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4 icmp


Authors: Rob Habermeier

Last updated: 12.09.2019


Inter-chain Message Passing: Egress Queue Data Fetching

Inter-chain messages are gossiped from one parachain network to another parachain network. If there are nodes in common between these two networks this is easy. However, if the destination parachain validators realize that the message has not been gossiped in the recipient parachain, they request the message from the parachain validator of the sending parachain and then gossip it themselves in the recipient parachain network.

All information that the runtime has is in the form of CandidateReceipts. The author of a block may submit up to one CandidateReceipt from each parachain in the block (in practice, only those which are attested by a number of validators, although this detail is not relevant here).

Every parachain block in Polkadot produces a possible-empty list of messages to route to every other block. These are known as "egress queues". $E^B_{x,y}$ is the egress queue from chain $x$ to $y$ at block $B$.

There is also $R(E^B_{x, y})$, which is the root hash of the merkle-patricia trie formed from mapping the index of each message in $E^B_{x,y}$ to the message data.

The pending messages to a chain should be processed in the next block for that chain. If there are no blocks for a chain in some time, the messages can begin to pile up.

Collators and full nodes of a parachain $p$ have executed all blocks of that parachain and should have knowledge of $E^B_{p, x}$ for all $B,x$.

The block ingress of a parachain $p$ at block $B$ is the set $Ingress_{B,p} = {\forall y\neq p, E^B_{y,p} }$.

The block ingress roots are $R(Ingress_{B,p}) = {\forall y\neq p, R(E^B_{y,p}) }$

The total accumulated ingress of a parachain $p$ at block $B$ is defined by the recursive function

This is a list containing all the ingress of every parachain to $p$ in every block from the genesis up to $B$.

Parachains must process $Ingress_{B,p}$ after $Ingress_{parent(B),p}$. Additionally, if any message from $Ingress_{B,p}$ is processed, they all must be.

Every parachain has a value $watermark_p$ which is the relay chain block hash for which it has most recently processed any ingress. This is initially set to $Genesis$. To define a structure containing all un-processed messages to a parachain, we introduce the pending ingress, which is defined by the recursive function

The pending ingress roots $R(PendingIngress(B,p))$ can be computed by a similar process to $R(TotalIngress(B,p))$.

A parachain candidate for $p$ building on top of relay-chain block $B$ is allowed to process any prefix of $PendingIngress(B,p)$.

Recall that all information the runtime has about parachains is from CandidateReceipts produced by validating a parachain candidate block and included in a relay-chain block. The candidate has a number of fields. Here are some relevant ones:

  • Egress Roots: Vec<(ParaId, Hash)>. When included in a relay chain block $B$ for parachain $p$, each hash, paired with unique parachain $y$ is $R(E^B_{p,y})$
  • a new value for $watermark_p$ when the receipt is for parachain $p$. The runtime considers the value from the most recent parachain candidate it has received as current. It must be at least as high as the previous value of $watermark_p$ and be in the ancestry of any block $B$ the candidate is included in.

(rob: disallow empty list where pending egress non-empty?)

The goal of a collator on $p$ building on relay chain parent $B$ is to acquire as long of a prefix of $PendingIngress(B, p)$ as it can.

The simplest way to do this is with a gossip protocol. At every block $B$ and parachain $p$ $R(PendingIngress(B, p))$ is available from the runtime.

What the runtime makes available for every parachain and block $p,B$ is a list of ingress-lists pending ingress roots at that block, each list paired with the block number the root was first meant to be routed. $R(\emptyset)$ is omitted from ingress-lists and empty lists are omitted. Sorted ascending by block number. All block numbers are less than num(B) and refer to the block in the same chain.

In Rust (TODO: transcribe to LaTeX) fn ingress(B, p) -> Vec<(BlockNumber, Vec<(ParaId, Hash)>)>

The runtime also makes available the pending egress from a given $B,p$. This follows the same constraints as the ingress list w.r.t. ordering and omission of empty lists. The ParaId here is the recipient chain, while in the ingress function it is the sending chain.

fn egress(B, p) -> Vec<(BlockNumber, Vec<(ParaId, Hash)>)>.

(rob we probably want a better term than "bounded" and an earlier definition as this is helpful for our requirements on GRANDPA and attestation-gossip as well)

A bounded gossip system is one where nodes have a filtration mechanism for incoming packets that can be communicated to peers.

We have the following requirements for nodes:

  1. Nodes never have to consider an unbounded number of gossip messages. The gossip messages they are willing to consider should be determined by some state sent to peers.
  2. The work a node has to do to figure out if one of its peers will accept a message should be relatively small
  3. The block-state of leaves is available but no guarantees are made about older blocks' states.
  4. The collators and full nodes of a parachain can be expected to hold onto all egress of all parachain blocks they have executed.
  5. Validators are not required to hold onto egress of any blocks.

Assuming we build on top of the attestation-gossip system, peers communicate the leaves they believe best to each other.

Simple Gossip for ICMP queue routing: Topics based on relay-chain block where messages are issued


fn ingress(B, p) -> Vec<(BlockNumber, Vec<(ParaId, Hash)>)> and fn egress(B, p) -> Vec<(BlockNumber, Vec<(ParaId, Hash)>)>

Since ingress is invoked at a given block $B$ we can easily transform BlockNumber -> BlockHash.

Messages start un-routed and end up being routed.

We propose a gossip system where we define

$queueTopic(block_hash: H) \rightarrow H$ Messages on this topic have the format

struct Queue {
    root: Hash,
    messages: Vec<Message>,

(TODO: place this description of the gossip mechanism higher up).

Nodes maintain a "propagation pool" of messages. When a node would like to circulate a message, it puts it into the pool until marked as expired. Every message is associated with a topic.

For every peer $k$, the node maintains a filtration criterion $allowed_k(m) \rightarrow bool$

Whenever a new peer $k$ connects, all messages from the pool (filtered according to $allowed_k$ ) are sent to that peer.

Whenever a peer places a new message $m$ in its propagation pool, it sends this message to all peers $k$ where $allowed_k(m) \rightarrow true$.

Nodes can additionally issue a command $propagateTopic(k,t)$ to propagate all messages with topic $t$ to $k$ which pass $allowed_k$.

Note that while we cannot stop peers from sending us disallowed messages, such behavior can be detected, considered impolite, and will lead to eventual disconnection from the peer.

We maintain our local information:

  • $leaves$, a list of our best up to MAX_CHAIN_HEADS leaf-hashes of the block DAG
  • $leaves_k$, for each peer $k$ the latest list of their best up to MAX_CHAIN_HEADS leaf-hashes of the block DAG (based on what they have sent us).
  • $leafTopics(l) \rightarrow {queueTopic(h)}$ for each unrouted root $h$ for all parachains for a leaf $l$ in $leaves$.
  • $expectedQueues(t) \rightarrow H$: a map from topics to root hashes. Has entries for all $t\in\cup_{l \in leaves}leafTopics(l)$

On new leaf $B$

  1. Update $leaves$, $leafTopics$, and $expectedQueues$. (haven't benchmarked but i would conservatively estimate 100ms operation)
  2. Send peers new $leaves$.
  3. If a collator on $p$, execute egress(B,p). For any message queue roots that are known and have not been propagated yet, put corresponding Queue message in the propagation pool.

On new chain heads declaration from peer $k$

  1. Update $leaves_k$
  2. $\forall H \in leaves\ \cap\ leaves_k$ do $broadcastTopic(k,t)$ for each $t$ in $leafTopics(H)$.

On Queue message $m$ from $k$ on topic $t$

We define good(m) to be a local acceptance criterion:

  • The root hash of the message is in $expectedQueues(t)$.
  • The trie root of given messages equals root.

If good(m), note $k$ as beneficial and place $m$ in propagation pool. Otherwise, note $k$ as wasteful. This is useful for peer-set cultivation.

(rob: if $leaves_k$ doesn't imply knowledge of $t$, should we note mistrust of the peer?)

Definition of $allowed_k(m)$ for a peer $k$ and Queue message $m$ on topic $t$

A message is disallowed if $k$ has sent it to us before or we have sent it to them.

Otherwise, a message is allowed if $\exists l \in leaves \cap leaves_k\ |\ t \in leafTopics(l)$ and disallowed otherwise.


Mark all topics without entries in $expectedQueues$ as expired and purge them from the propagation pool.

Practically, once every couple of seconds. This prevents our pool from growing indefinitely.

The decision to only propagate unrouted messages to peers who share the same view of which leaves are current may be a bit controversial, but it is well-justified by some of the prior conditions we set out.

First, we don't want nodes to have to process an unbounded number of messages. That means that messages for $queueTopic(H)$ where $H$ is unknown to the node are unreasonable since there is an unbounded number of such $H$.

Secondly, nodes shouldn't have to do a lot of work to figure out whether to propagate a message to a specific peer or not. Assume that $leaves \cap leaves_k = \emptyset$ but that some entries of $leaves_k$ are ancestors of entries of $leaves$. We have to do $O(n)$ work for each $l \in leaves_k$ to figure that out, though. Then, we have to figure out if a given message is unrouted at that prior block. Naïvely we would assume that if a message is still unrouted at a later block in the same chain that it was not routed earlier, but with chain-state reversions from fishermen this may not be true.

Since chain-state is not assumed available from prior blocks, we have no good way of determining if egress actually should be sent to peers on that earlier block. A relaxation of this by extending to a constant number of ancestors is discussed in the future improvements section.

Still, only propagating to peers that are synchronized to the same chain head is reasonable with the following assumptions (some empirical but reasonable and probably overestimated values):

  1. New valid blocks are issued on average at least 5 seconds apart (we are aiming for more like 10-15 seconds actually)
  2. Block propagation time is within 2 seconds over the "useful" portion of the gossip graph.
  3. Neighbors in the gossip graph have <=500ms latency.
  4. Meaningfully propagating messages before synchronizing to the heads of the DAG is probably not worthwhile

If we assume that no nodes broadcast updated $leaves$ until after the block has fully propagated (this is clearly not going to be the case in practice), then that leaves time after updating $leaves$ for a full 2.5 hops at 500ms latency to gossip Queues until the next block. Real values are almost certainly better. And the good news is that not all egress has to be propagated within one block-time -- over time it is more and more likely that participants obtain earlier messages.

This is a scheme which results in all participants seeing all messages. It almost certainly will not scale beyond a small number of initial chains but will serve functionally as a starting protocol.

Future Improvements (roughly, from sooner to later):

  1. A section above describes why propagating egress to peers who are arbitrarily far back is a bad idea, but we can reasonably keep track of the last $a$ ancestors of all of our leaves once we're synced and just following normal block production. The first reasonable choice for $a$ is 1 (keep parents). This probably gets us 90% of the gains we need, simply because there is a "stutter" when requiring leaf-sets to intersect and two peers need to update each other about the new child before sending any more messages.
  2. Extend the definition of $E^B_{x,y}$ to allow chains to censor each other. For instance, by saying that parachain $y$ can inform the relay chain not to route messages from $x$ at block $B$ (and later inform it to start routing again at block $B'$). Then for any block $b$ between $B$ and $B'$, we would have the runtime consider $E^b_{x,y} = \emptyset$ regardless of what the CandidateReceipt for $x$ at $b$ said. Actually, since the runtime deals only in trie root hashes, it would really just ignore $R(E^b_{x,y})$ from the candidate receipt and set it to $R(\emptyset)$.
  3. Extend to support a smarter topology where not everyone sees everything. Perhaps two kinds of topics, those based on $(B, Chain_{from})$ and those based on $(B, Chain_{to})$ would make this more viable.
  4. Use some kind of smart set reconciliation (e.g. to minimize gossip bandwidth.
  5. Incentivize distribution with something like Probabilistic Micropayments.

A collator or validator seeking to collect egress queues at a block $B$ and parachain $p$ simply invokes ingress(B,p) and searches the propagation pool for the relevant messages, waiting for any which have not been gossipped yet.