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Protocol Design - Blocks

Part of work in progress Living Whitepaper

This page is part of the Living Whitepaper revisions currently underway to replace the original static whitepaper. These efforts include the Protocol Design and Node Implementation sections of the docs, which will cover and expand on details and topics covered in the original whitepaper.

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Key terms in this section

  • block is the digital encoding of the transaction details.

  • transaction is the action of creating and publishing a block to the network. Depending on the type of transaction, the block will have different requirements.

  • transfer is the completion of both a send transaction and the corresponding receive transaction, representing the movement of funds which can be sent again by the recipient.

State Blocks

All new transactions on the Nano Protocol are communicated via blocks. The account's entire state, including the balance after each transaction, is recorded in every block. Transaction amounts are interpreted as the difference in balance between consecutive blocks.

Key RPC Format Serialized Description
type string - "state"
account string 32 bytes This account's nano_ address
previous 64 hex-char string 32 bytes Previous head block on account; 0 if open block
representative string 32 bytes Representative nano_ address
balance decimal string 16 bytes Resulting balance (in raw)
link - 32 bytes Multipurpose field - see link table below
signature 128 hex-char string 64 bytes ED25519+Blake2b 512-bit signature
work 16 hex-char string 8 bytes Proof of Work Nonce

Depending on the action each transaction intends to perform, the "link" field will have a different value for block_create RPC command:

Action RPC Format Description
Change string Must be "0"
Send string Destination "nano_" address
Receive 64 hex-char string Pairing block's hash (block sending funds)

An example of a Nano block:

"block": {
  "type": "state",
  "account": "nano_3qgmh14nwztqw4wmcdzy4xpqeejey68chx6nciczwn9abji7ihhum9qtpmdr",
  "previous": "F47B23107E5F34B2CE06F562B5C435DF72A533251CB414C51B2B62A8F63A00E4",
  "representative": "nano_1hza3f7wiiqa7ig3jczyxj5yo86yegcmqk3criaz838j91sxcckpfhbhhra1",
  "balance": "1000000000000000000000",
  "link": "19D3D919475DEED4696B5D13018151D1AF88B2BD3BCFF048B45031C1F36D1858",
  "link_as_account": "nano_18gmu6engqhgtjnppqam181o5nfhj4sdtgyhy36dan3jr9spt84rzwmktafc",
  "signature": "3BFBA64A775550E6D49DF1EB8EEC2136DCD74F090E2ED658FBD9E80F17CB1C9F9F7BDE2B93D95558EC2F277FFF15FD11E6E2162A1714731B743D1E941FA4560A",
  "work": "cab7404f0b5449d0"
}
Note that there is an open proposal to update the state block with version, block height, and subtype fields.

Account balance

If an account balance decreases, the transaction that caused the decrease is considered a send. Similarly, if an account balance increases, the transaction that caused the increase is considered a receive.

Block vs. transaction

In traditional blockchain-based cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, a block is a group of transactions. In Nano, a block is a single transaction, so the term “block” and “transaction” are often used interchangeably. "Transaction" specifically refers to the action, while block refers to the digital encoding of the transaction. Transactions are signed by the private-key belonging to the account on which the transaction is performed.


Creating transactions

Open (Receive)

To create an account, an open transaction must be issued first. This is always the first transaction (block height 1) of every account-chain and can be created upon the first receipt of funds. To open an account, you must have sent some funds to it with a send transaction from another account. The funds will be pending on the receiving account. The account field stores the public-key (address) derived from the private-key that is used for signing. The link field contains the hash of the transaction that sent the funds. On account creation, a representative must be chosen to vote on your behalf; this can be changed later. The account can declare itself as its own representative.

Send

A send transaction is one that decreases the sender's account balance by the amount they intend to send. To send from an address, the address must already have been opened with an open (receive) block and therefore will have a balance. The previous field contains the hash of the previous block in the account-chain. The link field contains the account for funds to be sent to. A send block is immutable once confirmed by the network. This means the funds are deducted from the balance of the sender's account and wait as pending until the receiving party signs a block to accept these funds. Pending funds should not be considered awaiting confirmation, as they are as good as spent from the senders account and the sender cannot revoke the transaction.

Receive

A receive block is very similar to the send block mentioned above, except the account balance is increasing and the link field contains the send block's hash. To complete a transaction, the recipient of sent funds must create a receive block on their own account-chain. The source field references the hash of the associated send transaction. Once this block is created and broadcasted, the account's balance is updated and the funds have officially moved into their account.

Change rep

Nano account holders have the ability to choose a representative to vote on their behalf. This can be done any time (i.e. in an open, send, or receive transaction) by changing the representative field. In conventional PoS systems, the account owner’s node must be continuosly running to participate in voting. This is impractical for many users, so to remove this requirement Nano was designed to give a representative the power to vote on an account’s behalf. A change transaction is what changes the representative of an account by subtracting the vote weight from the old representative and adding the weight to the new representative. No funds are moved in this transaction, and the representative does not have spending power of the account’s funds.


Epoch blocks

Since all accounts on the Nano network are asynchronous, an asynchronous form of chain upgrades is needed. Unlike Bitcoin and other traditional blockchains, Nano is not able to say “upgrade at block X”, so Epoch blocks were one of the approaches developed to solve this problem.

Epoch blocks are a special block type that can only be generated using a pre-determined private key currently owned by the Nano Foundation. These blocks will be accepted by nodes and be attached as the frontier blocks on each account-chain on the network. This feature was built to allow very limited controls using these blocks: they cannot change account balances or representatives, only upgrade the account versions to allow new block structures. Furthermore, if the majority of the network does not upgrade to a new node version that enables a particular epoch block, then the epoch block will have minimal or no effect.

As an account-chain upgrade, Epoch blocks move accounts on the network from Epoch X to Epoch X+1. Any future transactions from an upgraded account will have a minimum version of X+1, which cannot be received by previous node versions.

Epoch blocks are unable to change any balances or representatives on accounts. If an epoch block did attempt to change the balance of an account, the node would reject it because the signature would be incorrect, as only the account-chain holder can sign blocks which change balances or representatives.


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