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trevp edited this page Nov 20, 2016 · 90 revisions

Double Ratchet Algorithm


This document is obsolete and preserved only for historical purposes.

See for the current version.


  • Combine the forward-secrecy of symmetric-key updating with the "future-secrecy" of an OTR-like Diffie-Hellman ratchet.
    • By "future-secrecy" we mean that a leak of keys to a passive eavesdropper will be healed by introducing new DH ratchet keys.
  • Improve on OTR's future-secrecy with a "2-step" DH ratchet instead of "3-step".
    • I.e. DH ratchet keys are used in a "send/receive" pattern, instead of "advertise/receive/send".
  • Detect replay / reorder / deletion of messages.
  • Allow decryption of out-of-order messages with minimal reduction in forward secrecy.
  • Don't leak metadata in cleartext (such as identities or sequence numbers).


Each party stores the following values per conversation in persistent

RK         : 32-byte root key which gets updated by DH ratchet
HKs, HKr   : 32-byte header keys (send and recv versions)
NHKs, NHKr : 32-byte next header keys (")
CKs, CKr   : 32-byte chain keys (used for forward-secrecy updating)
DHRs, DHRr : DH or ECDH Ratchet keys
Ns, Nr     : Message numbers (reset to 0 with each new ratchet)
PNs        : Previous message numbers (# of msgs sent under prev ratchet)
ratchet_flag  : True if the party will send a new ratchet key in next msg
skipped_HK_MK : A list of stored message keys and associated header keys
                for "skipped" messages, i.e. messages that have not been
                received despite the reception of more recent messages.
                Entries may be stored with a timestamp, and deleted after
                a certain age.

master_key : shared secret between Alice and Bob
B1         : Bob's initial DH ratchet key

  KDF from master_key: RK, HKs=<none>, HKr, NHKs, NHKr, CKs=<none>, CKr
  DHRs, DHRr = <none>, B1
  Ns, Nr = 0, 0
  PNs = 0
  ratchet_flag = True
  KDF from master_key: RK, HKr=<none>, HKs, NHKr, NHKs, CKr=<none>, CKs
  DHRs, DHRr = B1, <none>
  Ns, Nr = 0, 0
  PNs = 0
  ratchet_flag = False

Sending messages
Local variables:
  MK  : message key

if ratchet_flag:
  DHRs = generateECDH()
  HKs = NHKs
  PNs = Ns
  Ns = 0
  ratchet_flag = False
MK = HMAC-HASH(CKs, "0")
msg = Enc(HKs, Ns || PNs || DHRs) || Enc(MK, plaintext)
Ns = Ns + 1
CKs = HMAC-HASH(CKs, "1")
return msg

Receiving messages
Local variables:
  MK  : message key
  Np  : Purported message number
  PNp : Purported previous message number
  CKp : Purported new chain key
  DHp : Purported new DHr
  RKp : Purported new root key
  NHKp, HKp : Purported new header keys

Helper functions:
  try_skipped_header_and_message_keys() : Attempt to decrypt the message
  with skipped-over message keys (and their associated header keys) from
  persistent storage.

  stage_skipped_header_and_message_keys() : Given a current header key,
  a current message number, a future message number, and a chain key,
  calculates and stores all skipped-over message keys (if any) in a
  staging area where they can later be committed, along with their
  associated header key.  Returns the chain key and message key
  corresponding to the future message number.  If passed a chain key
  with value <none>, this function does nothing.

  commit_skipped_header_and_message_keys() : Commits any skipped-over
  message keys from the staging area to persistent storage (along 
  with their associated header keys).

if (plaintext = try_skipped_header_and_message_keys()):
  return plaintext

if HKr != <none> and Dec(HKr, header):
  Np = read()
  CKp, MK = stage_skipped_header_and_message_keys(HKr, Nr, Np, CKr)
  if not Dec(MK, ciphertext):
    raise undecryptable
  if ratchet_flag or not Dec(NHKr, header):
    raise undecryptable()
  Np = read()
  PNp = read()
  DHRp = read()
  stage_skipped_header_and_message_keys(HKr, Nr, PNp, CKr)
  HKp = NHKr
  CKp, MK = stage_skipped_header_and_message_keys(HKp, 0, Np, CKp)
  if not Dec(MK, ciphertext):
    raise undecryptable()
  RK = RKp
  HKr = HKp
  NHKr = NHKp
  DHRr = DHRp
  ratchet_flag = True
Nr = Np + 1
CKr = CKp
return read()


  • Header encryption may be omitted if the underlying transport is already leaking metadata, and space is at a premium.
    • In that case, the presence of a new ratchet key signals the recipient that the DH ratchet is advancing (instead of using encryption by the next header key as the signal).
    • Instead of storing old header keys for skipped messages, old ratchet keys can be used to recognize delayed messages.
  • The chain keys could be updated on a time basis as well as a per-message basis.
    • For example: If 24 hours elapse without receiving a message, you might wish to move to the next chain key in case there's an intercepted message you're unaware of.


The Double Ratchet specification (this wiki) is hereby placed in the public domain.


Can be sent to github at


Joint work with Moxie Marlinspike.

Thanks to Michael Rogers and Adam Back for mailing list discussions. Adam proposed separating message keys from chain keys. Michael proposed updating keys on a time basis, in addition to a per-message basis.

Thanks to Adam Langley for discussion and improving the receiving algorithm.

Thanks to Raphael Arias for requesting a text clarification.