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HD wallets and Derivation paths
HD wallets and Derivation paths

An explanation of HD wallets, default and custom derivation paths.

Brittany avatar
Written by Brittany
Updated over a week ago


When you access your wallet on MEW using a Hardware wallet or Mnemonic phrase, you have the option to interact with a number of different addresses.

A wallet that has the ability to generate a long, nearly infinite list of addresses from a single access method is called an HD wallet (Hierarchical Deterministic wallet). When these wallets are first created, a mnemonic phrase (also known as a seed phrase or a recovery phrase) is generated which serves as the root from which all paths and addresses will stem.

When you access your wallet on MEW with mnemonic phrase or some hardware wallets (like Trezor), you also have the option to choose from a list of HD paths. Each path will be accompanied by a list of addresses. These paths are called the Derivation paths.

For example, the default derivation path for accessing the Ethereum blockchain looks like m/44’/60’/0’/0. This is the path that is normally used by most users. However, other blockchain networks may use different paths, and if you want to interact with a specific network, you may need to connect to that specific path.

For derivation paths, the sequence is broken down into sections like:

m’ / purpose’ / coin_type’ / account’ / change / address_index

You don't need to understand the details of each section, but know that each parameter of the path affects which addresses the phrase will generate. That is, choosing a different HD path will lead to a whole different list of addresses, even though it's the same mnemonic phrase.

  • If you are accessing with a hardware wallet like Ledger, there may be a limited choice of paths. This is because not all hardware wallets support arbitrary derivation paths.

How to use:

Different HD paths are available in MEW when connecting with some hardware wallets (like Trezor) and with mnemonic phrase. Note that we don't recommend using direct mnemonic/recovery phrase access in an online environment. If you are accessing a wallet directly with mnemonic phrase, please only do so using MEW offline.

Step 1a (hardware wallet). Go to, select Access Wallet -> Hardware wallets -> and select your wallet.

Step 1b (mnemonic phrase). Follow the instructions in our MEW offline article to download MEW to your desktop computer and use it in an offline setting. After opening MEW on an offline computer, select Software access methods, and then select Recovery phrase. Enter your 12 or 24-word recovery phrase and click 'Access my wallet'.

Step 2. You'll then need to choose the HD path found in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. You’ll usually need the default path, but you also have the option to choose others. Just notice that the addresses will change as you switch paths.

  • If you need to choose a custom path, please see the ‘Custom Derivation path’ section of this article below. Custom derivation paths are ONLY available with mnemonic phrase, not with hardware wallets.

Step 3. Choose the address to interact with.

  • If this is the first time accessing, we recommend choosing one of the first 5 addresses on the list. Doing this simplifies things for future access and limits the risks of losing track of your assets. Addresses are always generated in the same order, so if you choose the first address, it will always be first on the list, as long as you are using the same phrase and the same derivation path.

Step 4. Choose your network. MEW is an Ethereum wallet, but you can also select other supported networks from the drop-down menu.

Step 57. Accept the terms (please be sure to read over them) then click 'Access my wallet' and you're all set!

For more information about Mnemonic phrases and addresses, please see our ‘What is a Recovery phrase?’ article.

Custom Derivation Path

When accessing your wallet on MEW, it is best practice to use the default path for familiarity, since each path leads to a list of different addresses. However, if the default path is not showing you the expected address, you can also use custom paths.

Note: This option is ONLY available for access with mnemonic/recovery phrase directly. Custom paths are not supported for hardware wallets.

To add a Custom Derivation path, you'll need to follow the same steps up to step 3, Instead, you'll need to scroll down to the bottom of the list of networks until you see '+ Add Path'.

Click on that and then enter the alias and path sequence for the path you're accessing. When you're done, click 'Add Path' to be directed to the list of different addresses to interact with.

Go ahead and pick the address, network, agree to the terms, then click 'Access my wallet'. (as described in the steps above)

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