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A cryptocurrency exchange is any system that operates on the basis of trading cryptocurrencies with other assets. Like a traditional financial exchange, the cryptocurrency exchange's core operation is to allow for the buying and selling of these digital assets, as well as others.
A cryptocurrency exchange is also known as a digital currency exchange (DCE).
To really understand cryptocurrency exchanges, think about the ways that these new types of exchanges are different from traditional financial exchanges. Cryptocurrencies are inherently unstable in terms of value and sourcing. Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have been associated with major disruptive events where bitcoin value changed dramatically over a short period of time, or where major exchanges went under due to theft, fraud or other problems.
Cryptocurrency exchanges have to build in protections from some of these events. However, these exchanges do serve as a key vehicle for liquid use of cryptocurrency assets.
In other ways, cryptocurrency exchanges work just like traditional exchanges. On many of these platforms, cryptocurrency buyers and sellers can make limit orders or market orders, and the brokering process works like it would for any other kind of asset. The cryptocurrency exchange helps with the transaction and collects the fees. The difference is the underlying asset – bitcoin or Ethereum or some other cryptocurrency that does not have the same valuation properties as a national currency.