a billion.[46]

In February 2015, Fidor Bank announced they would be using the Ripple protocol to implement a new real-time international money transfer network,[47] and in late April 2015, it was announced that Western Union was planning to "experiment" with Ripple.[37] In late May 2015, Commonwealth Bank of Australia announced it would be experimenting with Ripple[48] in relation to intrabank transfers.[49] Since 2012, representatives of Ripple Labs have professed support for government regulation of the crypto-currency market, claiming that regulations help businesses grow.[50] On May 5, 2015, FinCEN fined Ripple Labs and XRP II US$700,000 for violation of the Bank Secrecy Act,[31] based on the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network's additions to the act in 2013.[51] Ripple Labs agreed to remedial steps to ensure future compliance, which included an agreement to only transact XRP and "Ripple Trade" activity through registered money services businesses (MSB), among other agreements such as enhancing the Ripple Protocol.[31] The enhancement won't change the protocol itself, but will instead add AML transaction monitoring to the network and improve transaction analysis.[51] As of 2015, the current release of Ripple Trade is version 0.2.48-3 and the server (known as rippled) is version 0.24.0.[1]


" an open protocol, Ripple enables a peer-to-peer server architecture to facilitate the movement of value among financial institutions. This allows financial services companies to make payments directly to each other, whether across different networks, geographic borders or currencies."
— Consultative Group to Assist the Poor in 2015[52]

Ripple's website describes the opensource protocol as "basic infrastructure technology for interbank transactions – a neutral utility for financial institutions and systems." The protocol allows banks and non-bank financial services companies to incorporate the Ripple protocol into their own systems, and therefore allow their customers to use the service.[53] Currently, Ripple requires two parties for a transaction to occur: first, a regulated financial institution "holds funds and issues balances on behalf of customers." Second, "market makers" such as hedge funds or currency trading desks provide liquidity in the currency they want to trade in.[54] At its core, Ripple is based around a shared, public database or ledger that has its contents decided on by consensus.[6] In addition to balances, the ledger holds information about offers to buy or sell currencies and assets, creating the first distributed exchange.[53] The consensus process allows for payments, exchanges and remittance in a distributed process.[7] According to the CGAP in 2015, "Ripple does for payments what SMTP did for email, which is enable the systems of different financial institutions to communicate directly."[52]

In Ripple, users make payments between each other by using cryptographically signed transactions denominated in either fiat currencies or Ripple's internal currency (XRP). For XRP-denominated transactions Ripple can make use of its internal ledger, while for payments denominated in other assets, the Ripple ledger only records the amounts owed, with assets represented as debt obligations.[18] As originally Ripple only kept records in its ledger and has no real-world enforcement power, trust was required.[18][clarification needed] However, Ripple is now integrated with various user verification protocols and bank services.[55] Users have to specify which other users they trust and to what amount.[18] When a non-XRP payment is made between two users that trust each other, the balance of the mutual credit line is adjusted, subject to limits set by each user. In order to send assets between users that have not directly established a trust relationship, the system tries to find a path between the two users such that each link of the path is between two users that do have a trust relationship. All balances along the path are then adjusted simultaneously and atomically.[18] This mechanism of making payments through a network of trusted associates is named 'rippling'. It has similarities to the age-old hawala system.[56]

Design features


A gateway is any person or organization that enables users to put money into and take money out of Ripple's liquidity pool.[2] A gateway accepts currency deposits from users and issues balances into Ripple's distributed ledger. Furthermore, gateways redeem ledger balances against the deposits they hold when currency is withdrawn. In practice, gateways are similar to banks, yet they share one global ledger known as the Ripple protocol. Depending on the type and degree of interaction a user has with a gateway, the gateway may have anti-money laundering (AML) or know your customer (KYC) policies requiring verification of identification, address, nationality, etc. to prevent criminal activity.[5] Popular gateways as of 2016 included Bitstamp, Ripple Fox, Tokyo JPY, Ripple China, Btc2ripple, Gatehub, Mr. Ripple and The Rock Trading.[57]

Trustlines and rippling

File:Adding Trust and Allowing Rippling.jpg
Pictured is the 2014 Ripple user interface that allows for advanced users to add trustlines and "rippling."

Users must ‘extend trust’ to the Ripple gateway that holds their deposit. This manual creation of a trustline indicates to the Ripple network that the user is comfortable with the gateway’s counterparty risk. Furthermore, the user must put a quantitative limit on this trust and create a similar limit for each currency on deposit at that gateway. For example, if a user deposits US$50 and BTC2.00 at The Rock Trading, the user will have to grant trust of at least that much in both currencies to the gateway for the monies to be available in the Ripple network.[58] When a user has allowed multiple gateways in the same currency, there is an advanced option to allow "rippling," which subjects the user’s balance of that currency to switch (or ripple) between gateways. Though their total balance doesn't alter, users earn a small transit fee for providing inter-gateway liquidity.[59]


Similar to reasons during the Free Banking Era in the United States, the value of a currency can vary significantly depending on a gateway's creditworthiness. A non-profit trade association, the International Ripple Business Association (IRBA), provides unified procedures and disclosure standards for gateways.[60][61][62] As of June 2015, fifteen businesses had met or exceeded the IRBA standards.[60][61]

Consensus ledger

Ripple relies on a common shared ledger, which is a distributed database storing information about all Ripple accounts. The network is "managed by a network of independent validating servers that constantly compare their transaction records." Servers could belong to anyone, including banks or market makers.[26] Though the Ripple protocol is freeware,[2] Ripple Labs continues to develop and promote the Ripple protocol, which confirms financial transactions via a network of distributed servers. Ripple Labs is currently assisting banks in integrating with the Ripple network.[36] A new ledger is created every few seconds,[63] and the last closed ledger is a perfect record of all Ripple accounts as determined by the network of servers. A transaction is any proposed change to the ledger and can be introduced by any server to the network. The servers attempt to come to consensus about a set of transactions to apply to the ledger, creating a new ‘last closed ledger’.[63]

The consensus process is distributed,[64] and the goal of consensus is for each server to apply the same set of transactions to the current ledger.[63] Servers continually receive transactions from other servers on the network,[63] and the server determines which transactions to apply based on if a transaction came from a specified node in the ‘unique node list’ or UNL.[not in citation given][7] Transactions that are agreed upon by a "supermajority" of peers are considered validated.[63] If the supermajority isn't in consensus, "this implies that transaction volume was too high or network latency too great for the consensus process to produce consistent proposals," then the consensus process is again attempted by the nodes. Each round of consensus reduces disagreement, until the supermajority is reached.[63] The intended outcome of this process is that disputed transactions are discarded from proposals while widely accepted transactions are included.[63] While users may assemble their own UNL nodes and have full control over which nodes they trust, Ripple Labs acknowledges that most people will use the default UNL supplied by their client.[not in citation given][7]

Ledger security

In early 2014,[65] a rival company called the Stellar Foundation[66] experienced a network crash.[8] The company brought in David Mazieres, Stellar's chief scientist and head of Stanford University's secure computing group, to conduct a review of the Stellar consensus system, which was similar to Ripple's. Mazieres declared the Stellar system unlikely to be safe when operating with "more than one validating node,"[8] arguing that when consensus is not reached, a ledger fork occurs with parts of the network disagreeing over accepted transactions.[9] The Stellar Foundation afterwards claimed that there was an "innate weaknesses" in the consensus process,[8] a claim which according to Finance Magnates, "Ripple vehemently denied."[65] Ripple Labs chief cryptographer David Schwartz disputed Mazieres' findings and claimed that Stellar had incorrectly implemented the consensus system, as "the protocol provides safety and fault tolerance assuming the validators are configured correctly."[9] The company further wrote that after examining Stellar's information, they had concluded "that there is no threat to the continued operation of the Ripple network."[67]

Use as a payment/forex system

Ripple allows users or businesses to conduct cross-currency transactions[68] in 3 to 5 seconds.[53] All accounts and transactions are cryptographically secure and algorithmically verified. Payments can only be authorized by the account holder and all payments are processed automatically without any third parties or intermediaries.[68] Ripple validates accounts and balances instantly for payment transmission and delivers payment notification with very little latency (within a few seconds).[69] Payments are irreversible, and there are no chargebacks.[70] XRP cannot be frozen or seized.[71] While as of 2014 anyone could open an account on Ripple,[71] by 2015 identity verification procedures had been implemented.[55] Ripple's Path-finding Algorithm searches for the fastest, cheapest path between two currencies.[72] In the case of a user who wants to send a payment from USD to EUR, this could be a "one-hop" path directly from USD to EUR, or it could be a multi-hop path, perhaps from USD to CAD to XRP to EUR.[73] Path finding is designed to seek out the cheapest conversion cost for the user. As of May 14, 2014, Ripple's gateways allow deposits in a limited number of fiat currencies (USD, EUR, MXN, NZD, GBP, NOK, JPY, CAD, CHF, CNY, AUD), a handful of crypto currencies (BTC, XRP, LTC, NMC, NXT, PPC, XVN, SLL) and a few commodities (gold, silver, platinum).[74][75][76]

The Bitcoin Bridge

The bitcoin bridge is a link between the Ripple and bitcoin ecosystems. The bridge makes it possible to pay any bitcoin user straight from a Ripple account without ever needing to hold any of the digital currency. Additionally, any merchant accepting bitcoins has the potential to accept any currency in the world. For example, a Ripple user may prefer to keep money in USD and not own bitcoins. A merchant, however, may desire payment in bitcoin. The bitcoin bridge allows any Ripple user to send bitcoins without having to use a central exchange such as BTC-e to acquire them.[33][77] Bitstamp acts as a gateway for the Ripple payment protocol, among other exchanges.


While transaction information on the ledger is public, payment information is not. It’s thus difficult for anyone to associate transaction information with any specific user or corporation.[78]

Market makers

Any user on Ripple can act as a market maker by offering an arbitrage service such as providing market liquidity, intra-gateway currency conversion, rippling, etc. Market makers can also be hedge funds or currency trading desks. According to the Ripple website, "by holding balances in multiple currencies and connecting to multiple gateways, market makers facilitate payments between users where no direct trust exists, enabling exchanges across gateways."[79] With a sufficient number of market makers, the path finding algorithm creates a near frictionless market and enables users to seamlessly pay each other via the network in different currencies, without assuming any undesired foreign exchange risk.[80]

Many such services are offered through a traditional platform of offers to buy or sell one currency for another currency. Bids and asks are aggregated into order books, to create a decentralized exchange. Users can transact with market makers to trade or convert currencies.[citation needed] Ripple's path finding algorithm leverages this functionality to allow users to send money in one currency and the recipient to receive it in another currency.[80] For example, a user can pay with USD and the recipient can choose to receive the money in another currency, including bitcoins and XRP.[80]

Open API

Ripple Labs built the protocol to be friendly to the developer community, and resulting features include an API for its payment network, based on the popular REST API standard. One of the earliest extensions by third-party developers was a Ripple extension to e-commerce platform Magento, which enables Magento to read the Ripple public ledger and create an invoice. There has been a Ripple Wallet payment option developed for retail situations as well.[38]


"XRP exists natively within the Ripple protocol as a counterparty-free currency, as Bitcoin does on the Blockchain. Because XRP is an asset, as opposed to a redeemable balance, it does not require that users trust any specific financial institution to trade or exchange it. All other currencies on Ripple do require some amount of trust, as they each have an issuer, from whom that currency can be redeemed (this includes BTC on the Ripple network)."
— Ripple protocol[81]

XRP is the native currency of the Ripple network that only exists within the Ripple system.[82] XRP are currently divisible to 6 decimal places, and the smallest unit is called a drop with 1 million drops equaling 1 XRP.[82] There were 100 billion XRP created at Ripple's inception, with no more allowed to be created according to the protocol's rules.[83] As such, the system was designed so XRP is a scarce asset with decreasing available supply.[83] Not dependent on any third party for redemption, XRP is the only currency in the Ripple network that does not entail counterparty risk, and it is the only native digital asset. The other currencies in the Ripple network are debt instruments (i.e. liabilities), and exist in the form of balances.[2] Users of the Ripple network are not required to use XRP as a store of value or a medium of exchange. Each Ripple account is required, however, to have a small reserve of 20 XRP[84] (US$0.38 as of January 28, 2014[85]). The purpose for this requirement is discussed in the anti-spam section.

XRP distribution

Of the 100 billion created, 20 billion XRP were retained by the creators, who were also the founders of Ripple Labs. The creators gave the remaining 80% of the total to Ripple Labs, with the XRP intended to fund operations.[83] Ripple Labs also had a short-lived 2013 giveaway of under 200 million XRP (0.002% of all XRP) via World Community Grid.[86] As of November 30, 2012, 7.2 billion XRP of Ripple Lab's amounts had been distributed,[87] with some of the amount given to charities such as the Computing for Good initiative, which began offering XRP in exchange for time volunteered on research projects.[88] As of March 2015, 67% of Ripple Labs's original 80% was still retained by the company,[83] with Ripple Labs stating that "we will engage in distribution strategies that we expect will result in a stable or strengthening XRP exchange rate against other currencies."[89] The amount of XRP distributed and their movement can be tracked through the Ripple Charts website.[90]

XRP as a bridge currency

One of the specific functions of XRP is as a bridge currency,[73] which can be necessary if no direct exchange is available between two currencies at a specific time,[91] for example when transacting between two rarely traded currency pairs.[81] Within the network’s currency exchange, XRP are traded freely against other currencies, and its market price fluctuates against dollars, euros, yen, bitcoin, etc. Ripple's design focus is as a currency exchange and a distributed-RTGS, as opposed to emphasizing XRP as an alternative currency.[81] In April 2015, Ripple Labs announced that a new feature called autobridging had been added to Ripple, with the intent of making it easier for market makers to transact between rarely traded currency pairs. The feature is also intended to expose more of the network to liquidity and better FX rates.[92]

XRP as an anti-spam measure

When a user conducts a financial transaction in a non-native currency, Ripple charges a transaction fee. The purpose of the fees is to protect against network flooding by making the attacks too expensive for hackers. If Ripple were completely free to access, adversaries could broadcast large amounts of "ledger spam" (i.e. fake accounts) and "transaction spam" (i.e. fake transactions) in an attempt to overload the network. This could cause the size of the ledger to become unmanageable and interfere with the network’s ability to quickly settle legitimate transactions. Thus, to engage in trade, each Ripple account is required to have a small reserve of 20 XRP,[84] (US$0.38 as of January 28, 2014[85]), and a transaction fee starting at .00001 XRP (US$.0000002 as of January 28, 2014[85]) must be spent for each trade. This transaction fee is not collected by anyone; the XRP is destroyed and ceases to exist.[93] The transaction fee rises if the user posts trades at an enormous rate (many thousands per minute), and resettles after a period of inactivity.[58]


Since its debut the Ripple protocol has received a fair amount of attention in both the financial and mainstream press. Ripple has recently been mentioned in industry articles by The Nielsen Company, the Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin, NACHA, and KPMG, with many of the articles examining Ripple's effect on internationalizing the banking industry.[94] In April 2015, American Banker asserted that "from banks' perspective, distributed ledgers like the Ripple system have a number of advantages over cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin," including security.[17] Wrote the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, "the adoption of distributed networks, such as Ripple, may help the [banking] industry realize faster processing, as well as greater efficiencies for global payments and correspondent banking."[94] Writing for Esquire about Ripple as a payment network in 2013, Ken Kurson said that "the big financial-service brands ought to feel about Ripple the way the record labels felt about Napster."[95] The New York Times website Dealbook points out in 2014 that “(Ripple) is winning something that has proved elusive for virtual currencies: involvement from more mainstream players in the financial system.”[16]

Comparisons to competition
External video
Ripple CEO Chris Larsen interviewed about Ripple by Deirdre Bolton on Bloomberg Television's Money Moves (2014)

Though Ripple is third in size to bitcoin as a digital currency, many members of the press have described Ripple as an up-and-coming rival to bitcoin. In late 2014, Bloomberg called bitcoin a "failing" digital currency, after bitcoin's currency fell 54 percent in value in one year. Ripple was described as a significant competitor, in part because of its real-time international money transfers.[96] Bill Gates supported this outlook and mentioned the Ripple system when asked about bitcoin in 2014, stating "there’s a lot that bitcoin or Ripple and variants can do to make moving money between countries easier and getting fees down pretty dramatically. But bitcoin won’t be the dominant system.”[97] About Ripple's allowance of any electronic value holder, the Vice President of the St. Louis Federal Reserve and professor at Simon Fraser University, David Andolfatto, stated in 2014 that "Ripple is a currency-agnostic protocol. Ripple is the winner. It processes anything."[98] For its creation and development of the Ripple protocol (RTXP) and the Ripple payment/exchange network, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recognized Ripple Labs as one of 2014's 50 Smartest Companies in the February 2014 edition of MIT Technology Review.[99]

Reactions to XRP

The reaction to XRP is polarized in the crypto-currency community.[7] Proponents of bitcoin have criticized XRP for being "pre-mined," as XRP is built directly into the Ripple protocol and requires no mining. Also, Ripple Labs' distribution of the original limited amount of XRP currency has met with a fair amount of controversy,[65] and in particular the founders' retainment of 20% is seen as a high percentage. However, Esquire countered in 2013 that "if that is devious, then so is every company that's ever gone public while retaining the great bulk of its shares."[95] Much of the controversy was settled after the announcement that the founders[66] Jed McCaleb[100] and Arthur Britto[66] would be selling their XRP at a mediated rate over several years, "a move that should add stability and restore confidence to the XRP market."[66] CEO Chris Larsen in turn donated 7 billion XRP to the Ripple Foundation for Financial Innovation, with the XRP to be "locked up" and donated over time.[100]

See also


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Further reading

External links