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Epidemic Broadcast Trees

This module is loosely based on plumtree Epidemic Broadcast Trees EBT paper, but adapted to also replicate logs, and optimized to achive a minimal overhead (the cost of the protocol is linear with the number of messages to be sent)

It's a algorithm that combines the robustness of a flooding epidemic gossip broadcast, with the efficiency of a tree model. It's intended for implementing realtime protocols (such as chat, scuttlebutt, also radio/video) over networks with random topology - or networks where otherwise peers may be unable to all connect to each other or to a central hub.

Although the primary motivation for this module is to use it in secure scuttlebutt, it's intended to be decoupled sufficiently to use for other applications.


implement a simple in memory log replicator.

var clocks = {}
var logs = {}

function append (msg, cb) {
  var log = logs[] || {}
  //check that this is the next expected message.
  if(msg.sequence != Object.keys(log).length + 1)
    cb(new Error('out of order, found:'+msg.sequence+', expected:'+log.length))
  else {
    log[msg.sequence] = msg

var ebt = EBT({
  //NOTE: in this example, we are using readable strings for clarity
  //but ideally you'd use cryptographic ids, like public keys.
  id: 'alice',
  getClock: function (id, cb) {
    //load the peer clock for id.
    cb(null, clocks[id] || {})
  setClock: function (id, clock) {
    //set clock doesn't have take a cb, but it's okay to be async.
    clocks[id] = clock
  getAt: function (pair, cb) {
    //load a message particular message, by id:sequence
    if(!logs[] || !logs[][pair.sequence])
      cb(new Error('not found'))
      cb(null, logs[][pair.sequence])
  append: append

  author: 'alice', sequence: 1, content: {}
}, function () {})

//must explicitly say we are replicating which peers.
ebt.request('alice', true)
ebt.request('bob', true)

//create a stream and pipe it to another instance
//isClient and version are required.
var stream = ebt.createStream('bob', version=3, isClient = true)

note about push-stream: push-stream is only new, so you'll probably need to convert this to a pull-stream to connect stream to a network io stream and serialization

var pushToPull = require('push-stream-to-pull-stream')
var stream = pushToPull(ebt.createStream(remote_id, 3, isCient = true))
pull(stream, remote_pull_stream, stream)


EBT(opts) => ebt

where opts provides the necessary things to connect ebt to your system.

opts = {
  id: string,
  timeout: 3000, //default,
  getClock: function (id, cb),
  setClock: function (id, clock),
  getAt: function ({id:string, sequence:number}, cb),
  append: function (msg, cb),
  isFeed: function (id),
  isMsg: function(data),
  getMsgAuthor: function(msg),
  getMsgSequence: function(msg)

Create a new EBT instance. id is a unique identifier of the current peer. In secure-scuttlebutt this is a ed25519 public key.

getClock(id, cb) and setClock(id, clock) save a peer's clock object. This is used to save bandwidth when reconnecting to a peer again.

getAt({id, sequence}, cb) retrives a message in a feed and an sequence. messages must have {author, sequence, content} fields.

append(msg, cb) append a particular message to the log.

timeout is used to decide when to switch a feed to another peer. This is essential to detecting when a peer may have stalled.

isFeed(id) is a validation function that returns true if id is a valid feed identifier. If not, it is ignored'

optional for backwards compatibility

isMsg(data) is a validation function used to distinguish between data messages and status messages. A message must contain an author field that corresponds to the feed identifier and a sequence field.

getMsgAuthor(msg) is a function that given a message returns the author.

getMsgSequence(msg) is a function that given a message returns the sequence.

ebt.onAppend (msg)

When a message is appended to the database, tell ebt about it. this must be called whenever a message is successfully appended to the database.

ebt.createStream(id, version, isClient) => PushStream

Create a stream for replication. returns a push-stream. The current version is 3, and isClient must be either true or false. On the client side stream, it will wait for the server to send their vector clock, before replying. This means that if the server doesn't actually support this api, you give them a change to send back an error before sending a potentially large vector clock.

ebt.request(id, follow)

Tell ebt to replicate a particular feed. id is a feed id, and follow is a boolean. If follow is false, but previously was called with true, ebt will stop replicating that feed.


returns an object which represents the current replication progress.

an example object output looks like this, all values are integers >= 0.

  start: S, //where we where at when we started
  current: C, //operations done
  total: T //operations expected

this follows a common pattern used across ssbc modules for representing progress, used for example here:


The state of the replication is available at ebt.state. Read only access is okay, but updating should only be done via ebt methods.

  id: <id>, //our id,
  clock: {<id>: <seq>}, //our local clock,
  follows: {<id>: <boolean>}, //who we replicate, true if we replicate.
  blocks: {<id>: {<id>: <boolean>}}, //who blocks who, true if they are blocked.
  peers: { //currently connected peers
    <id>: {
      clock: {<id>: <seq|-1>}, //feeds that we KNOW the peer is up to. -1 if they do not replicate that feed.
      msgs: [<msg>], //queue of messages waiting to be sent.
      retrive: [<id>], //ids of feeds ready for the next message to be retrived.
      notes: null || {<id>: <encoded_seq>}, //notes object (encoded vector clock to be sent)
      replicating: { //feeds being replicated to peer.
        <id>: {
          rx: <boolean>, //true if we have asked to recieve this feed
          tx: <boolean>, //true if we have been asked to send this feed
          sent: <seq|-1|null>, //sequence number of message we have sent.
          requested: <seq|-1|null> //sequence number the remote peer asked for, and thus we know they have.
  receive: [<msg>] //queue of incoming messages

notes: <X> is a value type.

<id> is a "feed id" value that opts.isFeed(id) === true. (note, this doesn't actually need to be an ssb feed id, this module can be used for other things too)

<seq> is an positive integer or zero. -1 is used to represent if the are explicitly not replicating that feed.

<msg> is a message where opts.isMsg(id) === true.

Replication overview

The state of other peers are stored outside this module in the SSB-EBT module. See getClock & setClock.

Notes (aka the vector clock) are stored as { feed: (seq === -1 ? -1 : seq << 1 | !rx) } (= * 2 + 1?). The sequence can be extracted using getSequence and rx/tx using getReceive (is even). -1 means do not replicate.

When peers connect, the server (that received the request) is expected to send their vector clock (notes) first. It should use a local cache as the last known status of the client. The notes should only contain feeds changed since their last exchange (see "request skipping"). This ensures that the vectors clocks sent are as small as possible.

When connecting to multiple peers, only request new messages using rx for a feed from one of the nodes. See test/multiple.js.

Following and blocking are handled in EBT. Following acts as the signal of what feeds to replicate. EBT won't connect to someone that has been blocked. It will not send messages of a peer (including self) to another peer if the first peer blocks the second.

The tests are very readable because they use a simulator where a trace of the run is saved and pretty printed. See test/two.js for a good example.

Comparison to plumtree

I had an idea for a gossip protocol that avoided retransmitting messages by putting unneeded connections into standby mode (which can be brought back into service when necessary) and then was pleasantly surprised to discover it was not a new idea, but had already been described in a paper - and there is an EBT implementation in erlang of that paper.

There are some small differences, mainly because I want to send messages in order, which makes it easy to represent what messages have not been seen using just a incrementing sequence number per feed.

But plumbtree is solely a broadcast protocol, not an eventually consistent replication protocol. Since we are replicating logs it's also necessary to send a handshake to request the feeds from the right points. If you are replicating thousands of feeds the size of the handshake is significant, so we introduce an algorithm for "request skipping" that avoids sending unnecessary requests, and saves a lot of bandwidth compared to just requesting all feeds each connection.

Related work

Brisa also describes a broadcast protocal that at first glace looks very close to the EBT paper. It is modelled using two components: tree construction/maintenance and peer sampling. Peer sampling is in SSB terminology where SSB conn is used. Brisa uses HyParView, written by the same authors as the EBT paper for peer sampling. Compared to EBT, Brisa does not depend on lazy mode between peers where only the sequence information is maintained, instead it depends on HyParView to detect failures. This has the advantage that it does not need a timer, that is highly latency sensitive. It also has a nice property in how messages are disseminated in that they are piggybacked with information about the tree that allows the parent selection to make better choices as it has a better view of the network. The sequence numbers are an important part of the protocol implemented here because they, as described earlier, are used to ensure that messages are disseminated in a eventually consistent manor.





bandwidth efficient broadcast gossip



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