Since 2012 Ripple is a real-time gross settlement system (RTGS) that acts as a currency exchange and remittance network.
It uses a common ledger, that is managed by a network of independently validating nodes, which constantly compare transaction records. A big difference with Bitcoin is that Ripple does not rely on power intensive computing for the Proof-of-Work consensus mechanism, but it is based on a public database that makes use of a different consensus mechanism that validates nodes in the network to ensure integrity. Those nodes could be run by anyone, individual or corporate institutions.
The XRP Ripple token is used to facilitate near instant and direct transfers of value between two parties on the Ripple network. Any type of currency could be exchanged through the Ripple protocol, ranging from FIAT currencies to Coupon codes.