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A distributed ledger (also called a shared ledger or distributed ledger technology or DLT) is a consensus of replicated, shared, and synchronized digital data geographically spread across multiple sites, countries, or institutions. There is no central administrator or centralized data storage.
A peer-to-peer network is required as well as consensus algorithms to ensure replication across nodes is undertaken. One form of distributed ledger design is the blockchain system, which can be either public or private.
The distributed ledger database is spread across several nodes (devices) on a peer-to-peer network, where each replicates and saves an identical copy of the ledger and updates itself independently. The primary advantage is the lack of central authority. When a ledger update happens, each node constructs the new transaction, and then the nodes vote by consensus algorithm on which copy is correct. Once a consensus has been determined, all the other nodes update themselves with the new, correct copy of the ledger.  Security is accomplished through cryptographic keys and signatures. 
The distributed ledger technology consists of different DLT concepts, which mainly differ in the way transactions are validated and stored. Some popular DLT concepts are blockchain, block directed acyclic graphs (blockDAG), and transaction-based directed acyclic graphs (TDAG).
These DLT concepts have different, concrete implementations called DLT designs. Bitcoin and Ethereum for example are concrete implementations of blockchain. These implementations can be distinguished by specific features (e.g. security and performance), which are called DLT properties. These properties are further divided into DLT characteristics. Each DLT design has an individual configuration of DLT characteristics, which has to be a good fit for the requirements of a given use case. Exemplary these requirements could be high scalability, high throughput and a high level of anonymity.
Distributed ledgers may be permissioned or permissionless regarding if anyone or only approved people can run a node to validate transactions. They also vary between the consensus algorithm. (Proof of work, Proof of Stake, or Voting systems). They may also be mineable (you can claim ownership of new coins contributing with a node) or not mineable (the creator of the cryptocurrency owns all at the beginning).