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Can whatever method that etherchain are using to access and query the blockchain data also be leveraged by the average web developer in a garden variety web app using a remote call? Or, are etherchain running a full node on their back end?

Is there such thing as Ethereum node hosting, such that web apps could be deployed and by way of web3.js, query transaction data and display smart contract state? Perhaps Azure's BaaS or BlockApps could be used to achieve something like this? Maybe Metamask is what I'm looking for?

4

What you are looking for is a open node. I'm not sure where you could find one, however there probably is a open node somewhere.

You could scrape etherchain for data, or connect it to for example geth.exe

3

I believe Etherchain is processing the blockchain as it evolves, and they're creating their own database which is far better at searching and reporting.

Anybody can do this, you just need to read through the blockchain yourself and save the data that interests you.

Note that reading the entire chain is slow. You will want to keep your database updated in real time once you do the initial seed based on a past scan because scanning for real time reporting is not feasible.

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