What are Bitcoin Crypto Swaps?

General Wallet Use

15 min

If you’ve dabbled in decentralized finance or hold any variety of cryptocurrencies, you’ve probably used a centralized crypto exchange. But now, in keeping with the tenets of decentralization, crypto swaps are streamlining the process of exchanging crypto assets on-chain, cross-cross chain, and even off-chain. 

Here’s what you need to know about Bitcoin swaps and how they work.

What are Cryptocurrency Swaps?

Crypto swaps are a method of exchanging one cryptocurrency for another without an intermediary like an exchange. This type of swap can happen on a single blockchain or across different blockchains. Submarine swaps even allow users to swap on-chain assets with off-chain assets.

In decentralized finance (DeFi), crypto swaps have several benefits. Firstly, they provide a trustless and efficient way to trade digital assets peer-to-peer (P2P). The need for a trusted third party is completely removed. This also speeds up transactions and reduces points of failure.

Secondly, crypto swaps support the decentralized nature of DeFi. Instead of using centralized exchanges (CEXs) to create order books and facilitate trades, users can exchange assets directly, maintaining full control of their money.

Because swaps can be made cross-chain, they also help investors quickly and easily diversify into different blockchain tokens and assets.

The Rise of Crypto Swaps

The concept of crypto swaps, particularly atomic swaps, emerged as a solution to the challenge of interoperability between different blockchain networks. The first notions of trustless, P2P exchanges emerged in 2012 when Sergio Demián Lerner began experimenting with a trustless protocol.

In 2013, Tier Nolan wrote a paper on atomic swaps and how they might work. However, the first atomic swap is generally accepted as debuting in 2017 between the Decred and Litecoin blockchains. And Charlie Lee, the founder of Litecoin, tweeted its success.

Atomic swaps are executed through a type of smart contract called a hashed time-locked contract (HTLC). These contracts enable a secure exchange of digital assets across different blockchains without the need for a trusted intermediary. 

By locking both party’s assets in a vault until the transaction is verified and completed, the swap can remain secure but trustless. The name "atomic" comes from the idea that the swap is either fully completed based on all conditions or canceled entirely. And all of this happens in an automated way with self-executing smart contracts.

The motivation behind creating atomic swaps was to bring cross-chain transactions to otherwise isolated blockchain networks. Traditional CEXs had, until atomic swaps, served as intermediaries. The problem was that they require users to trust a custodian with their assets during trading. 

Atomic swaps addressed this by allowing users to trade directly from their wallets, maintaining control over their private keys and funds throughout the process.

The innovation of atomic swaps paved the way for completely decentralized trading compatibility across different blockchain networks. This created a more interconnected crypto ecosystem.

What are Bitcoin Swaps?

Within the larger category of “crypto swaps,” are Bitcoin swaps. They function much like any crypto swap but, as implied by the name, involve trading in or out of BTC. The term “crypto swap” can be used generically to include Bitcoin swaps.

Unlike a centralized exchange where market makers and order books are used to match trades for different tokens and set prices, swaps can happen with liquidity pools. By creating pools of trading pairs held on a decentralized exchange, users can trade in and out of different assets using the pools of deposited trading pairs.

Swaps play a crucial role in the Bitcoin DeFi ecosystem because they increase usability and decrease complexity. Swaps also contribute to liquidity in the Bitcoin DeFi market, improving overall market liquidity and facilitating easier buying or selling of assets. 

It’s also critical that swaps operate in a decentralized and trustless manner. This brings exchanging crypto back within its first principles of giving individuals autonomy and ownership over their money.

A decentralized approach also preserves user privacy because swaps can be conducted directly from wallets without the need for identity verification on centralized exchanges. Swaps  also enable new and innovative financial instruments and products that make Bitcoin DeFi better and more useful.

How Do Bitcoin Swaps Work with Bitcoin Wallets?

Crypto and Bitcoin swaps make exchanging blockchain assets easier and faster. And with compatible online wallets, it’s easier than ever to initiate a swap directly within the wallet interface. Many hot wallets today are integrated with swap services and facilitate the transaction by connecting users with liquidity pools or decentralized exchanges. 

Smart contracts or protocols completely manage the swap, ensuring the trustless and secure execution of the transaction. This wallet-centric approach allows users to keep control over their private keys, reducing security and privacy risks.

What are ALEX Swaps?

One example of integrated swaps in Bitcoin wallets is the recently launched ALEX swaps. This Bitcoin DeFi platform uses the Stacks Bitcoin layer to complete transactions instantly and within the wallet UI. 

ALEX swaps allow users to exchange crypto assets directly using Bitcoin as the settlement layer and Stacks as the smart contract layer. This is huge because, historically, the Bitcoin blockchain has been criticized for its smart contract and programming limitations.

With new layers and applications like Stacks and ALEX, Bitcoin can fully enter the DeFi ecosystem and be as seamless to use as other protocols on smart contract native blockchains.

Getting involved with Bitcoin DeFi is now as easy as downloading the ALEX app or compatible wallet like Leather, which is connected to the ALEX DeFi platform. And ALEX swaps are executed on-chain, ensuring transparency and security in the decentralized exchange of assets. 


The overall crypto industry has grown by leaps and bounds in the last several years. With the emergence of DeFi, a completely new and sovereign financial system is quickly becoming a reality. And just this year, the Bitcoin blockchain has become a major player in the decentralized finance world.

Skepticism about Bitcoin’s formerly limited functionality is melting away as new protocols, layers, and platforms emerge. Now, tools like the Leather Bitcoin wallet and ALEX swaps are making major contributions to the usability of Bitcoin DeFi.

Connect to web3 applications built on Bitcoin with the Leather browser extension. Install Leather – the only wallet you need to tap into the multilayered Bitcoin economy – today.

This article was updated on 3/13/24

This article was updated on 3/13/24