The blockchain is becoming one of the buzziest of buzzwords.

It rose to fame as the system that validates Bitcoin transactions but now lots of people want to use it to validate other things like contracts.

Here are five things you need to know about the blockchain.

1. What is it? It’s a public ledger that is encrypted. It’s distributed among the users of the system so there isn’t one location that can be compromised and it uses the system as a whole to validate transactions. Everybody can see a transaction occurred but some info can be confidential and it is very difficult to tamper with.

2. Why does it matter? Even if Bitcoin loses popularity, the blockchain remains a permanent record. Since it is distributed nobody can delete it.

3. Who does it affect? All of us. Since it is not run by one central authority, it’s more reliable, fair, and resistant to manipulation than most ledger systems.

SEE: How blockchain will disrupt business (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

4. Is it being used? Yes. It started with a white paper in 2008 and hit the mainstream when Bitcoin did around 2012. Now in 2016, a number of banks are banding together to create a global blockchain payments network using Ripple’s distributed ledger technology.

5. How do you use it? You can implement it yourself. The blockchain API is available at, and can be downloaded using BitTorrent. Or you can just use a product that already implements it and derive the benefits.

There’s way more to the blockchain than that, but that gets you the basics.