Ripple is the name of a San Francisco-based fintech company that created and implemented the XRP Ledger, or XRPL, in 2012 — known at the time as the Ripple Consensus Ledger. XRP is the XRPL's native cryptocurrency. However, you'll often see Ripple used to refer to both the company and the currency.
Ripple's goal is to improve payments among traditional financial institutions, such as banks and other money service providers. Since wire-transfer technology hasn't been updated in decades, global payments are often expensive and can take days to finalize. In contrast, transactions on the XRP Ledger settle in just 3–5 seconds, with negligible fees.
The XRP Ledger is a distributed database of all users' balances, maintained by independent validator nodes. In place of Bitcoin's resource-intensive proof-of-work, XRPL uses a mechanism called the XRP Ledger Consensus Protocol to ensure nodes agree with a single history of previous transactions.
Validators evaluate changes to the ledger proposed by a Unique Node List — their own selection of trusted validator nodes. Since UNLs consist of participants trusted to not collude with one another, arriving at consensus and processing transactions is much quicker than currently possible in systems where all participants are presumed to be adversarial (such as with Bitcoin).
Ripple also manages a payments network built on the XRPL called RippleNet. As of 2021, it offers more than 300 financial institutions a range of products to speed up and reduce the cost of international transactions. Although RippleNet members can use XRP as a bridging currency when making global payments via its on-demand liquidity product, the network also supports transactions in a range of traditional currencies and assets.