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Version: 1.0

Status: Ready for implementation

Author: Anders Rune Jensen

License: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


In classical SSB an identity is tied to a single feed. All messages for different kinds of applications are posted to this single feed. While it is possible to create multiple feeds, there has been no formal specification for how these feeds relate and what their purposes are.

Metafeeds aim to solve these problems by tying an identity to a metafeed instead. A metafeed references other feeds (or even metafeeds) and contains metadata about the feed including purpose and feed format. This allows for things like feed rotation to a new feed format, splitting data into separate (sub)feeds and to create special indexing feeds for partial replication.

A metafeed is tied to a single identity and thus should only be used on a single device. There is a separate fusion identity protocol that only deals with how to relate multiple devices to a single identity. This spec here is not for that use-case.

To understand how a classic SSB implementation can be migrated to support metafeeds see the migration spec.

Metafeeds will use a specialized feed format known as bendy butt that aims to be very easy to implement. The aim is that this will make it easier for implementations which do not need or want to support the classical SSB format.


The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119.

We use bencode and BFE notations as defined in the bendy butt spec.


The metafeed of a device consist of 1 root metafeed. This metafeed can reference other feeds by adding messages to this feed. There are only 4 message types or operations:

  • add existing feed
  • add new feed
  • update metadata of a feed
  • tombstone a feed

From these operations a number of active feeds are defined together with their metadata. By adding other metafeeds, a tree structure can be defined. A feed MUST only exist in one place within this structure.

As defined in the usage of Bendy Butt feed format section, there are a number of specific fields that must be defined. Any other fields on a message are considered metadata.

Example of adding an existing feed:

  "type" => "metafeed/add/existing",
  "feedpurpose" => "main",
  "subfeed" => (BFE-encoded feed ID for the 'main' feed),
  "metafeed" => (BFE-encoded Bendy Butt feed ID for the metafeed),
  "tangles" => {
    "metafeed" => {
      "root" => null,
      "previous" => null

Here the application specific metadata feedpurpose is used.


While metafeeds is a general way to structure feeds into a tree, a particular way of organizing the tree is defined in this section. We use a v1 versioning subfeed under the root metafeed and define the structure this must follow in this section. This allows an upgrade path to v2 or other structures in the future.

To start with, the v1 versioning subfeed MUST be created with the following content on the root metafeed:

  "type" => "metafeed/add/derived",
  "feedpurpose" => "v1",
  "subfeed" => (BFE-encoded feed ID dedicated for the versioning subfeed),

The feed format for v1 MUST be bendy butt, because it is a metafeed.

The direct subfeeds of v1 are the so-called shard feeds. The actual application-specific subfeeds are under the shard feeds. Sharding is based on 4 bits of entropy extracted from the application-specific subfeed, and can be represented by 1 hexadecimal digit. We will call that digit the "nibble". The nibbles are: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, a, b, c, d, e, f. The number of shards is specifically set at 16 to allow for efficient partial replication in realistic scenarios. See sharding math for mathematical details on the choice of number of shards.

The purpose of the shard feeds is to allocate the set of application-specific subfeeds into 16 separate groupings of feeds, i.e. one for each nibble. This way, if you are only interested in replicating a subset of the application-specific subfeeds, you can deterministically calculate the nibble for those application-specific subfeeds, and then you know which shard feeds to replicate.

When adding a new application-specific subfeed to the tree, we need to determine the parent shard based on a "name", which is any UTF-8 string that the application can choose freely, but it is RECOMMENDED that this string be unique to the use case. Then, the shard feed's nibble is calculated as the first hexadecimal digit of the following SHA256 hash:

sha256_hash(concat_bytes(root_metafeed_id, name))

where root_metafeed_id is the BFE-encoded ID of the root metafeed, and name is a BFE-encoded UTF-8 string.

The nibble is then used to create a new shard feed, unless there is already one. There MUST be at most one shard feed for every unique nibble. The content on the root's message for the shard feed MUST have the nibble expressed in hexadecimal and encoded as a string in the feedpurpose field of the metafeed/add/derived message. The feed format for a shard feed MUST be bendy butt, because they are metafeeds.

Once the shard feed is created, the application-specific subfeeds can be added as subfeeds of that one, either as metafeed/add/derived or metafeed/add/existing.

The following diagram is an example of the organization of subfeeds under the v1 specification:

graph TB;
  root --> v1
  v1 --> 8 & a & c & 3
  8 --> post
  a --> gathering
  a --> chess
  c --> vote
  3 --> contact

Application-specific subfeeds are leafs in the tree, and they MUST NOT be metafeeds that contain other application-specific subfeeds. This restriction can vastly simplify implementations, and we don't see a clear need for doing otherwise. If the need arises, we can allow such cases in the next versions for the tree structure.

Key management

This sections covers how to handle the keys used when working with metafeeds.

Existing SSB identity

This section is only relevant for migrating from a classic SSB feed to metafeeds.

To create a metafeed and link it to an existing main feed, first a seed is generated:

const seed = crypto.randomBytes(32)

From this seed, a metafeed can be generated using:

const salt = 'ssb'
const prk = hkdf.extract(lhash, hash_len, seed, salt)
const mf_info = "ssb-meta-feed-seed-v1:metafeed"
const mf_seed = hkdf.expand(hash, hash_len, prk, length, mf_info)
const mf_key = ssbKeys.generate("ed25519", mf_seed)

Note we use metafeed here in the info. As the top/genesis metafeed is special we use that string, for all other derived feeds a nonce is used, which is also published in the corresponding metafeed/add/derived message.

We also encrypt the seed as a private message from main to main (so it's a private message to yourself; notice this is JSON, because it's published on the main):

  "type": "metafeed/seed",
  "metafeed": ssb:feed/bendybutt-v1/bendyButtFeedID,
  "seed": seedBytesEncodedAsHexString

By doing so we allow the existing feed to reconstruct the metafeed and all subfeeds from this seed.

Then the metafeed is linked with the existing main feed using a new message on the metafeed signed by both the main feed and the meta feed. For details this see bendy butt.

  "type" => "metafeed/add/existing",
  "feedpurpose" => "main",
  "subfeed" => (BFE-encoded feed ID for the 'main' feed),
  "metafeed" => (BFE-encoded Bendy Butt feed ID for the metafeed),
  "tangles" => {
    "metafeed" => {
      "root" => (BFE nil),
      "previous" => (BFE nil)

In order for existing applications to know that the existing feed supports metafeeds, a special message of type metafeed/announce is created on the main feed (notice this is JSON, because the main feed is not in Bendy Butt):

  // ... other msg.value field ...
  content: {
    type: 'metafeed/announce',
    metafeed: 'ssb:feed/bendybutt-v1/-oaWWDs8g73EZFUMfW37R_ULtFEjwKN_DczvdYihjbU=',
    subfeed: MAIN_FEED_ID,
    tangles: {
      metafeed: {
        root: null,
        previous: null

Note that MAIN_FEED_ID is the ID of the main feed, and that SIGNATURE_OF_THE_ABOVE is the signature (using the metafeed keys) of the stringified content without content.signature itself, in a similar manner to how the message signature msg.value.signature is constructed relative to msg.value. So msg.value.signature is signed with the main feed's keys, but msg.value.content.signature is signed with the metafeed keys.

A feed can only have one metafeed. If for whatever reason an existing metafeed needs to be superseed, a new message is created pointing to the previous metafeed/announce message via the tangle.

New metafeed

A new client without an existing classic SSB feed can start from this section.

A new identity starts by constructing a seed. From this seed the metafeed keys can be created as described in the existing SSB identity section above.

The seed should be safely backed up.

Usage of Bendy Butt feed format

Metafeeds MUST use the bendy butt feed format with a few additional constraints.

The content dictionary inside the contentSection of meta feed messages MUST conform to the following rules:

  • Has a type field mapping to a BFE string (i.e. <06 00> + data) which can assume only one the following possible values:
    • metafeed/add/existing
    • metafeed/add/derived
    • metafeed/update
    • metafeed/tombstone
  • Has a subfeed field mapping to a BFE "feed ID", i.e. <00> + format + data
  • Has a metafeed field mapping to a BFE "Bendy Butt feed ID", i.e. <00 03> + data
  • (Only if the type is metafeed/add/derived): a nonce field mapping to a BFE "arbitrary bytes" with size 32, i.e. <06 03> + nonce32bytes

The contentSignature field inside a decrypted contentSection MUST use the subfeed's cryptographic keypair.

Use cases

Let us see how we can use the above abstraction to solve several common examples:

New feed format

Changing to a new feed format could be implemented by adding a new feed to the metafeed state, and by adding a tombstone message to the old feed pointing and assigning the new feed as active in the meta feed.

In case of backwards compability with clients that do not support a newer feed format or in the case of only wanting to support newer feed formats, maintaining muliple feeds with the same content would be an interesting avenue to explore. As the hash of the messages in the two feeds would be different, there could be a way to include the hash of the corresponding message in old feed in the newer feed.

Lower end clients could offload this extra storage requirement to larger peers in the network.

Claims or indexes

For classical SSB feeds if one would like to replicate a specific part of a feed, such as the contact messages, one could request another peer to generate a feed that only references these messages. Then when exchanging data, the original messages could be included as auxiliary data. This would only act as a claim, never as a proof that some messages were not left out. Naturally this comes down to trust then. Using the friend graph would be natural, as would using trustnet together with audits of these claims.


Similar to claims it would be possible to create subfeeds that would only contain certain messages. This might be useful for specific apps. Another use case for this would be curated content, where specific messages are picked out that might be of particular interest to a certain application or specific people, or say messages within the last year.

Ephemeral feeds

Using the metadata it would be possible to attach a lifetime to feeds, meaning honest peers would delete the feeds after a specific time. This would enable applications to generate a short lived feed only for the communication between two parties.

Allow list

Similar to ephemeral feeds it would be possible to attach an allow list to a feed and only distribute this feed to people on the allow list. As with ephemeral feeds, this cannot be enforced, but assuming honest peers would give piece of mind that the data is only stored on a certain subset of the whole network. This can naturally be combined with private groups to better ensure safety.

Acknowledgments and prior work

CFT suggested the use of metafeeds in connection to ssb-observables.


Design doc for subfeeds in SSB


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