Service Interaction

Exonum services may interact with each other using a set of APIs. This article dives into details how different kinds of interaction can be implemented and used.

Warning

Interaction among services is considered an experimental feature as of Exonum 1.0. Its interfaces and supported features may change in the future. Additionally, support of interaction may be limited in some environments, e.g., for Java services.

Problem Overview

Given multiple services in the blockchain, some of them may want to interact with other services. The interaction can include either reading the data of other service, or modifying its data using a service public interface.

A couple of scenarios involving service interaction are:

  • The dependent service wants to read the current time from a time oracle, e.g., in order to implement a time-lock or check key validity in a PKI.
  • The providing service implements a token interface akin to ERC-20 or ERC-721 and the dependent service wants to use it to implement a complex finance app (lending, insurance, etc.).

Selecting a Dependency

Tip

See Versioning for details how Exonum uses semantic versioning to establish compatibility relations.

Before any kind of interaction is established, the dependent service may want to select its dependency. Exonum provides several tools to ease this process:

  • The information about currently deployed artifacts and service instances is available to services via a data schema. Using it, a service may search for service instances satisfying a certain artifact requirement (artifact name and a semantic version requirement, e.g., [email protected]^1). The service may search the dependency once during its initialization and cache it in its own configuration.
  • Alternatively, the dependent service may be injected the dependency during its initialization or configuration. The dependency may be specified as a service ID.

Both techniques are fully compatible. Indeed, mentioning the explicit service ID during initialization may be optional; if skipped, the service may perform the search automatically, and during service reconfiguration this dependency may be overridden. What happens if none of instantiated services fit the requirement or several do, depends on the use case. As an example, the service may return an error (i.e., refuse to instantiate) or choose one of dependencies randomly.

Note

Keep in mind that dependencies may become unavailable due to service lifecycle. For example, the dependency may be stopped or updated to an incompatible version. Taking dependent services into account during lifecycle is one of the roadmap goals.

Interaction via Schemas

To read service data, the dependent service may use the public schema definition provided by the dependency. For example, the time oracle defines in its schema a ProofEntry containing the current consolidated time, so it can be read by any service.

Depending on the service runtime, the service may have tools facilitating this kind of interaction. For example, the Rust runtime allows to check artifact requirements for the schema behind the scenes, thus preventing access to a wrong type of service or to an incompatible service version.

While interaction via schemas has low overhead, it has some limitations; e.g., the dependency cannot process the data or encapsulate it before returning it to the dependent service. An improved kind of interaction – unified read requestsis in the works. They would work similar to interfaces described below.

Interaction via Calls

To modify service state, the dependent service may use service interfaces. An interface is a collection of transactions, the handlers of which are implemented by the dependency. Interfaces are identified by a string name (e.g., exonum.Token), and methods within the interface have integer identifiers.

Service interfaces fulfil the same role as interfaces in Java or in Solidity. However, their call semantics are most similar to Rust traits:

  • Service artifact needs to explicitly specify that it implements an interface. No structural / duck typing is performed. This is motivated by the observation that interfaces may imply additional constraints (e.g., a token interface must not create tokens during transfers).
  • Interface methods cannot collide. That is, any two methods from two different interfaces will always have different handlers within a service and cannot be mixed during a call. (Cf. 4-byte method identifiers in Solidity or collision of methods with the same signature in Java.)
  • The called interface needs to be explicitly specified, thus making the caller’s intent clear and unequivocal.

Example

Consider a hypothetical fungible token interface defined with a Protobuf IDL:

service Token {
  option (exonum.interface) = "exonum.Token";

  // Transfers tokens to another account.
  rpc Transfer (Transfer) returns (google.protobuf.Empty) {
    option (exonum.method_id) = 0;
  }

  // other methods skipped...
}

// Information about a token transfer.
message Transfer {
  exonum.crypto.PublicKey to = 1;
  uint64 amount = 2;
}

Warning

The options in the IDL are for illustrative purposes only. Exonum does not (yet) have a well-specified IDL for interfaces.

In this case, the information necessary to perform a call to the service would be:

  • Interface name: exonum.Token
  • Identifier of the method within the interface: 0
  • Identifier of the called service
  • Payload: a serialized Transfer message

The Exonum core would perform a check that the called service indeed implements exonum.Token and would not dispatch the call otherwise. The call handler would by design know that it processes a call to exonum.Token#Transfer.

Authorization via Services

Besides payload, service calls carry information about call authorization. The called service may use this information to determine whether the caller can perform the operation. In some other cases (e.g., crypto-tokens), this info may be used to get or modify information about the caller in the blockchain state (e.g., the current token balance).

When making a child call, a service may either inherit the authorization from the parent call, or make a call under its own authority. Both kinds of auth may make sense depending on the use case. Inherited auth makes sense for “middleware” (e.g., batched calls), while service auth makes sense for stateful authorization (e.g., multi-signatures).

Top-level calls within a block are authorized as follows:

  • Transactions are authorized by the Ed25519 public key used in transaction signing
  • Hooks executing before and after transactions are authorized by a special blockchain authority

Information about call auth has a forward-compatible uniform representation – caller address (cf. addresses in Ethereum). Services may use this representation to compare or index callers without the necessity to care about all possible kinds of authorization supported by the framework.

Note

As of Exonum 1.0, the service authorization can only carry the service ID. There are plans to allow services include service-specific data to authorization info. This would open possibilities for reuse; for example, a single multi-signature service would be able to support any number of independent user groups. Another qualitatively new feature enabled by this kind of auth is PKI / identity, that is, authorization like “User with name Alice as currently defined in the identity service with ID 1000.”

Authorization Info Specification

Authorization info is encapsulated in the Caller Protobuf message exported by the Exonum core:

message Caller {
  oneof caller {
    // The caller is identified by the specified Ed25519 public key.
    exonum.crypto.PublicKey transaction_author = 1;
    // The call is invoked with the authority of a blockchain service
    // with the specified identifier.
    uint32 instance_id = 2;
    // The call is invoked by one of the blockchain lifecycle events.
    google.protobuf.Empty blockchain = 3;
  }
}

Caller address is derived from a Caller message as a SHA-256 digest of its canonical Protobuf serialization. oneof serialization provides domain separation of addresses for different authorization types.