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In my quest to understand ethereum in depth, I ended up in this article, which contains the following image:

Blockchain State

If the image above is correct, only the changes in state are taken in account to create the state root of each block.

If I only associate the changes with the block, in order to get the full state of ethereum, do I have to assemble it by following the state trie until there is no pointers to older nodes [in the tree]? Or the nodes [in the network] keep an updated database with only the current state?

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Each node keeps a complete copy of the current state, and update it with each new block.

New nodes need to reconstruct the state by replaying the state changes in each block, although state-trie pruning allows nodes to not remember parts of the state that they aren't interested in.

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    > New nodes need to reconstruct the state by replaying the state changes in each block <-- Not quite; you can also use fast syncing, where you verify just the headers, figure out what the end of the chain is, and then download the state from the state root of that block. – Vitalik Buterin Apr 16 '16 at 7:39

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