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What is an Atomic Swap?

An atomic swap involves exchanging one cryptocurrency for another without needing to trust or involve an intermediary third-party. Atomic swaps allow direct trading between counterparties, typically across different blockchains.

The "atomic" nature refers to the swap either succeeding fully or failing completely - there is no middle ground. This all-or-nothing approach removes settlement risk between parties. Atomic swaps leverage complex cryptography to enable trust-minimized cross-chain exchanges.

For example, Alice could directly swap some Bitcoin she owns for Bob's Ethereum using an atomic swap. This allows value exchange directly between two users privately. Alice and Bob rely on cryptographic controls rather than exchanges, custodians or escrows.

Atomic swap technology utilizes concepts like hash time-locked contracts (HTLCs), timeout periods and private key reveal mechanisms. These construct a secure handshake exchanging cryptographically locked assets on each blockchain.

If certain pre-agreed conditions are met, the assets swap hands. If not, the transaction fails securely without loss of funds. Again, the "atomic" nature arises because the transfer either succeeds irreversibly or doesn't occur at all.

Atomic swaps are a milestone in enabling decentralized exchange functionality in a confidential and trust-minimized manner. They allow users to trade cross-chain without centralized middlemen capturing fees or requiring custody of the assets.

However, usability and liquidity remain key barriers to widespread direct adoption of atomic swap protocols. But the underlying atomic swap technology has continued to mature, helping the crypto world explore an additional aspect of decentralized finance (DeFi).

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