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A ratcheting forward secrecy protocol that works in synchronous and asynchronous messaging environments.


This protocol uses a concept called 'PreKeys'. A PreKey is an ECPublicKey and an associated unique ID which are stored together by a server. PreKeys can also be signed.

At install time, clients generate a single signed PreKey, as well as a large list of unsigned PreKeys, and transmit all of them to the server.


Signal Protocol is session-oriented. Clients establish a "session," which is then used for all subsequent encrypt/decrypt operations. There is no need to ever tear down a session once one has been established.

Sessions are established in one of three ways:

  1. PreKeyBundles. A client that wishes to send a message to a recipient can establish a session by retrieving a PreKeyBundle for that recipient from the server.
  2. PreKeySignalMessages. A client can receive a PreKeySignalMessage from a recipient and use it to establish a session.
  3. KeyExchangeMessages. Two clients can exchange KeyExchange messages to establish a session.


An established session encapsulates a lot of state between two clients. That state is maintained in durable records which need to be kept for the life of the session.

State is kept in the following places:

  1. Identity State. Clients will need to maintain the state of their own identity key pair, as well as identity keys received from other clients.
  2. PreKey State. Clients will need to maintain the state of their generated PreKeys.
  3. Signed PreKey States. Clients will need to maintain the state of their signed PreKeys.
  4. Session State. Clients will need to maintain the state of the sessions they have established.

Using libsignal-protocol


On Android:

dependencies {
  compile 'org.whispersystems:signal-protocol-android:(latest version number)'

For pure Java apps:

  <version>(latest version number)</version>

Install time

At install time, a libsignal client needs to generate its identity keys, registration id, and prekeys.

IdentityKeyPair    identityKeyPair = KeyHelper.generateIdentityKeyPair();
int                registrationId  = KeyHelper.generateRegistrationId();
List<PreKeyRecord> preKeys         = KeyHelper.generatePreKeys(startId, 100);
SignedPreKeyRecord signedPreKey    = KeyHelper.generateSignedPreKey(identityKeyPair, 5);

// Store identityKeyPair somewhere durable and safe.
// Store registrationId somewhere durable and safe.

// Store preKeys in PreKeyStore.
// Store signed prekey in SignedPreKeyStore.

Building a session

A libsignal client needs to implement four interfaces: IdentityKeyStore, PreKeyStore, SignedPreKeyStore, and SessionStore. These will manage loading and storing of identity, prekeys, signed prekeys, and session state.

Once those are implemented, building a session is fairly straightforward:

SessionStore      sessionStore      = new MySessionStore();
PreKeyStore       preKeyStore       = new MyPreKeyStore();
SignedPreKeyStore signedPreKeyStore = new MySignedPreKeyStore();
IdentityKeyStore  identityStore     = new MyIdentityKeyStore();

// Instantiate a SessionBuilder for a remote recipientId + deviceId tuple.
SessionBuilder sessionBuilder = new SessionBuilder(sessionStore, preKeyStore, signedPreKeyStore,
                                                   identityStore, recipientId, deviceId);

// Build a session with a PreKey retrieved from the server.

SessionCipher     sessionCipher = new SessionCipher(sessionStore, recipientId, deviceId);
CiphertextMessage message      = sessionCipher.encrypt("Hello world!".getBytes("UTF-8"));


Legal things

Cryptography Notice

This distribution includes cryptographic software. The country in which you currently reside may have restrictions on the import, possession, use, and/or re-export to another country, of encryption software. BEFORE using any encryption software, please check your country's laws, regulations and policies concerning the import, possession, or use, and re-export of encryption software, to see if this is permitted. See for more information.

The U.S. Government Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), has classified this software as Export Commodity Control Number (ECCN) 5D002.C.1, which includes information security software using or performing cryptographic functions with asymmetric algorithms. The form and manner of this distribution makes it eligible for export under the License Exception ENC Technology Software Unrestricted (TSU) exception (see the BIS Export Administration Regulations, Section 740.13) for both object code and source code.


Copyright 2013-2019 Open Whisper Systems

Licensed under the GPLv3: