What Are Decentralized Derivatives?

What Are Decentralized Derivatives?


In the realm of decentralized finance (DeFi), decentralized derivatives have gained significant traction as financial instruments traded on decentralized exchanges (DEXs). Similar to their traditional counterparts, decentralized derivatives derive their value from underlying assets, predominantly cryptocurrencies. The execution and facilitation of these contracts are driven by smart contracts, which operate autonomously to fulfill the contractual terms.

What Are Derivatives? 

Within the financial landscape, derivatives serve as contracts that derive their value from an underlying asset, encompassing stocks, cryptocurrencies, fiat currencies, and commodities. These contracts act as agreements between two parties, focusing on the projected future price or value of the underlying asset.

Options, futures, and swaps stand as notable examples of derivative types. Nonetheless, they all operate on the fundamental principle of enabling investors to profit from asset price movements without actual ownership.

Derivatives offer potential benefits such as risk hedging and amplified returns through leverage. For instance, traders can utilize leverage to control a larger quantity of the underlying asset by investing a smaller amount of capital into a futures contract.

Additionally, derivatives facilitate portfolio diversification by granting exposure to various asset classes and markets. Conversely, hedging involves employing derivatives to counterbalance potential losses linked to existing investments.

It is crucial to recognize that derivatives carry inherent risks due to their intricate nature and leverage possibilities, which can intensify losses. Consequently, comprehending the risks and potential consequences associated with derivative trading is vital before engaging in such activities.

What Are Decentralized Derivatives in Crypto?

Decentralized finance introduces a novel approach to derivatives, which derive value from underlying assets and operate within blockchain-based protocols. Although cryptocurrency-based derivatives dominate the DeFi landscape, decentralized derivatives linked to diverse asset types, including stocks, can also be established.

The allure of crypto derivatives lies in their ability to enable individuals to capitalize on future price movements of assets or hedge their positions in a transparent and trustless environment. One notable aspect of decentralized derivative protocols is their inclusive nature, as they impose minimal entry barriers, allowing anyone to connect using their crypto wallet.

These crypto derivative protocols prioritize user control over assets and keys, eliminating the need to transfer them to centralized platforms or third-party custodians. Consequently, users possess the flexibility to seamlessly transfer their assets across different protocols as part of their DeFi strategies, without undergoing protracted withdrawal procedures.

How Do Derivative DEXs Functionate?

In the realm of decentralized finance, derivative decentralized exchanges operate on blockchain networks to facilitate intermediary-free transactions. These blockchains serve as immutable and tamper-proof ledgers, ensuring that validated transactions and contract executions cannot be modified or removed once added.

Decentralized derivative protocols can be developed on various blockchains, including Ethereum, BNB Chain, Solana, and Layer 2 solutions. However, each blockchain differs in terms of security, scalability, and transaction costs, impacting the user experience and overall protocol performance. Certain derivative DEXs prioritize cross-chain compatibility and interoperability, enabling users to trade derivatives across multiple blockchains seamlessly.

Smart contracts, a pivotal technology, facilitate intermediary-free transactions. These contracts are self-executing and contain predefined conditions directly written into their code. They automatically execute and settle transactions and can perform additional functions, such as staking and governance, when the predetermined criteria are met.

To ensure accurate price tracking and connection to real-world assets, derivative protocols often rely on blockchain oracles. These oracles vary in terms of decentralization, data accuracy, and update frequency, influencing the overall reliability of the platform.

Decentralized derivative protocols frequently adopt decentralized governance models, allowing users to participate in decision-making processes to varying degrees. While some protocols emphasize decentralized governance structures, others rely more on centralized decision-making.

Native tokens assume a significant role in decentralized derivative protocols. For example, certain platforms incorporate decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) that enable token holders to engage in governance and vote on proposals related to protocol upgrades and other changes.

In some instances, tokens can serve as an alternative to stablecoins, providing collateral for trades. Additionally, DEXs may utilize their native tokens to incentivize market makers by collecting exchange fees and redistributing them to those who contribute liquidity to the platform.

Types of Decentralized Derivatives in Crypto

Futures Contracts

In the world of trading, futures contracts serve as financial agreements enabling traders to capitalize on future price movements of underlying assets. These contracts establish a predetermined price and date for the purchase or sale of an asset.

Unlike traditional finance, where futures contracts are typically traded on centralized exchanges (CEXs), DeFi opens up the possibility for traders to engage in futures contracts within a decentralized and permissionless environment. Through blockchain networks, traders can directly trade with one another without intermediaries.

Decentralized futures contracts can fall into two categories: perpetual or fixed expiration date. Perpetual futures contracts replicate the trading experience of traditional contracts but without an expiration date or settlement requirement. They are the most prevalent type of DeFi derivative contract.

Perpetual futures contracts offer greater flexibility and accessibility compared to regular contracts. Nevertheless, they carry their own set of risks, such as the potential for high leverage and significant funding fees.

Options Contracts

In the world of finance, options contracts offer a valuable tool for traders. These contracts grant the holder the right, though not the obligation, to buy or sell an underlying asset at a specified price within a specific timeframe. This principle also applies to the realm of cryptocurrencies.

Options contracts serve multiple purposes. They can be utilized as a hedge against price fluctuations of digital assets or as a means to speculate on their future price movements. To illustrate, imagine an investor who holds ETH and wishes to mitigate potential downside risk in the future. They could acquire a put option, which would enable them to sell ETH at a predetermined price, regardless of its spot price. By doing so, they can limit potential losses if the ETH price drops below the predetermined threshold.

Conversely, options can also serve as a means to profit from the future price movements of a cryptocurrency. In such a scenario, an investor would purchase a call option, granting them the right to buy the underlying asset at a predetermined price should its price surpass the specified strike price.

Synthetic Assets

Within the realm of digital finance, synthetic assets, often referred to as "synths," have emerged as a convenient means to hold and trade various assets. These assets are tokenized derivatives that utilize blockchain technology to replicate the value and even certain characteristics of their underlying assets, such as inflation.

Unlike stablecoins, synthetic assets offer greater diversity as they can represent a wide array of assets, including stocks, precious metals, altcoins, options, and futures. While they aim to closely mirror the value of the underlying assets, they do not possess direct backing from these assets.

The primary objective of synthetic assets is to leverage the transparency and openness of blockchain technology, enabling individuals from any location to access a wide range of assets without encountering unnecessary obstacles. This facilitates the creation of a permissionless investment environment that establishes a connection with traditional assets.

What Are the Challenges of Derivatives in DeFi?

It's important to understand the risks of trading DeFi derivatives before committing to it. Doing so is generally riskier than simply trading cryptocurrencies, as DeFi derivatives are complex, volatile financial instruments. As such, the potential gains or losses can be much greater than with crypto trading.

Liquidity is also a concern. DEXs are still relatively new, and their potentially lower trading volume may make it harder to trade derivatives instantly. On a practical level, DEXs aren't as user-friendly as traditional crypto exchanges yet. For newcomers unfamiliar with non-custodial wallets, connecting their wallets to a DEX, forgetting their passwords, and even losing their seed phrases are some of the problems they may face.

In addition, most centralized platforms offer real-time trading unaffected by block times. However, using a DEX's on-chain order book can sometimes be problematic, as a congested network can lead to increased fees.

Security risk is another consideration to keep in mind when trading DeFi derivatives. DEXs aren't completely immune to hacking and have their own vulnerabilities. For example, as smart contracts control DeFi protocols, a single bug in their code could cause derivative contracts to fail.

There have already been numerous instances of DeFi platforms suffering significant losses due to smart contract vulnerabilities. To minimize your risk, always do your own research (DYOR) to investigate the platform’s team, derivative types, and smart contract security.


As the DeFi derivatives market gains traction, investors now have the opportunity to capitalize on price fluctuations of underlying assets in a trustless setting. With ongoing advancements in blockchain technology, it is foreseeable that an array of new DeFi derivatives will come to the forefront. However, it is crucial to exercise caution and prudently assess your trading expertise and risk tolerance before engaging in any financial instrument, taking into account the potential losses you can comfortably withstand.

Decentralized Derivatives