[bitcoin-dev] "Compressed" headers stream

Jim Posen jim.posen at gmail.com
Mon Dec 11 21:56:08 UTC 2017

On Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 1:04 PM, Gregory Maxwell <greg at xiph.org> wrote:

> On Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 8:40 PM, Jim Posen via bitcoin-dev
> <bitcoin-dev at lists.linuxfoundation.org> wrote:
> > Firstly, I don't like the idea of making the net header encoding
> dependent
> > on the specific header validation rules that Bitcoin uses (eg. the fact
> that
> > difficulty is only recalculated every 2016 blocks). This would be
> coupling
> In the last proposal I recall writing up, there was a one byte flag on
> each header to indicate what was included.
Is there a link somewhere to that proposal? The only thing I could find was
your forwarded email
this thread.

> Nbits _never_ needs to be sent even with other consensus rules because
> its more or less necessarily a strict function of the prior headers.
> This still holds in every clone of Bitcoin I'm aware of; sending it
> with the first header in a group probably makes sense so it can be
> checked independently.
> > with insufficient benefit.
> another >18% reduction in size beyond the removal of prev. is not
> insubstantial by any means.  I don't think it should lightly be
> ignored.
Omitting nBits entirely seems reasonable, I wrote up a possible
implementation here
The downside is that it is more complex because it leaks into the
validation code. The extra 4 byte savings is certainly nice though.

> Prev omission itself is not, sadly, magically compatible:  I am quite
> confident that if there is a bitcoin hardfork it would recover the
> nbits/4-guarenteed always-zero bits of prev to use as extra nonce for
> miners. This has been proposed many times, implemented at least once,
> and the current requirement for mining infrastructure to reach inside
> the coinbase txn to increment a nonce has been a reliable source of
> failures.  So I think we'd want to have the encoding able to encode
> leading prev bits.
> Many altcoins also change the header structures. If the better thing
> is altcoin incompatible, we should still do it. Doing otherwise would
> competitively hobble Bitcoin especially considering the frequent
> recklessly incompetent moves made by various altcoins and the near
> total lack of useful novel development we've seen come out of the
> clones.
> Probably the most important change in a new header message wouldn't be
> the encoding, but it would be changing the fetching mechanism so that
> header sets could be pulled in parallel, etc.
> I would rather not change the serialization of existing messages,
> nodes are going to have to support speaking both messages for a long
> time, and I think we already want a different protocol flow for
> headers fetching in any case.

Can you elaborate on how parallel header fetching might work? getheaders
requests could probably already be pipelined, where the node requests the
next 2,000 headers before processing the current batch (though would make
sense to check that they are all above min difficulty first).

I'm open to more ideas on how to optimize the header download or design the
serialization format to be more flexible, but I'm concerned that we forgo a
40-45% bandwidth savings on the current protocol for a long time because
something better might be possible later on or there might be a hard fork
that at some point requires another upgrade. I do recognize that supporting
multiple serialization formats simultaneously adds code complexity, but in
this case the change seems simple enough to me that the tradeoff is worth
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