Your Ethereum Node¶
Why do I need to connect to a node?¶
The Ethereum protocol defines a way for people to interact with smart contracts and each other over a network. In order to have up-to-date information about the status of contracts, balances, and new transactions, the protocol requires a connection to nodes on the network. These nodes are constantly sharing new data with each other.
Web3.py is a python library for connecting to these nodes. It does not run its own node internally.
How do I choose which node to use?¶
Due to the nature of Ethereum, this is largely a question of personal preference, but it has significant ramifications on security and usability. Further, node software is evolving quickly, so please do your own research about the current options. We won’t advocate for any particular node, but list some popular options and some basic details on each.
One of the key decisions is whether to use a local node or a hosted node. A quick summary is at Local vs Hosted Nodes.
A local node requires less trust than a hosted one. A malicious hosted node can give you incorrect information, log your sent transactions with your IP address, or simply go offline. Incorrect information can cause all kinds of problems, including loss of assets.
On the other hand, with a local node your machine is individually verifying all the transactions on the network, and providing you with the latest state. Unfortunately, this means using up a significant amount of disk space, and sometimes notable bandwidth and computation. Additionally, there is a big up-front time cost for downloading the full blockchain history.
If you want to have your node manage keys for you (a popular option), you must use a local node. Note that even if you run a node on your own machine, you are still trusting the node software with any accounts you create on the node.
The most popular self-run node options are:
You can find a fuller list of node software at ethdocs.org.
Some people decide that the time it takes to sync a local node from scratch is too high, especially if they are just exploring Ethereum for the first time. One way to work around this issue is to use a hosted node.
The most popular hosted node option is Infura.
You can connect to it as if it were a local node,
with a few caveats. It cannot (and should not) host private keys for
you, meaning that some common methods like
w3.eth.sendTransaction() are not directly available. To send transactions
to a hosted node, read about Working with Local Private Keys.
Once you decide what node option you want, you need to choose which network to connect to. Typically, you are choosing between the main network and one of the available test networks. See Which network should I connect to?
Can I use MetaMask as a node?¶
MetaMask is not a node. It is an interface for interacting with a node. Roughly, it’s what you get if you turn Web3.py into a browser extension.
By default, MetaMask connects to an Infura node. You can also set up MetaMask to use a node that you run locally.
If you are trying to use accounts that were already created in MetaMask, see Why isn’t my web3 instance connecting to the network?
Which network should I connect to?¶
Once you have answered How do I choose which node to use? you have to pick which network to connect to. This is easy for some scenarios: if you have ether and you want to spend it, or you want to interact with any production smart contracts, then you connect to the main Ethereum network.
If you want to test these things without using real ether, though, then you need to connect to a test network. There are several test networks to choose from. One test network, Ropsten, is the most similar to the production network. However, spam and mining attacks have happened, which is disruptive when you want to test out a contract.
There are some alternative networks that limit the damage of spam attacks, but they are not standardized across node software. Geth runs their own (Rinkeby), and Parity runs their own (Kovan). See a full comparison in this Stackexchange Q&A.
So roughly, choose this way:
If using Parity, connect to Kovan
If using Geth, connect to Rinkeby
If using a different node, or testing mining, connect to Ropsten
Each of their networks has their own version of Ether. Main network ether must be purchased, naturally, but test network ether is usually available for free. See How do I get ether for my test network?
Once you have decided which network to connect to, and set up your node for that network, you need to decide how to connect to it. There are a handful of options in most nodes. See Choosing How to Connect to Your Node.