Cardano is an open-source blockchain originating from peer-reviewed academic research. Cardano does not have a single published white paper but is developed from a collection of academic papers. Cardano sees itself as a “third-generation” protocol, improving on Bitcoin and Ethereum as the first and second generations, respectively. Cardano is named after an Italian Renaissance mathematician, Gerolamo Cardano, and its native currency ADA is named after Ada Lovelace, a 19th-century mathematician sometimes referenced as the first computer programmer.
Cardano is backed by three entities: IOHK, The Cardano Foundation, and Emurgo. IOHK is a blockchain research and development company founded by Charles Hoskinson and Jeremy Wood that is contracted to work on Cardano from 2015 through 2020. The Cardano Foundation is a non-profit organization focused on core development and ecosystem growth for Cardano. Emurgo is a Japanese venture capital firm.
Cardano's full launch will consist of five phases: Byron, Shelley, Goguen, Basho, and Voltaire. The Byron era arrived in September 2017 with the mainnet launch of the Cardano blockchain. During this phase, the chain operated as a federated network that only supported ADA transactions. The next phase, Shelley, launched in July 2020, bringing Cardano's proposed Ouroboros Proas Proof-of-Stake (PoS) protocol to life. It's now in the process of rolling out its third phase, Goguen, which will add support for smart contracts and native token issuance. Cardano development teams, IOHK and Emurgo, are researching and building the network's remaining phases, Basho and Voltaire, in parallel with Goguen.
The Cardano blockchain has two layers: a settlement layer and a computation layer. The Cardano Settlement Layer (CSL) serves to settle transactions made by peers in the network with ADA, Cardano’s native currency. The Cardano Computation Layer (CCL) is optimized to support smart contracts and decentralized applications.
Cardano developers chose a layered protocol to increase the network’s capacity for protocol changes and soft fork implementations. Cardano is developed in Haskell and Cardano smart contracts are created in Plutus, another programming language that allows for building stricter contracts.