A decentralized exchange (DEX) is a cryptocurrency exchange which operates in a decentralized way on a distributed ledger. One of the first DEX’s was launched in 2014 by the team behind the NXT cryptocurrency. Since then, a multitude of decentralized exchanges have launched but they are still very much in their early stages.
Unlike centralized exchanges (CEX), which operate from centralized servers and are controlled by a central authority, DEX’s operate on a blockchain and enable peer-to-peer trading of cryptocurrencies. This is the primary difference between centralized and decentralized exchanges, but there are also many more:
Anonymity: Decentralized exchanges grant their users full anonymity, while centralized exchanges generally need to comply with KYC (know your customer) and AML (anti-money laundering) laws.
Control of Funds: At centralized exchanges, users must trust their money to a third party. Their crypto funds are held by the centralized exchange, not the user. With decentralized exchanges, the user controls their funds as they make transactions directly from their personal wallets.
Hacks & Server Downtime: Centralized exchanges can be hacked and have downtime because they have central points of failure for hackers to target. Decentralized exchanges are impossible to hack because all participants are servers and if someone is hacked, the DEX will not notice and continue running.
Open Source: A true decentralized exchange is completely open source so that anyone can open its code and see the algorithms and technologies it uses. With centralized exchanges, everything is privately owned and the user cannot identify what algorithms are being ran or technologies being used.