[bitcoin-dev] Reasons to add sync flags to Bitcoin

Moral Agent ethan.scruples at gmail.com
Wed Jul 27 14:42:32 UTC 2016


I made a repo to be a home for sync_flags here:
https://github.com/moral-agent/sync_flags

If you see any personally identifying information, please be a good sport
and let me know. I'm a nobody, but I'd still prefer not to get doxxed.

Two changes to the proposal (see repo for explanations)

1. Sync flags now would have the same difficulty as blocks.
2. Blocks now donate to 5 sync flags instead of 1

I also added comments about selfish mining and invalid block spam.

Response to replies:

tomz at freedommail.ch: What is the advantage over optimistic mining?

1. Sync flags can be somewhat smaller than block headers.
2. Sync flags improve variance by doubling the number of chances to win
3. Sync flags can be distinguished from normal blocks, so SPV clients can
ignore them as confirmations.
4. Sync flags reward all miners equally. Optimistic blocks have to be empty
unless you mined the previous block, which damages decentralization.
5. Sync flags result in fewer empty blocks, smoothing out resource usage
6. Sync flags make transaction stuffing by miners either obvious or costly
7. Sync flags give miners something to do while they wait for attractive
transactions to appear.

erik at q32.com: Flags will be selfish mined.

I agree that flags would likely be selfish mined. I have modified the
proposal to say that flags have the same POW target as blocks, so the
selfish mining vulnerability should be equal to the current protocol.

martijn.meijering at mevs.nl: Why expect more selfish mining?

Because flags had small POW relative to blocks. After you find a block, why
not hide it while you take a crack at the flag?

tier.nolan at gmail.com: Effect is same as mandatory empty blocks.

Not quite the same:

1. Sync flags can be somewhat smaller than block headers.
2. Sync flags can be distinguished from normal blocks, so SPV clients can
ignore them as confirmations.
3. Sync flags make transaction stuffing by miners either obvious or costly
4. No one pays for empty blocks, except for the block subsidy. Some miners
may choose to only mine the non-empty blocks, resulting in
hashpower-for-rent to make mischief or hashpower that oscillates, creating
a situation where empty blocks take longer to mine than full blocks.

nickodell at gmail.com: Payout mechanism incompatible with certain mining pools

Hopefully some kind of smart contract structure could be implemented as you
suggested.


On Tue, Jul 26, 2016 at 6:03 PM, Nick ODell <nickodell at gmail.com> wrote:

> Moral,
>
> Mining the sync flag isn't compatible with the payout structure of non
> hot-wallet pools like Eligius or decentralized pools like p2pool.
> Those need the ability to split a reward among multiple parties.
> Instead of giving an address to send the funds to, you could include
> the hash of the transaction allowed to spend the sync flag output.
> You'd have to zero the previous outpoint of the transaction before
> hashing, since you don't know what the hash of the coinbase ten blocks
> from now will be.
>
>
> On Tue, Jul 26, 2016 at 6:47 AM, Moral Agent via bitcoin-dev
> <bitcoin-dev at lists.linuxfoundation.org> wrote:
> > I posted this to /r/bitcoin yesterday but it got minimal comments. One
> uses
> > suggested I try the mailing list so here it is:
> >
> > The idea presented here could have the following benefits:
> >
> > 1. Improve mining decentralization
> > 2. Reduce variance in mining profitability
> > 3. Reduce or eliminate SPV mined blocks
> > 4. Reduce or eliminate empty blocks, smoothing out resource usage
> > 5. Reduce or eliminate the latency bottleneck on throughput
> > 6. Make transaction stuffing by miners be either obvious or costly
> > 7. Gives miners something to do while they wait for attractive
> transactions
> > to appear
> > 8. Can be easily done with a soft fork
> >
> > #Basic idea:
> >
> > Ideally, all miners would begin hashing the next block at exactly the
> same
> > time. Miners with a head start are more profitable, and the techniques
> that
> > help miners receive and validate blocks quickly create centralization
> > pressure.
> >
> > What if there was something that acted like the starting flag at a race,
> > which could suddenly wave and cause all of the miners to simultaneously
> > begin hashing the next block?
> >
> > #Implementation:
> >
> > Let a sync flag be a message consisting of:
> >
> > 1. Hash of the previous block.
> > 2. Bitcoin address
> > 3. Nonce
> >
> > This tiny message could propagate through the network at maximum speed.
> If
> > miners had to include the hash of this flag in the next block, then all
> > miners wait for this flag, and when it suddenly spread through the
> network,
> > all miners could simultaneously begin hashing the next block.
> >
> > The sync flag should not be produced too quickly. You want to give
> everyone
> > enough time to be ready to hash the next block. Let's say that the hash
> of
> > the sync flag is a proof of work that is targeted for 2 minutes.
> >
> > To fund this proof of work, the protocol is modified to demand that the
> > block produced 10 blocks after the sync flag must allocate 25% of the
> block
> > reward to the address published by the sync flag. In this way, sync flags
> > are produced in 2 minutes, and blocks are produced in 8 minutes, with 10
> > minutes total.
> >
> >
> > Illustration 1: https://s32.postimg.org/wzg0hs8lx/sync_flag.png)
> >
> > Illustration 2: https://s32.postimg.org/vc5y9yz4l/sync_flag2.png
> >
> >
> > #Explanation of reasons:
> >
> > **Improve mining decentralization**
> >
> > One factor driving centralization is the imperative miners have to
> achieve
> > low latency in receiving and validating blocks. To achieve low latency,
> it
> > helps a lot if you have expensive low-latency internet connections,
> curated
> > network topologies, and large pools that have a plausible chance of
> finding
> > consecutive blocks. If miners are expected (or forced) to validate a
> block
> > prior to mining on top of it, the rational end game would be to outsource
> > the validation step to a trusted third party specialist who can choose
> > optimal locations on the globe to serve their (multiple?) mining pool
> > clients. These are all less decentralized than the mining situation
> Satoshi
> > and others imagined.
> >
> > **Reduce variance in mining revenue**
> >
> > Currently, there are about 144 opportunities per day for a pool or solo
> > miner to see any revenue at all. With sync flags, that number doubles to
> > 288. Sync flags are only worth 25% of what a block is worth, but this
> still
> > represents a significant reduction in variance. This variance is one
> factor
> > causing solo miners to group into pools, and large pools to be more
> > attractive than small pools.
> >
> > **Reduce or eliminate SPV mined blocks**
> >
> > One way miners have sought to make
> > full-block-transmission-and-validation-latency irrelevant has been
> through
> > "SPV" mining or "Head-first" mining. There is some evidence that these
> > techniques may be widely used, and that badgering the miners about it is
> an
> > ineffective strategy to stop them.
> >
> > In SPV mining, a miner would simply accept any block header that shows
> the
> > correct proof of work. All other validation is entrusted to other miners.
> > This practice is quite dangerous as the SPV miners can wander off on some
> > invalid chain, taking SPV nodes with them. If this occurs during a soft
> > fork, these blind miners can also fool unupgraded fully validating nodes
> > into following them.
> >
> > "Head-first" mining means that miners start hashing as soon as they
> receive
> > the block header with the correct POW, but they simultaneously validate
> the
> > block, and abandon it if is not valid. I consider this to be pretty
> safe, as
> > it strictly limits the length of an invalid chain that can result from
> > mining without validating. However, "Head-first" mining can plausibly
> > generate 2 or 3 confirmations of an invalid block. It would be nice if
> such
> > confirmations did not happen.
> >
> > The sync flag technique is similar to head-first mining, but rather than
> > hashing the next block while they wait for transmission and validation of
> > the prior block, they hash the sync flag. Nodes can differentiate between
> > sync flags and blocks, and can ignore sync flags when counting
> > confirmations.
> >
> > **Reduce or eliminate empty blocks, smoothing out resource usage**
> >
> > Empty blocks are another consequence of SPV or Headfirst mining, because
> the
> > miner cannot safely include any transactions in the block they are
> hashing
> > until they have validated the prior block. By delaying the start of
> hashing
> > the next block until after validation, miners would not have this reason
> to
> > mine empty blocks.
> >
> > **Reduce or eliminate the latency bottleneck on throughput**
> >
> > Centralization pressure due to latency issues has been a major
> preoccupation
> > over the last year. If latency mattered much less, it could represent a
> > scalability improvement that could enable higher throughput.
> >
> > **Make transaction stuffing by miners be either obvious or costly**
> >
> > Currently, the entire block reward goes to the miner who mines it. One
> > unfortunate consequence of this is that it does not cost the miner
> anything
> > to covertly stuff the block with transactions. These transactions would
> pay
> > fees and be indistinguishable from ordinary transactions, but the fees
> are
> > paid by the miner and then immediately returned to the miner.
> >
> > With sync flags, the miner must share these transaction fees with the
> > address contained in the sync flag 10 blocks prior. This means that if
> the
> > miner gives the transactions a normal looking fee, they will incur a cost
> > that will be paid to the sync flag. If the miner wants to avoid this,
> they
> > must give their stuffing transactions a zero fee, which provides evidence
> > that they are stuffing.
> >
> > Also, when miners stuff with transactions using a zero fee, they cannot
> > manipulate the perception of how much fee it takes to get into a block.
> >
> > Note that miners could still try to covertly stuff blocks that will pay a
> > sync flag that they themselves created. if this is a big concern, it can
> be
> > addressed by forcing blocks to pay multiple sync flags.
> >
> > **Gives miners something to do while they wait for attractive
> transactions
> > to appear**
> >
> > From the Montreal scaling workshop last year, we have [this
> > talk](
> https://scalingbitcoin.org/montreal2015/presentations/Day1/13-miles-carlsten-Mind-the-Gap.pdf
> )
> > which worried that as the block subsidy reduced and transactions became a
> > more important fraction of miner revenue, it would be rational for
> miners to
> > turn off their mining equipment for a "gap" phase after a block is
> found, to
> > allow time to pass as more lucrative transactions entered the mempool.
> >
> > I don't know whether this will actually happen. The presence of a
> suitable
> > backlog of transactions would help prevent this dynamic from emerging.
> But
> > if such idling behavior was the optima mining strategy, it could create a
> > serious vulnerability. Idle hands are the devil's workshop as the saying
> > goes, and idle miners represent a pool of inert hashpower that is
> available
> > to rent for all kinds of destabilizing purposes. It would be better to
> put
> > those miners to profitable work mining a sync flag while they wait.
> >
> > Also, this creates a more efficient price discovery mechanism for
> > transactions, because you allow transactions paying high fees time to
> arrive
> > to the marketplace, rather than take whatever anyone is offering because
> all
> > the "good" transactions got gobbled up in the prior block.
> >
> > **Can be easily done with a soft fork**
> >
> > Although a hard fork would be more efficient, sync flags could be easily
> > implemented using a soft fork by introducing the following rule:
> >
> > Every block must include a transaction which pays 25% of the block
> reward to
> > the address given by the 10th previous sync flag, and commits to the
> hash of
> > the 1st previous sync flag.
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > bitcoin-dev mailing list
> > bitcoin-dev at lists.linuxfoundation.org
> > https://lists.linuxfoundation.org/mailman/listinfo/bitcoin-dev
> >
>
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