How Do Different Wallet Addresses Work On Polkadot And Kusama?

August 18, 2021
How Do Different Wallet Addresses Work On Polkadot And Kusama?

Platforms like Kusama and Polkadot are enhancing the scope of what people can accomplish with crypto, so we knew we wanted to build Equilibrium and Genshiro using the relevant relay chain. But a lot of early users get tripped up on how wallet addresses work in these kinds of interoperable environments, so we thought we’d share this explainer.

If you’re coming from the world of Ethereum, you’re probably used to addresses looking something like this:

0xfd1472d6f10826df5fe5769990c6080523a30a35

But in the world of Polkadot and Kusama, you might be used to addresses that look something like this:

l2uxb9baJaiHhCvMzijnCYbkiXpGQ24jhj4AmhNvrMEzWuoV EVH78gP5ATklKjHonVpxM8c1W6rWPKn5cAS14fXn4Ry5NxK 2q5qF1LqDpINWGC1JJaCzmPQMGPZPKQ76f2XqzxMBjwmadxW 5DyfSpLWSoSpFfur35gn4PmbrupchiWbdEKgcQPaJGDULHGd jRaQ6PPzcqNnckcLStwqrTjEvpKnJUP2Jw65Ut36LQQUycd 4dFhts6694CTKKV4btQdnzB3yzxrNcjUVaztvJXmX8eYeXox

Polkadot addresses always start with the number 1, Kusama addresses always start with a capital letter, and generic Substrate addresses start with 5. To be clear on what’s going on in that list of wallet addresses above here, that’s six different addresses written in a few different formats that all pertain to one account. Polkadot and Kusama serve to bridge otherwise disconnected blockchains so that they can communicate and transact with each other. So how does that all work together?

Interoperable wallet addresses are the lynchpin for making sure crypto funds reach their intended recipient on the appropriate network. The different address formats that these different networks call for are merely different representations of the same public key in a private-public keypair (that’s generated by a dedicated software tool). This makes these addresses compatible across Substrate-based chains, as long as the format’s been properly converted.

Let’s draw an analogy to the world of language to more fully illustrate this. If we want to express “house” in a number of different ways, we have a list of suitable potentials that might look like this:

English: house

German: haus

Spanish: casa

Russian: дом

These are merely a bunch of different ways to express the same idea (house), and they all represent the same thing (house), but none of them is that actual thing itself.

Your addresses in Polkadot and Kusama effectively work the same way. Your wallet will hold your public and private key, as well as and all the different formats you see depending on the chains you attach to are all just different representations of that same public key.

For example, suppose we have this public key:

0x54a0lf789elcflcf69da4010f7001dfaea8e4166656f332ebb5b38ec85704811

On Polkadot it would be represented like this, starting with a 1 per that platform’s standard:

​​12uxb9baJaiHhCvMzijnCYbkiXpGQ24jhj4AmhNvrMEzWuoV

On Kusama would be represented like this, starting with a capital letter:

EVH78gP5ATklKjHonVpxM8c1W6rWPKn5cAS14fXn4Ry5NxK

In the Substrate generic address, it would be something like this, starting with the number 5

50yfSpLWSoSpFfur35gn4PmbrupchiWbdEKgcQPaJGDULHGd

So this is pretty cool — it means that you can use one address or one account across all these different chains. While that is true, it’s typically not recommended. It’s better to have distinct accounts with their own private keys for each network you want to participate in. The main reason for this is a good one: security! If one of your accounts becomes compromised, then the assets in your other accounts remain safe.

This is easy to set up in the Polkadot browser extension. Simply set each account so that it can only be viewed on the network that you want it to connect to, as opposed to simply being connectable to everything. Try to connect your wallet to Equilibrium’s Dapp for practice and check available functionality on the testnet!

Now you know a little bit more about these game-changing pieces of fintech software!


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