THORChain — a solution for decentralized exchange with incentivized liquidity

The crypto world has limited claims on decentralization until the exchanges themselves are decentralized.

Oct 30, 2018 · 5 min read

Centralised exchanges hold undue power over users. The current mechanics allow them to engage in many of the regressive practices that cryptocurrency fundamentally opposes in the fiat world; primarily in the form of unilateral fee structures and vulnerable security practices relating to data and the assets themselves.

Decentralized Exchanges (DEXs) are the necessary solution, as a decentralized alternative will allow users to maintain self-sovereign rights to their assets at all times.

Current decentralized solutions are complicated to use, have low liquidity and as a result transactions times are incredibly slow. In short, the current user experience of DEXs is unacceptably inefficient to compete with centralized exchanges.

Until decentralized exchanges can compete on liquidity, they will never gain enough traction to be able to compete with centralized exchanges on the provision of enhanced security and privacy.

This is a core problem of the crypto landscape that the THORChain Protocol aims to solve as a base layer for the development of DEXs. THORChain makes use of Bancor’s continuous liquidity solution so that pairs are always liquid, and that users are continually incentivized to stake liquidity.

ASGARDEX will be the first decentralized exchange to be built on THORChain, intended to break feature-parity with the world’s top centralized exchanges, at the same time as being more secure, reliable and most importantly more decentralized than any exchange before it.

Liquidity — what it is, and why it’s problematic for crypto markets.

Firstly let’s define liquidity as plainly as possible as it relates to all concepts in this article and the associated THORChain environment. Liquidity is the availability of tradable assets (liquid assets) to be bought or sold in a market (at any one point) without too drastically affecting the price.

Perfectly liquid markets have a surplus amount of orders on both sides of the order book (both buy and sell) which allows the market to function naturally and without impediment. That is if someone wants to buy, the order can be placed and filled, and if someone wants to sell there is a healthy appetite of buyers to purchase those assets. This is an attractive market as traders are able to enter and leave the market as they see fit, and the market functions in equilibrium.

Illiquid markets are far more problematic. This means that the available assets in the market are minimal or that the money in the market is placed at unrealistic prices relative to the current trading price. For example someone might have a large order place to buy the asset if it were to drop by 20%, however, this does not help someone trying to sell at current market rates.

In effect, this means that markets are not able to function naturally as someone may not be able to purchase or sell large volumes of an asset because the market does not have the available assets to fill the trade at the current price. To state the obvious, a market without liquidity is effectively not a market at all as assets are held hostage in illiquid pairs.

Crypto has a liquidity problem

There is a tendency for most crypto traders to speculate that large traders are “manipulating” the market, although, in reality, these large traders are simply executing trades in a thinly traded market. The volatility of crypto markets is a symptom of a wider problem which is a lack of available assets to trade in individual crypto markets.

However, it is estimated that $10B worth of cryptocurrency is traded daily in all markets, so the market as a whole is liquid, albeit fragmented and dysfunctional. The solution to connecting these smaller pools of liquidity is Continuous Liquidity Pools.

Continuous Liquidity Pools

Continuous Liquidity Pools (CLPs) are an innovation developed by the THORChain team to allow access to liquidity without needing to find a buyer or seller on an exchange. CLPs are actually an adaption of the smart tokens that Bancor use in their liquidity network, with one important distinction; liquidity in the pools can be placed there by anyone, and earns them a return at the same time. Thus liquidity becomes permissionless and incentivized.

With CLPs anyone can exchange tokens at any time with no need to contact another token-holder — directly through an on-chain transaction. The idea behind this elegant solution is that the CLP essentially becomes an in-house exchange. Any token holder can place in tokens and receive back Rune (the currency of the network) at a price that is deterministic at all times. Further, token holders can link together two pools in one transaction, placing in one token and receiving any other token in the network.

At the same time, an in-built mechanism provides fees to users who provide the liquidity, which of course incentivizes further liquidity. Users will stake their assets and passively earn an income whenever the pools are used. Fees are proportional to trade size and liquidity depth so that users are incentivized to stake wherever there is large volume and low liquidity — creating a self-balancing economy.

CLPs can then function as a trustless on-chain price feeds to power advanced features of the protocol, such as maintaining security over bridges, enabling an advanced layer 2 network, and trade features such as lending, margin trading and indexes.


As previously mentioned ASGARDEX will be the first DEX built on THORChain with the aims of reaching feature-parity with centralized exchanges while also offering all of the advantages of decentralized privacy and security, in a perfectly liquid market. More accurately, ASGARDEX is simply a user interface that is built with THORChain as the decentralized infrastructure.

THORChain can support any number of exchanges, and all liquidity deployed to the protocol is shared by all participants. THORChain is a new approach to this problem by building a blockchain itself to be the DEX, rather than building a DEX on an existing protocol.

  • Incentivized On-chain Liquidity
  • Advanced Trading & Payments
  • Multi-chain and Multi-token support
  • Permissionless Access

We will expand on these features in future posts, but if you are interested in the more technical aspects of this proposal with immediacy please refer to the Asgardex whitepaper here.

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A decentralised liquidity network.

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