UHS: Full-node security without maintaining a full UTXO set
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Cory Fields via bitcoin-dev
2018-05-16 16:36:35 UTC
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Tl;dr: Rather than storing all unspent outputs, store their hashes. Untrusted
peers can supply the full outputs when needed, with very little overhead.
Any attempt to spoof those outputs would be apparent, as their hashes would not
be present in the hash set. There are many advantages to this, most apparently
in disk and memory savings, as well as a validation speedup. The primary
disadvantage is a small increase in network traffic. I believe that the
advantages outweigh the disadvantages.


Bitcoin’s unspent transaction output set (usually referred to as “The UTXO
set”) has two primary roles: providing proof that previous outputs exist to be
spent, and providing the actual previous output data for verification when new
transactions attempts to spend them. These roles are not usually discussed
independently, but as Bram Cohen's TXO Bitfield [0] idea hints, there are
compelling reasons to consider them this way.

To see why, consider running a node with the following changes:

- For each new output, gather all extra data that will be needed for
verification when spending it later as an input: the amount, scriptPubKey,
creation height, coinbaseness, and output type (p2pkh, p2sh, p2wpkh, etc.).
Call this the Dereferenced Prevout data.
- Create a hash from the concatenation of the new outpoint and the dereferenced
prevout data. Call this a Unspent Transaction Output Hash.
- Rather than storing the full dereferenced prevout entries in a UTXO set as is
currently done, instead store their hashes to an Unspent Transaction Output
Hash Set, or UHS.
- When relaying a transaction, append the dereferenced prevout for each input.

Now when a transaction is received, it contains everything needed for
verification, including the input amount, height, and coinbaseness, which would
have otherwise required a lookup the UTXO set.

To verify an input's unspentness, again create a hash from the concatenation of
the referenced outpoint and the provided dereferenced prevout, and check for
its presence in the UHS. The hash will only be present if a hash of the exact
same data was previously added to (and not since removed from) the UHS. As
such, we are protected from a peer attempting to lie about the dereferenced
prevout data.

### Some benefits of the UHS model

- Requires no consensus changes, purely a p2p/implementation change.

- UHS is substantially smaller than a full UTXO set (just over half for the
main chain, see below). In-memory caching can be much more effective as a

- A block’s transactions can be fully verified before doing a potentially
expensive database lookup for the previous output data. The UHS can be
queried afterwards (or in parallel) to verify previous output inclusion.

- Entire blocks could potentially be verified out-of-order because all input
data is provided; only the inclusion checks have to be in-order. Admittedly
this is likely too complicated to be realistic.

- pay-to-pubkey outputs are less burdensome on full nodes, since they use no
more space on-disk than pay-to-pubkey-hash or pay-to-script-hash. Taproot and
Graftroot outputs may share the same benefits.

- The burden of holding UTXO data is technically shifted from the verifiers to
the spender. In reality, full nodes will likely always have a copy as well,
but conceptually it's a slight improvement to the incentive model.

- Block data from peers can also be used to roll backwards during a reorg. This
potentially enables an even more aggressive pruning mode.

- UTXO storage size grows exactly linearly with UTXO count, as opposed to
growing linearly with UTXO data size. This may be relevant when considering
new larger output types which would otherwise cause the UTXO Set size to
increase more quickly.

- The UHS is a simple set, no need for a key-value database. LevelDB could
potentially be dropped as a dependency in some distant future.

- Potentially integrates nicely with Pieter Wuille's Rolling UTXO set hashes
[1]. Unspent Transaction Output Hashes would simply be mapped to points on a
curve before adding them to the set.

- With the help of inclusion proofs and rolling hashes, libbitcoinconsensus
could potentially safely verify entire blocks. The size of the required
proofs would be largely irrelevant as they would be consumed locally.

- Others?

### TxIn De-duplication

Setting aside the potential benefits, the obvious drawback of using a UHS is a
significant network traffic increase. Fortunately, some properties of
transactions can be exploited to offset most of the difference.

For quick reference:

p2pkh scriptPubKey: DUP HASH160 [pubkey hash] EQUALVERIFY CHECKSIG
p2pkh scriptSig: [signature] [pubkey]

p2sh scriptPubKey: HASH160 [script hash] EQUAL
p2sh scriptSig: [signature(s)] [script]

Notice that if a peer is sending a scriptPubKey and a scriptSig together, as
they would when using a UHS, there would likely be some redundancy. Using a
p2sh output for example, the scriptPubKey contains the script hash, and the
scriptSig contains the script itself. Therefore when sending dereferenced
prevouts over the wire, any hash which can be computed can be omitted and only
the preimages sent.

Non-standard output scripts must be sent in-full, though because they account
for only ~1% of all current UTXOs, they are rare enough to be ignored here.

### Intra-block Script De-duplication

When transactions are chained together in the same block, dereferenced prevout
data for these inputs would be redundant, as the full output data is already
present. For that reason, these dereferenced prevouts can be omitted when
sending over the wire.

The downside would be a new reconstruction pass requirement prior to

### Data

Here's some preliminary testing with a naive POC implementation patched into
Bitcoin Core. Note that the final sizes will depend on optimization of the
serialization format. The format used for these tests is suboptimal for sure.
Syncing mainnet to block 516346:

UTXO Node UHS Node
IBD Network Data: 153G 157G
Block disk space: 175G 157G
UTXO disk space : 2.8G 1.6G
Total disk space: 177.8G 158.6G

The on-disk block-space reduction comes from the elimination of the Undo data
that Bitcoin Core uses to roll back orphaned blocks. For UHS Nodes, this data
is merged into to the block data and de-duplicated.

Compared to the UXTO model, using a UHS reduces disk space by ~12%, yet only
requires ~5% more data over the wire.

Experimentation shows intra-block de-duplication to be of little help in
practice, as it only reduces overhead by ~0.2% on mainnet. It could become more
useful if, for example, CPFP usage increases substantially in the future.

### Safety

Assuming sha256 for the UHS's hash function, I don't believe any fundamental
changes to Bitcoin's security model are introduced. Because the unspent
transaction output hashes commit to all necessary data, including output types,
it should not be possible to be tricked into validating using mutated or forged

### Compatibility

Transitioning from the current UTXO model would be annoying, but not
particularly painful. I'll briefly describe my current preferred approach, but
it makes sense to largely ignore this until there's been some discussion about
UHS in general.

A new service-bit should be allocated to indicate that a node is willing to
serve blocks and transactions with dereferenced prevout data appended. Once
connected to a node advertising this feature, nodes would use a new getdata

Because current full nodes already have this data readily available in the
block-undo files, it is trivial to append on-the-fly. For that reason, it would
be easy to backport patches to the current stable version of Bitcoin Core in
order to enable serving these blocks even before they could be consumed. This
would avoid an awkward bootstrapping phase where there may only be a few nodes
available to serve to all new nodes.

Admittedly I haven't put much thought into the on-disk format, I'd rather leave
that to a database person. Though it does seem like a reasonable excuse to
consider moving away from LevelDB.

Wallets would begin holding full prevout data for their unspent outputs, though
they could probably back-into the data as-is.

### Serialization

I would prefer to delay this discussion until a more high-level discussion has
been had, otherwise this would be a magnet for nits. The format used to gather
the data above can be seen in the implementation below.

It should be noted, though, that the size of a UHS is directly dependent on the
chosen hash function. Smaller hashes could potentially be used, but I believe
that to be unwise.

### Drawbacks

The primary drawback of this approach is the ~5% network ovhead.

Additionally, there is the possibility that a few "bridge nodes" may be needed
for some time. In a future with a network of only pruned UHS nodes, an old
wallet with no knowledge of its dereferenced prevout data would need to
broadcast an old-style transaction, and have a bridge node append the extra
data before forwarding it along the network.

I won't speculate further there, except to say that I can't imagine a
transition problem that wouldn't have a straightforward solution.

Migration issues aside, am I missing any obvious drawbacks?

### Implementation

This code [2] was a quick hack-job, just enough to gather some initial data. It
builds a UHS in memory and never flushes to disk. Only a single run works,
nasty things will happen upon restart. It should only be viewed in order to get
an idea of what changes are needed. Only enough for IBD is implemented,
mempool/wallet/rpc are likely all broken. It is definitely not consensus-safe.

### Acknowledgement

I consider the UHS concept to be an evolution of Bram Cohen's TXO bitfield
idea. Bram also provided invaluable input when initially walking through the
feasibility of a UHS.

Pieter Wuille's work on Rolling UTXO set hashes served as a catalyst for
rethinking how the UTXO set may be represented.

Additional thanks to those at at Financial Crypto and the CoreDev event
afterwards who helped to flesh out the idea:

Tadge Dryja
Greg Sanders
John Newbery
Neha Narula
Jeremy Rubin
Jim Posen
...and everyone else who has chimed in.

[0] https://lists.linuxfoundation.org/pipermail/bitcoin-dev/2017-March/013928.html
[1] https://lists.linuxfoundation.org/pipermail/bitcoin-dev/2017-May/014337.html
[2] https://github.com/theuni/bitcoin/tree/utxo-set-hash3