Why Not Simply Use X? An Instructive Instance from Bitcoin

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Bitcoin developer Gregory Maxwell writes the next on Reddit:

There’s a design flaw within the Bitcoin protocol the place its doable for a 3rd social gathering to take a sound transaction of yours and mutate it in a approach which leaves it legitimate and functionally an identical however with a special transaction ID. This tremendously complicates writing right pockets software program, and it may be used abusively to invalidate lengthy chains of unconfirmed transactions that rely on the non-mutant transaction (since transactions refer to one another by txid).

This challenge arises from a number of sources, one in all them being OpenSSL’s willingness to simply accept and make sense of signatures with invalid encodings. A standard ECDSA signature encodes two massive integers, the encoding isn’t fixed size— if there are main zeros you might be speculated to drop them.

It’s straightforward to write down software program that assumes the signature will probably be a relentless size after which go away further main zeros in them.

It is a very attention-grabbing cautionary story, and is especially vital as a result of conditions like these are a part of the rationale why now we have made sure design choices in our growth philosophy. Particularly, the difficulty is that this: many individuals proceed to deliver up the purpose that we’re in lots of locations unnecessarily reinventing the wheel, creating our personal serialization format, RLP, as a substitute of utilizing the prevailing protobuf and we’re constructing an application-specific scripting language as a substitute of “simply utilizing Lua”. It is a very legitimate concern; not-invented-here syndrome is a commonly-used pejorative, so doing such in-house growth does require justification.

And the cautionary story I quoted above supplies exactly the proper instance of the justification that I’ll present. Exterior applied sciences, whether or not protobuf, Lua or OpenSSL, are excellent, and have years of growth behind them, however in lots of instances they had been by no means designed with the proper consensus, determinism and cryptographic integrity in thoughts that cryptocurrencies require. The OpenSSL state of affairs above is the proper instance; other than cryptocurrencies, there actually is not any different conditions the place the truth that you’ll be able to take a sound signature and switch it into one other legitimate signature with a special hash is a major drawback, and but right here it’s deadly. One in every of our core rules in Ethereum is simplicity; the protocol must be so simple as doable, and the protocol mustn’t include any black packing containers. Each single function of each single sub-protocol must be exactly 100% documented on the whitepaper or wiki, and applied utilizing that as a specification (ie. test-driven growth). Doing this for an current software program bundle is arguably nearly as onerous as constructing a completely new bundle from scratch; in reality, it might even be tougher, since current software program packages typically have extra complexity than they should with a view to be feature-complete, whereas our alternate options don’t – learn the protobuf spec and evaluate it to the RLP spec to grasp what I imply.

Observe that the above precept has its limits. For instance, we’re actually not silly sufficient to begin inventing our personal hash algorithms, as a substitute utilizing the universally acclaimed and well-vetted SHA3, and for signatures we’re utilizing the identical outdated secp256k1 as Bitcoin, though we’re utilizing RLP to retailer the v,r,s triple (the v is an additional two bits for public key restoration functions) as a substitute of the OpenSSL buffer protocol. These sorts of conditions are those the place “simply utilizing X” is exactly the appropriate factor to do, as a result of X has a clear and well-understood interface and there aren’t any delicate variations between completely different implementations. The SHA3 of the empty string is c5d2460186…a470 in C++, in Python, and in Javascript; there’s no debate about it. In between these two extremes, it’s principally a matter of discovering the appropriate steadiness.

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