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readme.md

Universal State Channels

Universal State Channels (or USC) is a platform for building state channels using centralized or decentralized judges.

What is a state channel? A state channel is a way for two or more parties to maintain a state (any sequence of bytes) between them, being able to keep it updated without having to trust each other. A "judge", either a third party trusted by all channel participants, or a contract on a blockchain, can verify this state later and take actions on it.

What are state channels used for? The most well-known use of state channels is in payment channels, a technique which allows two parties to pay each other by adjusting the balance of an escrow account or a special blockchain transaction. Payment channels can also be linked together, allowing payments to be securely transmitted across multiple untrusted parties. Participants in the channel exchanged signed state update transactions, and can close the channel at any time with confidence that the last valid update transaction will be honored. Because only the last update transaction is sent to the judge, they can be used to create very scalable systems. Here's an easy explanation of state channels.

Payment channels, and any other state chanel, can be implemented easily on top of USC with a minimum of effort. Here's a 200 line Javascript example app implementing a simple payment channel.

USC Peer handles communication between the participants in the channel, and cryptographically checks all transactions for validity. The developer writing the channel's business logic interacts with a friendly HTTP API over localhost. No specialized knowledge of cryptography is required.

USC Judge is run by a trusted third party and checks the validity of a state channel's final update transaction. It also has an easy API, which the developer can use to write the business logic which reacts to the state contained in the final update transaction. For example, in a payment channel, the USC Judge could be run by a bank and permanently transfer money when the channel closed.

USC will also have blockchain adapters, which run alongside the USC Peer. Blockchain adapters relay transactions to a judge contract on a blockchain. This allows the trusted third party to be replaced by trust in a programmable blockchain, such as Ethereum, Tendermint, or Hyperledger.

Lifecycle

Let's take the imaginary example of a state channel being used by Alice and Bob to decide which color to paint the bike shed.

Peers: Alice, Bob Judge: Acme Shed Painting inc.

First, Alice prepares an opening transaction. It tells Acme to paint the shed a color that Alice and Bob will agree on in a future update transaction.

OpeningTx
  channel_id: "foo"
  pubkeys: [<Alice's pubkey>, <Bob's pubkey>]
  state: "We want you to paint the bikeshed this color:"
  hold_period: 4

She signs it, and sends it to Bob. If Bob thinks it's OK, he signs it as well, and sends it to Acme.

Acme looks at the OpeningTx, and if Acme wishes to act as judge, they sign it. Now the channel is open.

Alice and Bob haggle over what color the shed should be. Each time they change their minds, they sign a new UpdateTx reflecting the current agreement on shed color. Note that these UpdateTxs do not necessarily need to be sent to Acme.

UpdateTx
  channel_id: "foo"
  sequence_number: 1
  final: false
  state: "Red"

When Alice or Bob want to close the channel, one of them sends an UpdateTx and a ClosingTx to Acme. Acme records the closing time, and continues to accept further UpdateTxs for the channel. After the hold period has elapsed, Acme accepts the valid UpdateTx with the highest sequence number.

Lets say Bob tries to close the channel with an old UpdateTx. As long as Alice finds out about this before the hold period is over, she can send the latest UpdateTx to correct the record.

If Alice and Bob both agree that they would like to close the channel and get the shed painted, they set final to true. This means that either of them can submit the transaction and the channel will close without waiting for the hold period to be over.

Let's say that Alice wants to give Bob permission to paint the bike shed blue, but only if he can get Al Gore's sign off on the color choice. She signs this UpdateTx and sends it to Bob.

UpdateTx
  channel_id: "foo"
  sequence_number: 34
  final: false
  state: "Blue, if Al Gore is OK with it."

If Bob gets Al Gore's signature on the color choice, he can close the channel with this UpdateTx and then submit a FollowOnTx with the signature.

FollowOnTx
  channel_id: "foo"
  state: "I think the shed should be Blue" + <Al Gore's signature>

This FollowOnTx only needs to be signed by one of the channel participants, so Bob can submit it without Alice's help.

Architecture

There are two main codebases, Peer and Judge. Peer is run by Alice and Bob, and handles the creation, signing, and exchange of OpeningTxs and UpdateTxs, etc. Judge is run by Acme Shed Painting and checks the validity of OpeningTxs and UpdateTxs and closes the channel after doing the hold period etc. Both of these codebases interact with other applications on the computer over an HTTP API. This way, USC can be used to create a variety of different channels, from a shed painting channel to a payment channel.

Blockchain adapter

With a blockchain adapter, and a judge contract, USC can be made to work on a programmable blockchain like Ethereum.

The blockchain adapter is a piece of software that lives on the channel participant's computers. It speaks to the Peer using the same protocol that a third party Judge would, but it relays the transactions onto a blockchain so that the judge contract can act on them.

Alice creates an OpeningTx, and sends it to Bob. This step is exactly the same as it is with a centralized judge. Bob gets the OpeningTx, checks that he is happy with the state, and signs it as well. Bob then sends the OpeningTx to his blockchain adapter, as if it was a third party judge. Bob's blockchain adapter packages the OpeningTx into a transaction for the blockchain in question. This transaction is addressed to the on-blockchain judge contract. When the judge contract receives the OpeningTx, it checks that the transaction and its signatures are valid, and then calls an executive contract with the state. The executive contract is not part of USC, it evaluates the state and takes some action upon it. For example, a contract that holds some currency in escrow to create a payment channel. If the executive contract finds that the state is valid, it performs whatever actions it is supposed to, and calls back to the judge contract to open the channel.

Once the channel is open, the judge contract accepts UpdateTxs from either Alice or Bob. It's important to note that while the judge contract will accept and store UpdateTxs, it does not close the channel when receiving one. The vast majority of UpdateTxs are exchanged only between Alice and Bob. When the judge contract gets an UpdateTx, it checks the signatures and the sequence number and saves the UpdateTx. Only UpdateTxs with a sequence number higher than the last are accepted.

FollowOnTxs are also accepted. FollowOnTxs contain some state and only need to have a valid signature from either Alice or Bob.

At some point, Alice or Bob submits their last UpdateTx and a ClosingTx. The ClosingTx contains no information, but serves to identify the time of closing. The judge contract contiues to accept and store valid UpdateTxs. At some point in the future, Alice or Bob send a FinalizeTx. When the judge contract receives the FinalizeTx, it checks that either the hold period has elapsed, or final is true, and calls the executive contract. The executive contract evaluates both the state of the UpdateTx with the highest sequence number, and any FollowOnTxs. The executive contract may take some action on it (i.e. moving tokens for a payment channel). If the executive contract finds that the state is not valid, it attempts to validate the UpdateTx state with the second highest sequence number, and so on. If the are no valid UpdateTxs, the channel is considered to be cancelled, and the executive contract may take some action to reverse the actions it performed when opening the channel. The judge contract also signs and stores the UpdateTx. This allows the blockchain adapter to easily tell the USC Peer and its client software that the channel is closed.

HTTP Peer API

Accounts

Accounts correspond to identities known by a third party judge or a blockchain. Accounts embed the information for their judge.

List All Accounts

accounts returns a list of all accounts stored in the USC Peer.

GET https://localhost:4456/accounts

Example response:

[
  {
    "name": "AC7739 at SFFCU",
    "pubkey": "R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=",
    "privkey": "k4NkO3BNxNN8qsdPvsKv9AEJMP_IqIqluy77HLcN1gVHmVVWzzYzzSLk6lHfr1K0mpodLrUt34_NMJ9L7TPIAA==",
    "judge": {
      "name": "San Francisco Federal Credit Union",
      "pubkey": "xcYNnNW1oA9pB0LeQg_UCKw3FC8itnVq1csGrHdCV6o=",
      "address": "https://sanfranciscofcu.com/channels/"
    }
  },
  ...
]

Accounts by Pubkey

accounts_by_pubkey returns account with the specified pubkey.

GET https://localhost:4456/accounts_by_id/R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=

Response: An account, see above.

Counterparties

List all counterparties

counterparties returns a list of all accounts of counterparties known to the USC Peer. Counterparties are peers that USC can start channels with. Counterparties embed the information for their judge.

GET https://localhost:4456/counterparties

Response:

[
  {
    "name": "AC2346 at SFFCU",
    "pubkey": "R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=",
    "judge": {
      "name": "San Francisco Federal Credit Union",
      "pubkey": "xcYNnNW1oA9pB0LeQg_UCKw3FC8itnVq1csGrHdCV6o=",
      "address": "https://sanfranciscofcu.com/channels/"
    }
  },
  ...
]

Counterparties by pubkey

counterparties/pubkey/<pubkey> returns the counterparty with the specified pubkey.

GET https://localhost:4456/counterparties/pubkey/R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=

Response: A counterparty, see above.

Channels

Channels embed information about their account, their counterparty, and their judge.

List all channels

channels returns a list of all channels which accounts on the USC Peer participate in.

Request: GET https://localhost:4456/channels

Response:

[
  {
    "channelId": "8789678",
    "phase": "OPEN",
    "openingTx": {
      "channelId": "8789678",
      "pubkeys": [
        "R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=",
        "prNVb9C260wELZ3RYmrJ9TsZ_2NCGYcUBVZSSGHUsYQ="
      ],
      "state": "{\"R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=\":100,\"prNVb9C260wELZ3RYmrJ9TsZ_2NCGYcUBVZSSGHUsYQ=\":100}"
    },
    "lastFullUpdateTx": {
      "channelId": "8789678",
      "sequenceNumber": 7,
      "fast": false,
      "state": "{\"R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=\":105,\"prNVb9C260wELZ3RYmrJ9TsZ_2NCGYcUBVZSSGHUsYQ=\":95}"
    },
    "myProposedUpdateTx": {
      "channelId": "8789678",
      "sequenceNumber": 7,
      "fast": false,
      "state": "{\"R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=\":105,\"prNVb9C260wELZ3RYmrJ9TsZ_2NCGYcUBVZSSGHUsYQ=\":95}"
    },
    "theirProposedUpdateTx": {
      "channelId": "8789678",
      "sequenceNumber": 6,
      "fast": false,
      "state": "{\"R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=\":102,\"prNVb9C260wELZ3RYmrJ9TsZ_2NCGYcUBVZSSGHUsYQ=\":98}"
    },
    "followOnTxs": [],
    "judge": {
      "name": "San Francisco Federal Credit Union",
      "pubkey": "xcYNnNW1oA9pB0LeQg_UCKw3FC8itnVq1csGrHdCV6o=",
      "address": "https://sanfranciscofcu.com/channels/"
    },
    "account": {
      "name": "AC7739 at SFFCU",
      "pubkey": "R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=",
      "privkey": "k4NkO3BNxNN8qsdPvsKv9AEJMP_IqIqluy77HLcN1gVHmVVWzzYzzSLk6lHfr1K0mpodLrUt34_NMJ9L7TPIAA==",
      "judge": {
        "name": "San Francisco Federal Credit Union",
        "pubkey": "xcYNnNW1oA9pB0LeQg_UCKw3FC8itnVq1csGrHdCV6o=",
        "address": "https://sanfranciscofcu.com/channels/"
      }
    },
    "counterparty": {
      "name": "AC2346 at SFFCU",
      "pubkey": "prNVb9C260wELZ3RYmrJ9TsZ_2NCGYcUBVZSSGHUsYQ=",
      "judge": {
        "name": "San Francisco Federal Credit Union",
        "pubkey": "xcYNnNW1oA9pB0LeQg_UCKw3FC8itnVq1csGrHdCV6o=",
        "address": "https://sanfranciscofcu.com/channels/"
      }
    }
  },
  ...
]

Channels by Id

channels/<channelId> returns the channel with the specified channelId.

Request:

GET https://localhost:4456/channels_by_id/8789678

Response: A channel, see above.

Channel lifecycle

propose_channel ->

PROPOSED phase

OPEN phase

CLOSED phase

  • (no actions possible)

New Channel

propose_channel creates a new channel in PENDING_OPEN phase, signs it, and sends it to the counterparty.

Request:

POST `https://localhost:4456/propose_channel`

{
  "channelId": "8789678",
  "accountPubkey": "R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=",
  "counterpartyPubkey": "prNVb9C260wELZ3RYmrJ9TsZ_2NCGYcUBVZSSGHUsYQ=",
  "state": "{\"R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=\":100,\"prNVb9C260wELZ3RYmrJ9TsZ_2NCGYcUBVZSSGHUsYQ=\":100}",
  "holdPeriod": 86400000
}

Response: A new channel, see above.

Accept channel

accept_channel is called on a channel that is in PENDING_OPEN phase. The channel is signed, saved, and sent to the judge.

Request:

POST `https://localhost:4456/accept_channel`

{
  "channelId": "8789678"
}

Response: A new channel, see above.

Reject channel

reject_channel is called on a channel that is in PENDING_OPEN phase. The channel is deleted and the counterparty is notified of the rejection.

Request:

POST `https://localhost:4456/reject_channel`

{
  "channelId": "8789678"
}

Response: 200 OK

Cancel channel

cancel_channel is called on a channel that is in OPEN phase, but has not yet had an update transaction posted. It sends a cancellation transaction to instruct the judge to close the channel with the state in the opening tx. The cancellation can be overridden during the hold period by any update tx.

Request:

POST `https://localhost:4456/cancel_channel`

{
  "channelId": "8789678"
}

Response: 200 OK

Propose update tx

propose_update_tx is one of USC's key calls. It makes a transaction that updates the channel's state, signs it, and sends it to the counterparty.

Request:

POST `https://localhost:4456/propose_update_tx`

{
  "channelId": "8789678",
  "state": "{\"R5lVVs82M80i5OpR369StJqaHS61Ld-PzTCfS-0zyAA=\":105,\"prNVb9C260wELZ3RYmrJ9TsZ_2NCGYcUBVZSSGHUsYQ=\":95}"
}

Response: 200 OK

Accept update tx

accept_update_tx is called to accept the update tx saved in a channel's theirProposedUpdateTx. The update tx is signed, replaces the channel's lastFullUpdateTx and is sent back to the counterparty.

POST `https://localhost:4456/accept_update_tx`

{
  "channelId": "8789678"
}

Response: 200 OK

Reject update tx

reject_update_tx is called to reject an update tx. The counterparty is informed that the update tx saved in theirProposedUpdateTx will never be accepted.

POST `https://localhost:4456/reject_update_tx`

{
  "channelId": "8789678"
}

Response: 200 OK

Close channel

close_channel sends the channel's lastFullUpdateTx to the judge, putting the channel into PENDING_CLOSE and starting the hold period.

POST `https://localhost:4456/close_channel`

{
  "channelId": "8789678"
}

Response: 200 OK

Check channel for cheating

check_channel is possibly USC's most important call. This must be called at least once per hold period, the entire time the channel is open. It checks if the counterparty has tried to cheat by posting an old update tx. If so, it sends the judge the correct lastFullUpdateTx.

POST `https://localhost:4456/check_channel`

{
  "channelId": "8789678"
}

Response: 200 OK