MetaMask is a free browser extension that is popular in the Ethereum community. (Browser extensions are simply pieces of software. They let your web browser do more things. Examples of web browsers are Google Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox, Brave, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, and Apple’s Safari.)
Think of MetaMask as a tool that lets you access and enjoy the most exciting aspects of Ethereum. (Remember, Ethereum is a system that uses blockchain technology. In many ways, Bitcoin and Ethereum are very similar. However, with Ethereum, you can do a lot more things such as use decentralised applications—or dApps.)
Without MetaMask, you’d find it difficult to appreciate what dApps are and how Ethereum works. Below, we introduce you to MetaMask. After reading this resource, you’ll have a good grasp of the following:
- What MetaMask is
- How MetaMask acts as a gateway to Ethereum and dApps
- Installing and setting up MetaMask
- MetaMask’s ability to interact with your crypto hardware wallet
- The MetaMask mobile app
What is MetaMask?
As we touched on above, MetaMask is a browser extension. (At some stage in 2020, MetaMask will also be available as a mobile app. More details later on in the resource.)
You can download MetaMask as an extension on basically all popular web browsers. This includes Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge—as well as Nugget’s News’ browser of choice, Brave.
The MetaMask browser extension itself is many things. It is a crypto wallet that keeps your data and cryptocurrency secure. It is also a key that connects you to dApps. (When we say ‘key’, think of it as a log-in. You can use MetaMask to log in to certain dApps.)
In addition to being a crypto wallet itself, MetaMask supports crypto hardware wallets. Ledger and Trezor hardware wallets are examples of hardware wallets that are supported by MetaMask.
The fact MetaMask supports crypto hardware wallets is very reassuring. That’s because crypto hardware wallets are widely considered the most secure form of crypto wallet. If MetaMask had no support for crypto hardware wallets, you’d likely be more prone to losing your cryptocurrency to online hackers.
Install & Use MetaMask
Installing MetaMask is quick and easy. All you need to do is head to the extension marketplace on the web browser you use—assuming you use a web browser that supports MetaMask. You can normally access your browser’s extension marketplace through the main menu of your browser.
If you use Google Chrome—or another web browser which uses the Chromium framework (e.g., Brave)—you’ll be able to download MetaMask on the Chrome Web Store. If you use Mozilla’s Firefox browser, you can download MetaMask on Firefox Add-ons.
Once you’ve installed the MetaMask extension, you’ll see a small icon of the orange MetaMask fox in the top right-hand corner of your browser.
After installing the MetaMask extension, you can either import your existing crypto wallet or setup a new wallet. If you’re configuring a new wallet, you’ll need to create a password which secures your wallet. (As always it’s recommended that you choose a strong password with at least 8 characters using numbers, letters and symbols.)
MetaMask seed phrase
Once you’ve set up your MetaMask password, you’ll be able to copy your seed phrase. (A seed phrase is nothing more than a sequence of words. With MetaMask, your seed phrase is 12 words in length. Seed phrases store the information needed to recover a wallet. Think of it as a back-up code.)
So with MetaMask, your seed phrase is there to back up and recover your MetaMask wallet. This is the case with regular crypto hardware wallets. If you have a Ledger or Trezor wallet, for example, you would’ve been asked to write down your seed phrase when you were setting up your device.
Make sure the seed phrase is stored in a secure place or places. MetaMask will ask you to confirm your seed phrase to make sure you’ve written it down correctly. It’s important to take note of MetaMask’s guidelines for protecting your seed phrase.
MetaMask & Crypto Hardware Wallets
MetaMask can connect to your Ledger or Trezor hardware wallet. This is beneficial because it means you don’t have to keep your cryptocurrency in your MetaMask wallet itself. (MetaMask is a web wallet. Web wallets are typically less secure than hardware wallets.)
To connect your Ledger or Trezor hardware wallet to your MetaMask account, you need to make sure of the following:
- You have the most up-to-date firmware on your Ledger or Trezor wallet
- You have the latest version of your web browser
- You have enabled ‘browser support’ on your hardware wallet device
- Your hardware wallet device is plugged in via USB—not via Bluetooth
- If connecting your Ledger, you have the Ledger Live app closed
- If necessary, you have enabled ‘contract data’ on your hardware wallet device
Keeping your ether (ETH) and Ethereum-based ERC-20 tokens on your hardware wallet is super important for security purposes. (ERC-20 refers to a commonly adopted standard that Ethereum-based tokens can follow. Most of the popular Ethereum-based tokens comply with the ERC-20 standard.)
The fact that MetaMask can effectively serve as a middleman between your cryptocurrency and the internet is a powerful feature. In this sense, MetaMask is much like the swipe card you use to access your workplace or local gym.
Can I Download MetaMask Mobile?
Ever since MetaMask launched in 2016, it has been a web browser extension. At some stage in 2020, MetaMask will also become available as a mobile app called MetaMask Mobile.
You’ll be able to download MetaMask Mobile on your iPhone and Android mobile phone. MetaMask is currently working on the beta version of MetaMask Mobile. The full release is anticipated for 2020.
The MetaMask Mobile app will be both an Ethereum wallet and browser. If you already have a MetaMask account on your desktop, you’ll be able to sync it with MetaMask Mobile within a matter of seconds.
Screen grabs of the MetaMask Mobile beta version (Source: Google Play)