Know Your Wallet: From Token Swaps to POAP Drops
One of the promises of decentralized ledgers is the ability to track virtually any type of asset using on-chain tokens. But sometimes it can be hard to keep track of those tokens. Take a look under the blockchain hood and learn how to find your transactions—and tokens.
So you’ve taken a stroll down the crypto path; you got yourself set up with a MetaMask Wallet, you bought yourself some ETH, maybe you’ve bought yourself some cool NFTs on OpenSea. But things are getting more complex now. There are Layer 2 chains and sidechains booming with cool video games and apps. Maybe you’ve gotten to the point where you’re staking tokens, and receiving them back from fairly complex smart contracts, or cashing out proceeds from a play-to-earn gaming platform.
And… You don’t see your tokens in your wallet. First and foremost:
Second: Open up a blockchain explorer.
A blockchain explorer is like a big, detailed phonebook for a given network. There is a more or less standardized format for them, and while they can be intimidating at first glance, take a deep breath—don’t panic—you’ll be comfortable with it in no time.
One of the primary Ethereum block explorers is Etherscan, seen here. Most public blockchain networks have similar sites: Polygonscan, Arbiscan, Optimism, even the Ronin Chain and Filecoin.
In the main block of blue, there’s a search bar; that’s where you can enter the address of a wallet or a smart contract (for example, the smart contract in charge of issuing a specific cryptocurrency, or in charge of processing liquidity pool disbursements), or even an ENS name. If you want to look up your address, you can copy it from MetaMask, plug it in there, and see lots of interesting information; we’ll come back to that.
Below the search bar, you’ll see various “network stats,” like the price of ETH, market capitalization, the current gas price, etc. Below that, there is a constantly-updated list of blocks and transactions. Not necessarily useful, but cool to look at.
Let’s get back to the main event. We’re going to plug in a well-known Ethereum address and take a look. So open up Etherscan, copy your address, and follow along:
Anatomy of an Ethereum Wallet
A few things to note straight off the bat: Right there at the top is the wallet’s address. This is the public address, in contrast to the private key, which is the Secret Recovery Phrase that you have carefully stored offline in a safe place and never share with anyone. A cool feature that Etherscan has put into place is that round black icon to the right of the address; Etherscan has automatically detected that this address is in use on multiple EVM-compatible blockchains, and if you click on that, it will show you which chains, and link you to information specific to each chain.
Next, you’ll see some “high-level information” about the account: the ETH balance, and its equivalent in fiat. It’s down below, in those columns and tabs (take note of the tabs, they’re key) that we get into the good stuff.
The Crucial Tabs: Transactions, Internal Transactions, and Tokens
First of all, what’s available to us on the ‘Transactions’ tab? Well, it shows us quite simply, the transactions that involve this wallet address, either incoming or outgoing, that are recorded on the blockchain. The information is fairly straightforward; the “Txn Hash” is the locator on the blockchain for the transaction itself, like a receipt number. You can actually click on it and go look at it, which is pretty cool in and of itself. Then, of course, the block number, the sender and receiver, its value, and how much the transaction cost.
So if you recently made a transaction, and you can’t find your tokens in your MetaMask wallet, this should be your first stop: plug your address into Etherscan, and check the transactions.
What if it’s not there?
Those of you who paid attention to the italics above will be wondering: “What about the transactions that aren’t recorded on the blockchain?”
If you’ve been interacting with smart contracts—token swaps, liquidity pools, maybe even NFT minting—you may be dealing with an internal transaction. It’s “internal” because it happens between entities that live in blockchain code. It doesn’t involve an external account, such as a wallet. Not the best naming convention, maybe, but the good news is: it saves you money.
Internal transactions happen when one smart contract talks to another, and transfers of assets happen “in code”; they only record to the blockchain that which is absolutely necessary. This saves a lot of gas fees, when done properly.
So click on the ‘Internal transactions’ tab and take a look. If you haven’t done much DeFi stuff, or that many complex on-chain interactions, there might not be much there. But if you’ve been swapping tokens or interacting with liquidity pools, you might see a record of your tokens here, and not in the normal ‘Transactions’ list:
This brings us to the heart of the issue: the tokens themselves. If you’re looking for a handy ‘balances’ view with token icons, well, maybe Etherscan will have that some day. For the time being, what you will be presented with under the various token tabs—”Erc20”, “Erc721” and “Erc1155”—will be slightly more cryptic:
From left to right:
- The “transaction hash”; again, this is the identifier of the specific transaction in question. Click on it to dive in for greater detail.
- The “Age” is fairly self-explanatory; it’s when the transaction occurred.
- “From” identifies the sender
- Notice the IN and OUT labels. These are crucial for understanding where the tokens are going.
- “To” specifies the recipient
- The amount of tokens sent or received is indicated under the “To” column
- The specific token is identified under the “Token” column
Each one of the token tabs will be different; if you’re not clear on the differences between them, remember: ERC-20 is a cryptocurrency, ERC-721 is an NFT, and ERC-1155 could be either. We’ve got a pretty in-depth explainer on this, and there are plenty more links where that came from.
So if you recently made a swap for some WETH, you should see an IN transaction under the “Erc20” tab. If you’re interested, click on the blue ‘Token’ link on a given line, and you’ll be taken to the token contract address, the program that issues the tokens. It’s kind of cool to see the code in action.
An important note about token contract addresses, though: don’t send your tokens to them. This is not how you swap one token for another; token contract addresses are automated programs running on the blockchain, and if you send them tokens, you won’t get them back. If you’re interested in swapping, always use a swapping platform, such as MetaMask Swaps.
Airdrops, the good and the bad
If you’re not in the habit of looking at these tabs, you may find some tokens that you weren’t expecting. That’s because there’s a common practice in the crypto world, called airdropping, where new token projects send some amount of their token to addresses that are known to be active, to generate interest, or to reward those who were early adopters of a platform, for example. A good example of a legitimate and transparent airdrop was the ENS token drop.
That said, if you see tokens in your wallet that got there unexpectedly, don’t blindly jump to the nearest exchange to swap them for something else, and definitely don’t enable any dapps that the token proposes to you. Airdrops are a common way to trick people into giving access to their wallet, or even giving away their seed phrases.
Do your research on any tokens that have fallen out of the ether into your wallet, and stay tuned for the next installment, where we’ll dive deeper into how to avoid these common scams.