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OCI Content Descriptors

  • An OCI image consists of several different components, arranged in a Merkle Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG).
  • References between components in the graph are expressed through Content Descriptors.
  • A Content Descriptor (or simply Descriptor) describes the disposition of the targeted content.
  • A Content Descriptor includes the type of the content, a content identifier (digest), and the byte-size of the raw content.
  • Descriptors SHOULD be embedded in other formats to securely reference external content.
  • Other formats SHOULD use descriptors to securely reference external content.

This section defines the application/vnd.oci.descriptor.v1+json media type.


A descriptor consists of a set of properties encapsulated in key-value fields.

The following fields contain the primary properties that constitute a Descriptor:

  • mediaType string

    This REQUIRED property contains the media type of the referenced content. Values MUST comply with RFC 6838, including the naming requirements in its section 4.2.

    The OCI image specification defines several of its own MIME types for resources defined in the specification.

  • digest string

    This REQUIRED property is the digest of the targeted content, conforming to the requirements outlined in Digests. Retrieved content SHOULD be verified against this digest when consumed via untrusted sources.

  • size int64

    This REQUIRED property specifies the size, in bytes, of the raw content. This property exists so that a client will have an expected size for the content before processing. If the length of the retrieved content does not match the specified length, the content SHOULD NOT be trusted.

  • urls array of strings

    This OPTIONAL property specifies a list of URIs from which this object MAY be downloaded. Each entry MUST conform to RFC 3986. Entries SHOULD use the http and https schemes, as defined in RFC 7230.

  • annotations string-string map

    This OPTIONAL property contains arbitrary metadata for this descriptor. This OPTIONAL property MUST use the annotation rules.

Descriptors pointing to application/vnd.oci.image.manifest.v1+json SHOULD include the extended field platform, see Image Index Property Descriptions for details.


The following field keys are reserved and MUST NOT be used by other specifications.

  • data string

    This key is RESERVED for future versions of the specification.

All other fields may be included in other OCI specifications. Extended Descriptor field additions proposed in other OCI specifications SHOULD first be considered for addition into this specification.


The digest property of a Descriptor acts as a content identifier, enabling content addressability. It uniquely identifies content by taking a collision-resistant hash of the bytes. If the digest can be communicated in a secure manner, one can verify content from an insecure source by recalculating the digest independently, ensuring the content has not been modified.

The value of the digest property is a string consisting of an algorithm portion and an encoded portion. The algorithm specifies the cryptographic hash function and encoding used for the digest; the encoded portion contains the encoded result of the hash function.

A digest string MUST match the following grammar:

digest                ::= algorithm ":" encoded
algorithm             ::= algorithm-component (algorithm-separator algorithm-component)*
algorithm-component   ::= [a-z0-9]+
algorithm-separator   ::= [+._-]
encoded               ::= [a-zA-Z0-9=_-]+

Note that algorithm MAY impose algorithm-specific restriction on the grammar of the encoded portion. See also Registered Algorithms.

Some example digest strings include the following:

digest algorithm Registered
sha256:6c3c624b58dbbcd3c0dd82b4c53f04194d1247c6eebdaab7c610cf7d66709b3b SHA-256 Yes
sha512:401b09eab3c013d4ca54922bb802bec8fd5318192b0a75f201d8b372742... SHA-512 Yes
multihash+base58:QmRZxt2b1FVZPNqd8hsiykDL3TdBDeTSPX9Kv46HmX4Gx8 Multihash No
sha256+b64u:LCa0a2j_xo_5m0U8HTBBNBNCLXBkg7-g-YpeiGJm564 SHA-256 with urlsafe base64 No

Please see Registered Algorithms for a list of registered algorithms.

Implementations SHOULD allow digests with unrecognized algorithms to pass validation if they comply with the above grammar. While sha256 will only use hex encoded digests, separators in algorithm and alphanumerics in encoded are included to allow for extensions. As an example, we can parameterize the encoding and algorithm as multihash+base58:QmRZxt2b1FVZPNqd8hsiykDL3TdBDeTSPX9Kv46HmX4Gx8, which would be considered valid but unregistered by this specification.


Before consuming content targeted by a descriptor from untrusted sources, the byte content SHOULD be verified against the digest string. Before calculating the digest, the size of the content SHOULD be verified to reduce hash collision space. Heavy processing before calculating a hash SHOULD be avoided. Implementations MAY employ canonicalization of the underlying content to ensure stable content identifiers.

Digest calculations

A digest is calculated by the following pseudo-code, where H is the selected hash algorithm, identified by string <alg>:

let ID(C) = Descriptor.digest
let C = <bytes>
let D = '<alg>:' + Encode(H(C))
let verified = ID(C) == D

Above, we define the content identifier as ID(C), extracted from the Descriptor.digest field. Content C is a string of bytes. Function H returns the hash of C in bytes and is passed to function Encode and prefixed with the algorithm to obtain the digest. The result verified is true if ID(C) is equal to D, confirming that C is the content identified by D. After verification, the following is true:

D == ID(C) == '<alg>:' + Encode(H(C))

The digest is confirmed as the content identifier by independently calculating the digest.

Registered algorithms

While the algorithm component of the digest string allows the use of a variety of cryptographic algorithms, compliant implementations SHOULD use SHA-256.

The following algorithm identifiers are currently defined by this specification:

algorithm identifier algorithm
sha256 SHA-256
sha512 SHA-512

If a useful algorithm is not included in the above table, it SHOULD be submitted to this specification for registration.


SHA-256 is a collision-resistant hash function, chosen for ubiquity, reasonable size and secure characteristics. Implementations MUST implement SHA-256 digest verification for use in descriptors.

When the algorithm identifier is sha256, the encoded portion MUST match /[a-f0-9]{64}/. Note that [A-F] MUST NOT be used here.


SHA-512 is a collision-resistant hash function which may be more perfomant than SHA-256 on some CPUs. Implementations MAY implement SHA-512 digest verification for use in descriptors.

When the algorithm identifier is sha512, the encoded portion MUST match /[a-f0-9]{128}/. Note that [A-F] MUST NOT be used here.


The following example describes a Manifest with a content identifier of "sha256:5b0bcabd1ed22e9fb1310cf6c2dec7cdef19f0ad69efa1f392e94a4333501270" and a size of 7682 bytes:

  "mediaType": "application/vnd.oci.image.manifest.v1+json",
  "size": 7682,
  "digest": "sha256:5b0bcabd1ed22e9fb1310cf6c2dec7cdef19f0ad69efa1f392e94a4333501270"

In the following example, the descriptor indicates that the referenced manifest is retrievable from a particular URL:

  "mediaType": "application/vnd.oci.image.manifest.v1+json",
  "size": 7682,
  "digest": "sha256:5b0bcabd1ed22e9fb1310cf6c2dec7cdef19f0ad69efa1f392e94a4333501270",
  "urls": [
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