Cardano's Extended UTXO Accounting Model Explained

Cardano is a proof-of-stake blockchain platform that aims to be a more sustainable, scalable, and interoperable alternative to proof-of-work networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum. One of the key innovations that sets Cardano apart is its extended unspent transaction output (UTXO) accounting model.

What is UTXO?

UTXO stands for unspent transaction output, which refers to the accounting system used by Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies derived from its codebase.

In UTXO-based blockchains like Bitcoin, transactions do not send funds from one account to another. Instead, funds are represented as "coins" that are created and destroyed with each transaction. When you receive bitcoin, new UTXOs are generated to represent the amount received. When you spend bitcoin, the UTXOs you reference in the transaction are consumed and new UTXOs are generated for the recipient.

The main benefit of UTXO is that it enables simple parallelization and easy verification of transactions. Each transaction only depends on the unspent outputs being referenced - there is no need to consider account balances or prior transactions. This simplifies the verification process and enables greater scalability.

How Cardano Extends UTXO

While Cardano uses UTXO to represent on-chain funds, it extends the model with several enhancements:

Support for multi-assets

Native assets like ADA as well as user-defined custom tokens can be represented and transacted using the same UTXO framework. This provides consistency and flexibility.

Account addresses

Though funds are represented as UTXOs, users still have account addresses that serve as destinations for receiving funds. This provides a more familiar user experience.


UTXOs in Cardano can contain scripts that define spending conditions like multi-signatures or timelocks. This allows for more sophisticated smart contract functionality.

Off-chain state

Some transaction data can be stored off-chain to optimize on-chain storage and fees. For example, staking rewards do not generate UTXOs but are tracked in stakeholder accounts.

By augmenting UTXO with these capabilities, Cardano aims to get the scalability benefits of the model while still supporting the needs of a smart contract platform.

Benefits of Cardano's Extended UTXO

Cardano's extended UTXO model provides several key advantages:

Predictable fees

Transaction fees in UTXO chains are based solely on transaction size/complexity. This is more predictable than account-based fee models.


By only referencing UTXOs being spent, transactions can be easily parallelized without contention. This enables greater scalability.


UTXO's simplicity makes the blockchain easier to audit and mathematically model. There is also no risk of account balance manipulation.


The UTXO model is already widely adopted, which makes interoperating with other blockchains easier compared to account-based models.


Since addresses do not reveal account balances, UTXO can better support user privacy compared to account models. Segregated stakeholder accounts also aid privacy.

Overall, Cardano's extended UTXO model aims to achieve a balanced design that focuses on security, scalability, sustainability, and interoperability. By innovatively extending UTXO, Cardano seeks to create a next-generation blockchain capable of serving the needs of the global economy.

"By taking the best of Bitcoin's elegant UTXO model and augmenting it for the needs of a smart contract platform, we have developed an accounting system that provides the ideal balance of scalability, security, and functionality."

How does Cardano's extended UTXO model compare to Ethereum's account-based model?

While Ethereum pioneered the concept of a Turing-complete programmable blockchain, its account-based model is less scalable and provides weaker security guarantees than Cardano's extended UTXO.

Ethereum tracks account balances and contract state, which enables complex computations but leads to contention issues that limit scalability. Users often must overpay on fees to ensure transactions are processed.

This greater complexity also increases Ethereum's attack surface area making bugs and vulnerabilities more likely compared to the simpler UTXO model.

Finally, Ethereum's dynamic gas fees are less predictable compared to the static fees in Cardano's extended UTXO system. Overall, Cardano offers a stronger foundation for achieving global scalability and adoption.

What are the main disadvantages or limitations of Cardano's extended UTXO design?

While extended UTXO provides many benefits, there are some tradeoffs:

  • Increased data redundancy since UTXOs must be tracked individually rather than aggregated into accounts
  • More complex scripting compared to account balances for expressing conditions
  • Harder reuse of addresses since they can reveal balances
  • Lack of account abstraction can mean worse user experience
  • Computation is generally easier to express with mutable state

Additionally, as a newer platform, Cardano's extended UTXO is not as battle tested as Ethereum's account model yet. Overall, however, Cardano's developers believe the scalability and security gains are worth the extra complexity.


By innovatively extending Bitcoin's UTXO model, Cardano has created an accounting system that promises to combine the best of Bitcoin and Ethereum. The extended UTXO model should enable greater scalability, security, and predictability while still allowing advanced smart contracts.

Time will tell if Cardano's new design lives up to its potential. But by addressing the limitations of earlier blockchains, Cardano aims to provide a balanced and sustainable foundation capable of supporting the needs of global finance and society into the future.

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