What is an AMM?

An insightful overview of Automated Market Makers (AMMs), exploring their core mechanics, advantages, and potential challenges.
Dive into the world of Automated Market Makers (AMMs) and explore core concepts such as slippage, liquidity provisioning, and impermanent loss. This primer is designed to provide a foundation for understanding the mechanisms behind BitFlow and other AMMs.

Order Books vs AMMs

To truly understand the essence and benefits of AMMs, it's essential to contrast them with their centralized counterparts: Order books.

Order Books: The Centralized Approach

Order books, often seen in centralized exchanges, facilitate trading by matching buy and sell orders. Users indicate their preferred prices and order sizes, and trades execute when bids align with asks. However, order books come with inherent limitations:
  • Central Dependency: They require trust in a central entity to manage and maintain the order book, introducing potential points of failure.
  • Market Halts: In periods of intense volatility or volume, trading may be temporarily halted.
  • Asset Listing Barriers: Adding new assets often involves a centralized vetting process and can incur listing fees.

AMMs: A Decentralized Solution

Emerging from the DeFi ecosystem, AMMs stand as a decentralized answer to traditional order books. They offer:
  • Permissionless Trading: AMMs operate without central control, enabling users to freely trade tokens without the oversight or control of a centralized entity.
  • Liquidity Pools: These are the heartbeats of AMMs, holding funds and determining trade prices through a deterministic algorithm.
  • Incentives for Liquidity Providers: By contributing to liquidity pools, providers earn rewards generated from trading fees.

Understanding Slippage

A common term encountered when trading with AMMs is 'slippage' – the variance between an expected trade price and the price at which the trade actually executes. High slippage generally arises in pools with scarce liquidity, especially during substantial trade volumes.

Becoming a Liquidity Provider

AMMs, being decentralized, allow anyone to take on the role of a liquidity provider (LP). By contributing assets to a liquidity pool, LPs obtain tokens reflecting their stake. In return for providing liquidity, they earn fees proportional to the pool's trading volume for the assets they've supplied.
Weigh the benefits of earning trading fees against potential impermanent loss risks before committing assets to liquidity pools.

Impermanent Loss Explained

One of the nuanced challenges faced by LPs is impermanent loss. Essentially, this is a potential discrepancy between the earnings from providing liquidity and merely holding tokens. As the relative prices of tokens within a pool shift, so does the potential for impermanent loss.
It’s termed 'impermanent' as the loss is realized only upon withdrawing liquidity. If token prices stabilize to their initial ratios, the losses can negate, but if withdrawn amidst divergence, the loss becomes permanent.