EOAs and Smart Contract Accounts are the two fundamental operators that can be associated with an Ethereum blockchain address.
EOAs serve for basic transactions and ETH management; ownership is through a private key, usually a seed phrase; can be software or hardware.
Smart Contract Accounts offer versatile functions and integrations on the Ethereum network; governed by the code they deploy with on-chain; software only, can add any account as a signer key, including hardware wallets.
By leveraging Account abstraction, Smart Contract Accounts clear the road for Web3: user-friendly ownership solutions with complex security and privacy features.
If you're curious to explore the Ethereum network, it's essential to understand the two main account types available in this ecosystem: Externally Owned Accounts (EOAs) and Smart Contract Accounts (SCAs).
An EOA and a Smart Contract Account are both non-custodial (self-custodial) crypto accounts. Knowing their differences will help you manage and secure your crypto in the EVM space.
What Are Ethereum Accounts?
Imagine Ethereum accounts as fundamental operating units for the EVM ecosystem, linked directly to the blockchain: they enable you to send and receive transactions within the network and represent your unique identifier (blockchain address) on-chain.
The two types of accounts developed to be compatible with the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) are Externally Owned Accounts (EOAs) and Smart Contract Accounts (SCAs).
Knowing how they work and what sets them apart is the real key to your Ethereum journey 🔑
Types of Ethereum Accounts
What Is an Externally Owned Account?
An Externally Owned Account, or EOA for short, works with the user having control of the account via a private key. This key is your unique signature and access pass to the blockchain account. EOAs enable you to send/receive transactions and interact with applications.
- Usually require set-up via seed phrase (a mnemonic phrase you need to remember or store securely; it represents your private key and point of access to the account)
- Can send and receive transactions, manage ETH balances, and interact with smart contracts
- Don't need to be funded for on-chain deployment.
EOAs are marketed as software wallets (MetaMask, Trust Wallet, Rainbow) or hardware wallets (Trezor, Ledger, GridPlus). Both offer the same type of account properties in different UX configurations.
What Is a Smart Contract Account?
Smart Contract Accounts (SCAs) — or Smart Accounts (SAs) — are different from EOAs by having a different build: they are smart contracts (code) immutably linked to the blockchain, along with the address key. As a result, this account type can perform complex functions by leveraging Account abstraction (AA) and its benefits (on top of standard transactions).
SCAs in a nutshell:
- Enable product features like gas fee savings, paying fees in stablecoins / other tokens, transaction batching, account/social recovery, multisig management, etc.
- Facilitate EVM ecosystem integrations (plug-ins, SDKs)
- Need initial funds for on-chain deployment.
Contract account functionality is joined with UIs to create flexible crypto management tools. By enabling multiple signer functions, they can also work with hardware wallets (or any other type of account) and create an extra layer of security and/or privacy. The veteran projects building in this space (2017-2018) are Safe (spun from Gnosis), Ambire (formerly AdEx), and Argent.
Since late 2022, when Vitalik Buterin revealed his original vision was for people to have smart contract wallets by default, Ethereum leadership has been pushing the ETH developer community towards the smart contract/ account abstraction technology and the improvement of its UX capabilities — ERC-4337 and its deployment are a result of that:
"...when Ethereum launched the original vision was to try to get people to use smart contract wallets by default..." @VitalikButerin on account abstractions and smart contract wallets pic.twitter.com/QgzZ5RdKx2— Ambire Wallet (@AmbireWallet) October 18, 2022
The rumors are true... ERC-4337 has been deployed on mainnet 🚀— erc4337 (@erc4337) March 2, 2023
🔍 Security audit by @OpenZeppelin
🛠️ Bundlers and paymasters by @stackup_fi, @AlchemyPlatform, @biconomy , @etherspot, @candidewallet, @blocknative & more
🏗️ $300K in grants by @ethereum pic.twitter.com/WOjMvaZe6M
Consequently, the smart wallet landscape is growing inside the EVM space: Avocado [Instadapp], Sequence, Argent, Pillar, Linen, Candide, Plena, etc.
What Are the Differences Between EOAs and Smart Accounts?
Now that you're familiar with EOAs and Smart Contract Accounts, let's examine closer what sets them apart:
- Control: EOAs are steered by private keys, while Smart Contract Accounts operate by rules embedded in the blockchain
- Creation: An EOA is initiated when the private key is linked to the seed phrase through wallet UI (software or hardware wallet). Smart Contract Accounts activate when the smart contract associated with the address deploys on-chain (fees required).
- Functionality: EOA is a staple transfer and dApp interaction tool on Ethereum Mainnet, while Smart Contract Accounts offer a more versatile toolkit with programmable logic and advanced Web3 and DeFi features
- Gas fees: EOAs require gas funds for Mainnet (ETH), whereas Smart Contract Accounts can have an array of features for fee reductions or savings
- Security: based on user responsibility for EOAs, while with smart contract accounts, users can combine multiple layers
- Account Recovery: possible only for smart contract accounts.
|Criteria||Externally Owned Account||Smart Contract Account|
a private key
|Control||Private keys||Smart Contract code|
transfer functions and
dApp/smart contract interaction
|Fees||ETH balance is
mandatory to transact
|Gas Saving mechanisms
Fee payment in stablecoins /
other tokens (depending
on integrated networks)
(private key management)
|Recovery||Not possible||Account Recovery/
What Account Type Should You Choose?
By now, you understand the fundamental difference between an EOA vs. a Smart Contract Account: one is governed by key & user, the other by code.
Even though the two Ethereum account types are now competing on the crypto market, they have different functions and serve different purposes related to on-chain operations — one offers basic Web3 transfer and application interaction, the other a complex set of programmable Web3 functions.
So it all boils down to how? and what for? regarding how to use a crypto account. If you're looking to dip your toes and send/receive funds while personally safeguarding your key/seed phrase, then an EOA can be a working option. If you want to journey and explore Web3, you should arm yourself with a trusty smart contract account — a crypto asset management tool with all features on deck.
At Ambire, we're bringing the best user experience together with a high-functioning Web3 gateway: the innovation of smart contracts and account abstraction with the ease of use and seamless approach of Web2.
We're creating the tool that can onboard the next billion people to crypto and speed up the transition from Web2 — which is why you can sign-up for Ambire Wallet with email and password or add your EOA as a signer (on 10+ networks) and bridge it to your smart account.
(Yup, we're making the perfect “crypto-army-knife” 😏)
EOAs serve for basic transactions and ETH management, while Smart Contract Accounts open up a world of programmable possibilities and complex interactions. The choice between these two account types depends on your specific needs and goals; knowing the differences is crucial to making informed choices.
EOA limitations are there by design, and both Ethereum account types are conceived to work together in the EVM ecosystem.
Account abstraction can unleash the full power of Smart Contract Accounts, providing future-proof solutions that streamline Web3 experiences and asset management.
To understand more, join our early user program for the Ambire mobile app and see how 🪄magical 🪄 your Web3 journey can be.
Q: What is the difference between an EOA and a smart contract address?
A: The address of your account is a unique on-chain identifier, both for EOAs and smart contract accounts. The main difference is that the smart account works and is governed by programmable code (which lets it perform complex functions), while EOA has no programmable capabilities.
Q: Is a smart contract account an EOA?
A: A smart contract is fundamentally different from an EOA. Smart contracts are programs (code) that run on-chain, while EOAs are basic account types that can only interact with smart contracts. Smart contract accounts, on the other hand, can perform a series of complex functions, including associating EOAs as signers.
Q: Is MetaMask an EOA?
A: Yes, MetaMask is an EOA wallet.
Q: What does an EOA account not have?
A: Compared to a Smart Contract Account, an EOA has no possibility of account recovery (if keys are lost, the account is lost) and offers a more rudimentary security model, unable to support key sharding, 2FA, multisig or social recovery. Furthermore, some smart wallets, such as Ambire Wallet, also offer email and password sign-up, which is not likely with EOAs. At an operational level, EOAs cannot batch/bundle together multiple transactions and require network base layer balances for gas fees (no stablecoins or gas-saving mechanisms).
Q: What is the difference between a digital contract and a smart contract?
A: A digital contract is a legally binding document that stipulates agreements and rules for contracting parties in certain situations. It exists in digital form, in natural human language, and is enforced when digitally signed by all parties involved. A smart contract is an assembly of rules and functions written in a programming language and deployed on the blockchain, able to interact according to on-chain/network rules. Digital contracts and smart contracts are similar in that they can each, in their respective environment, enforce previously agreed-upon practices or actions.
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