Consult service crate docs for details about interfaces provided by the service.
Implementing the business logic of many practical blockchain solutions requires that one should be able to access the calendar time. The time can be obtained by executing certain logic on the blockchain. This logic should meet the following criteria:
- Using validators. As Exonum is used to power permissioned blockchains, it is natural to assume that the inputs to business logic determining time should be supplied by validators. This assumption could be generalized to support abstract semi-trusted identifiable entities, but for the sake of clarity, this article will center specifically on the case where time is determined by the validator nodes.
- Reliability. The time value must be tolerant to the malicious behavior of validator nodes.
- Agreement. Time must be the same on all the nodes to ensure that transactions are executed in a deterministic manner. This means that the time should be written in the Exonum blockchain storage. Thus, the “current” time will be changing in the same way on all nodes during the execution of transactions, including during the nodes update.
- Sufficient accuracy. The specified time should be fairly accurate. In practice, an acceptable deviation is a few seconds.
- Monotony. The time value should only increase. This pragmatic requirement simplifies the use of time when implementing the business logic.
If the local time on the validator machine is incorrect, such node is considered Byzantine. Just in the same way as the consensus algorithm, the algorithm used by the time oracle can tolerate up to a third of Byzantine validators.
Each validator at a specific time sends a transaction indicating its local time (usually immediately after the commit of each block). The time service maintains an index with the most current time values indicated separately by each validator. This index is updated after each transaction from any of the validators. A 1/3 percentile of these values (ordered by decreasing time) is then picked out from the index; this percentile is considered the actual time and is applied to determine the exact service time. As we show further, this time can be considered reliable given the assumptions above.
The data schema of the exonum-time service consists of two indices:
Consolidated time output by the service, which can be used by other business logic on the blockchain.
Merkelized index with the latest known local timestamps for all validator nodes. The values in the index are used to update
timeand could be useful for monitoring, diagnostics and the like.
The service implements a single transaction type, allowing a validator to output its current time, authenticated by the validator digital signature.
The logic of transaction execution is as follows:
- Check that the transaction signer is one of the validators. If not, quit.
- Check that the time indicated in the transaction is greater than the submitting validator timestamp specified in the storage. If not, quit.
- Update validator time in the
- If the number of timestamps in the index belonging to the current validators
is at least
2f + 1, where
f = (n - 1) / 3is the maximum number of Byzantine validators, then perform the following steps; else quit.
- Sort the timestamps by the current validators in the decreasing order (most recent time first).
- Take the time with the (1-based) index
f + 1from the resulting sorted list.
- If the taken time
tis larger than the previous consolidated time, replace the consolidated time with
Thus, the consolidated time can be updated after each transaction with
the actual time from any validator node. The procedure takes into account the
possible changes in the validators list, ensures monotony of
is tolerant to the malicious behavior of validator nodes.
Proof of Correctness¶
T denote the list of current validators timestamps sorted
in the decreasing order, as specified in step 5 of the algorithm above.
It is clear that in a system with no more than
f Byzantine nodes,
any time from
T with the (1-based) index in the
[f + 1, 2f + 1] interval
- The time of an honest node, or
- The time between the timestamps of two honest nodes. Therefore, such a time can be considered reliable.
For practical reasons, we always choose the timestamp with index
f + 1,
since this value is reliable and, at the same time, the most recent one.
The validator nodes can potentially generate and send transactions to update the time any moment, however, in the current implementation, nodes send transactions after the commit of each block.
At the time when a new blockchain is launched, the consolidated time is unknown
until the transactions from at least
2f + 1 validator nodes are processed.
Further, in the course of blockchain operation, this time
will strictly grow monotonously.
Consult the consensus description for
Precommit messages, and the “+2/3” notation.
A possible alternative to implementing a time oracle as a service would be to
integrate it into the consensus algorithm. This would work as follows:
The validator includes its local time in each
At the next height, the leader includes +2/3
Precommits of the previous block
Propose. The time median of these
Precommits is recorded into
the header of the block obtained based on this
- The time value would be indicated directly in the header of each block making it more accessible.
- Time would be forcibly updated in the course of consensus operation: it would be impossible to sabotage the update of time without stopping the consensus.
- Blockchain would not be clogged by transactions associated with time determination.
- The consensus code would become more complex.
- Time updates would be tied to the creation of
Precommitmessages. In the case of a large delay in block acceptance, all the transactions therein would be executed with the same outdated time value.
In our opinion, implementing the time oracle as a service is preferable to the tight integration with consensus. This approach is more flexible and manageable, and could be generalized to the agreement between arbitrary collectively trusted entities, which may behave maliciously.