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curvetls: a simple, robust transport encryption package

curvetls is a Go library that gives you a robust framing and encryption layer for your Go programs, striving to be secure, strict, and simple.

With curvetls, it's dead easy to go from ordinary sockets to secure encrypted channels that support framing. This makes it trivial for you to write secure, robust clients and servers that do not need to implement low-level control flow. curvetls does not use large or unproven libraries, avoids unsafe C bindings, follows well-documented specifications, practices well-understood cryptography, and avoids placing undue trust in peers, even authenticated ones.

This library gives you a layered, stackable wrapper (client / server) for network I/O, which allows you to upgrade regular network sockets to the curvetls protocol. All the wrapper needs is a key pair, a random nonce, and a socket whose underlying transport is of any reliable kind (e.g. a TCP- or file-backed net.Conn).

curvetls is documented with developers' interests in mind. Take a look at the documentation online. Alternatively, clone this repository, then run godoc against it.


  • Simple and robust elliptic curve encryption of communications between peers.
  • Well-defined, robust framing scheme for reliable delivery of whole messages, based on the ZeroMQ ZMTP specification.
  • Robust public key authentication scheme to let servers decide which clients are authorized to proceed, based on the CurveZMQ spec.
  • Straightforward use of the library in your network clients and servers.

Test client programs

In addition to the library, this project ships three demon programs, which can show you how to use the library:

  • curvetls-genkeypair generates keypairs for the use of the other command-line programs
  • curvetls-pingpong-server implements a test ping-pong server
  • curvetls-pingpong-client implements a test ping-pong client

To run these programs, you can simply compile the library after cloning it to the local directory:

    [user@host ~]$ cd /path/to/curvetls
    [user@host curvetls]$ make
    [user@host curvetls]$ 

Generate some key pairs:

    [user@host curvetls]$ bin/curvetls-genkeypair  # note these for the server
    Private key: pT6GGmPNgSPsGKD8UTPdVN50xOGeZr+eb53gfAYoeVm4=
    Public key:  Puwo38S2npQijFuh5cuShYpTnQ+ZupkwveS/A1HjjkSY=
    Tip:         Both keys are encoded in base64 format with a one-character key type prefix
    [user@host curvetls]$ bin/curvetls-genkeypair  # note these for the client
    Private key: paICEhaq2fBJkCRoIMbncQ2sv+LolEvjgM43DYcrQpqM=
    Public key:  Pr59DbWYjUHlj0Z8kAY9LUyP/8hUi5kC+ByX6xvPKIwc=
    Tip:         Both keys are encoded in base64 format with a one-character key type prefix
    [user@host curvetls]$ 

Run the server (in the background):

    [user@host curvetls]$ bin/curvetls-pingpong-server \
        pT6GGmPNgSPsGKD8UTPdVN50xOGeZr+eb53gfAYoeVm4= \
        Puwo38S2npQijFuh5cuShYpTnQ+ZupkwveS/A1HjjkSY= \
        Pr59DbWYjUHlj0Z8kAY9LUyP/8hUi5kC+ByX6xvPKIwc= &

Run the client:

    [user@host curvetls]$ bin/curvetls-pingpong-client \
        paICEhaq2fBJkCRoIMbncQ2sv+LolEvjgM43DYcrQpqM= \
        Pr59DbWYjUHlj0Z8kAY9LUyP/8hUi5kC+ByX6xvPKIwc= \

And see the ping-pong happen. The server will exit as soon as it is done with the first connection.

Feel free to Wireshark the programs as they execute, to verify that data is, in fact, being encrypted as it goes from program to program.

Run the programs with no arguments to get usage information.

Quality, testing and benchmarking

To run the tests:

    make test

To run a variety of benchmarks (such as message encryption and decryption):

    make bench

curvetls releases should not come with failing tests. If a test fails, that is a problem and you should report it as an issue right away.

Goals and motivations

As security software, curvetls has the following goals:

  • To enable users of this library to depend on as little code as possible, with special emphasis on reducing unsafe code.
  • To give implementors a simple way to enable encryption between two peers, with as little effort as possible.
  • To make sure that implementors do not have to deal with any low-level details that they may screw up, compromising the security of their programs.
  • To ensure that users of this library do not have to deal with hidden surprises, such as servers allowing clients to allocate unbound resources.

curvetls focuses on getting the low-level security details right, so that you do not have to.

Why curvetls instead of net.tls?

Some people have asked why this library needs to exist, given that Go has net/tls, which is a high-performance crypto library.

The answer is that net/tls is much, much more than just a crypto library, and that has implications for security and complexity. There's a niche in communications where TLS is overkill but plain TCP is irresponsible, and that is a niche which many packages have attempted to fill, from CurveCP to tcpcrypt. curvetls fills this niche quite nicely.

The list-form, practical answer to why you may want to avoid net/tls:

  • A PKI system with certificates imposes on the implementor the additional burden of having to manage the certificate authority that emits the certificates, possibly a revocation infrastructure, both for clients and servers.
  • PKI as implemented in the modern world, including in net/tls, is a bit of a mess in that you have to write extra code if you want to do something that's outside the norm, but still perfectly sensible for certain use cases. Like, say, have clients reject certificates not signed by VeriSign, or have full cert validation without domain name validation. This demands configuration code that you must get right in your program.
  • X.509 certificates are very complex compared to simple base64 strings (what this library uses). There have been vulnerabilities, sometimes years-old, in certificate parsing code.
  • TLS itself is highly complex, because of backwards compatibility reasons and the need to support many ciphers. This complexity has given rise to many security issues as well as many opportunities for the implementor to shoot himself on the foot. This is 100% unneeded complexity if all you want is to send / receive well-encrypted data between two private peers.

TLS is fine and dandy, very well supported in Go via the net/tls package, and many use cases effectively require you to use TLS. However, TLS brings in a lot more complexity than just handshake plus NaCL encryption, and that increases the attack surface. Sometimes all you need is a simple drop-in implementation of peer-to-peer public key crypto. That's what curvetls aims to do well. I think four lines of (non-error handling) code — one for creating a keypair, one for creating a nonce, one for driving the handshake, and one for authorizing the client — is as simple as it can get, and the code that runs underneath is far less complex than anything you get with invoking any of net.tls for the same use case.

Why are you rolling your own crypto code / protocol?

Let's be 100% blunt: curvetls does not roll its own crypto. The crypto in curvetls is the same crypto as the NaCL library, which is fast, well-tested and presumed to be strong.

curvetls also does not roll its own protocol. One of the goals of curvetls is to be interoperable with CurveZMQ DEALER sockets in reliable mode (e.g. TCP). As such, we implement the pertinent specification, which are very good specifications — 100% unambiguous — and enjoy many implementations from competing entities.

curvetls users also enjoy the client / server handshake and send / receive framing that is the great work of the ZeroMQ folks (to my knowledge, primarily Pieter Hintjens). In practical terms, this means you, as a user of curvetls, do not have to worry about authentication / authorization state machines or incomplete messages. A peer is either authorized or not. A message is either fully-received or not.

Why not CurveZMQ instead?

ZeroMQ is great software, but it has three problems, one Go-specific and two more in general w.r.t. security:

Problem numero uno: you can't really send on a ZeroMQ socket in a goroutine while receiving on that same socket in another goroutine. Your program will crash if you do. This is fundamental if you want to have a program that sends and receives at the same time, without having to "take turns", HTTP style. There's ways you can get around that — PAIR inproc socket pairs for in-process communication, pairs of DEALER sockets on each peer, poll loops and reactors — but all of these ways impose extra complexity and a very unnatural and non-idiomatic programming regime for Go programs.

curvetls sockets, in contrast, are safe to Read() from one goroutine while another goroutine Write()s to them. They work in the expected manner and do not require you to implement any bespoke multiplexing solutions.

Problem numero dos: if you use the existing ZeroMQ implementations, then you are bringing into your process a lot of unsafe code, plus a lot of code you don't need just to do peer-to-peer encryption and authentication.

curvetls effectively implements the most basic use case of ZeroMQ plus CurveZMQ, without the extra dependency of ZeroMQ, or any unsafe C code. This package depends on no unsafe libraries, beyond perhaps the Go NaCL implementation or the Go standard library itself.

Problem numero tres: did you know that ZeroMQ happily lets clients send 1 GB buffers, and allocates that memory on the server to receive them?

We have a high-priority item on our roadmap which involves giving implementors a knob that lets them limit the amount of memory a single frame can consume. Because in ZeroMQ a frame can be effectively as large as you can imagine, and the frame will not be delivered to the peer until the peer has read all of it into memory, malicious clients which have successfully completed the handshake — perhaps they stole a keypair, perhaps the server Allow()s all peers — can bring a server down by making it allocate inordinately large amounts of memory.

Additionally, curvetls — unlike CurveZMQ — will not accept any metadata from a peer during the handshake (which happens before the peer has been authenticated). CurveZMQ metadata is effectively specified to be as big as you can imagine, which lets clients (and servers!) fill memory on your server before the CurveZMQ handshake completes. On the roadmap we have an item which involves adding support for metadata during handshake, but not before we can provide you, the implementor, with a knob that limits the amount of metadata a peer is allowed to send.

Problem numero cuatro: ZeroMQ happily accepts as many connections as peers, including hostile peers, will send its way. You are not in control of the Accept() call — your code only gets notified of messages, not of peer connections and disconnections. These are some odd socket semantics which work well in many use cases that involve trustworthy peers, but these semantics work badly outside of it. Additionally, you have to write extra code in order to track identities — ZeroMQ will not, by default, let you track of peers by key identity, mostly assuming that a message is a message is a message, irrespective of which peer is sending it. Effectively, you have reduced control over the low-level connection and authentication process, when you implement a ZeroMQ server. You can solve the authentication and authorization issue, but the low-level connection acceptance and throttling part is strictly off-limits to you as a programmer.

In curvetls, you are in charge of connecting / listening / accepting / tracking / closing sockets. This lets you implement custom throttling policies based on which peer is connecting prior to the handshake itself, and it lets you know verifiably which peer has connected as soon as the handshake is over. You want these properties when writing robust servers. Have a traffic storm or more clients than your program wants to handle? Throttle the socket Accept(). Have a peer that is already active and authenticated but wants to connect for a second time? Close the socket on it as soon as the handshake is over. Have a peer that is relentlessly connecting when you don't want it to? Close the socket on it as soon as the Accept() returns, or run a firewall rule change — you have the peer's IP address right after Accept(), after all.

These were the security concerns I needed to address when I set out to write curvetls, and I'm happy to report they have either been addressed or been considered high-priority and active work.

Why not CurveCP?

The first reason is that there are no complete implementations of CurveCP for Go. You can take the existing implementation and write a binding for it, but that was much more work than implementing a well-documented specification in a memory-safe language.

The second reason is that, even if you do a binding to CurveCP, the full power of the CurveCP security mechanism would then be available to implementors but with the burden of having to rely on unsafe code that is basically abandoned.

The third reason: CurveCP brings with it the extra code of implementing a reliable protocol over UDP. This aspect of CurveCP is truly a noble project that can revolutionize the Internet — if it hasn't already, as CurveCP was the forefather of Google's QUIC — but it's still extra code that is less tested than TCP, and it puts more complexity in the path between peer and your program's processing code.

Why not (this thing I haven't heard of)?

I'm happy to read the code of that thing and talk to you about it. Who knows, maybe that thing will render curvetls entirely unnecessary?

Technical and compatibility information


Any deviations from the CurveZMQ handshake specification, or interoperability problems with CurveZMQ implementations, as well as deviations and problems from / with the ZeroMQ framing scheme, are bugs. You should report them, so we can fix them.

Note that, if you choose to use unreliable transports such as UDP, you must roll your own congestion and retransmission features on each net.Conn you intend to wrap. Perhaps the right way to go about it, is to write a similar wrapping library which will wrap (let's say, UDP) network I/O sockets using the CurveCP congestion algorithm as specified in its documentation. Such a wrapper, if it returns net.Conn instances, will be compatible with this work.

Legal information

The license of this library is GPLv3 or later. See file COPYING for details. For relicensing inquiries, contact the author.


A robust framing and encryption layer for your Go network programs, based on CurveZMQ.







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