A cryptocurrency exchange is a digital marketplace where individuals can buy, sell and trade different cryptocurrencies using fiat currencies like the US dollar or other cryptocurrencies. Exchanges are a vital part of the cryptocurrency ecosystem that facilitate conversions and trading to determine coin/token valuations.

Like a traditional stock exchange, a crypto exchange enables price discovery determined by supply and demand dynamics. It aggregates buy and sell orders, matches buyers with sellers, provides information on fluctuating prices and currency pair volumes and processes exchanges securely. Major examples include exchanges like Coinbase, Kraken and Binance.

Crypto exchanges offerorder books with bid and ask prices posted by buyers and sellers for thousands of potential crypto pairings like Bitcoin/Ethereum or Litecoin/USD. Traders can choose quick market rate conversions based on order book depth or setup limit orders buying/selling once prices pass desired thresholds. Successful matches get broadcast to underlying blockchain ledgers.

Major differences from stock exchanges include far more price volatility given crypto’s relative nascency, substantially lower trading costs without broker fees, near 24/7 operations given distributed ledgers globally and lack of middlemen like investment advisors. Anonymized wallet IDs provide trader privacy as well.

Services vary across exchanges but may include custodial wallets, advanced order types, margin trading, futures contracts, staking rewards, governance token incentives, specialized market indexes as reference rates and mechanisms like token launchpads for launching newer coins.

Due to less regulation currently, crypto exchanges risk hacks, outages, liquidity crunches or manipulation tactics like wash trading with themselves using bogus accounts. Choosing reputable, compliant exchanges with robust security infrastructure is crucial.

As crypto adoption advances, exchanges will play integral price discovery roles valuing assets, facilitating transactions, developing derivatives and enabling traders to capitalize on often intensely volatile assets decentralizing global finance. Their evolution promises immense disruption.