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Tinychain: a pocket-sized implementation of Bitcoin (github.com)
250 points by jobeirne 194 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 42 comments



There should be one of those awesome-* Github repos with a list of lightweight, readable implementations of various protocols/technologies.


I just created it: https://github.com/jchampemont/awesome-implementations

If it gets important enough, I'll send it to the awesome list repository.

Feel free to contribute guys!



Nice suggestion, adding it :)


Ahhhhh - missed you by 1 minute... :) https://github.com/mathiasrw/LRIP


Haha it was a close call!


I want this too, I've seen a number of these implementations, just too lazy to create a list


I have a similar project in 1000 lines or so c++, called bingot

https://github.com/shi-yan/bingot

It was inspired by another simple crypto currency called basiccoin

https://github.com/zack-bitcoin/basiccoin

at the time, basic coin was only 600 lines of python.


I'm working on my own blockchain (not specifically bitcoin) implementation just to wrap my head around everything. One thing I'm not getting that also wasn't answered by the source code is how you check timestamps.

I understand the whole network time = median offset + local time thing, however I'm a bit fuzzy on how you check timestamps on previous blocks when you're initially downloading the chain. How do you know that you need to check the timestamp if you can't know if you're on the latest block?


You need to check two things. First you need to check that this block had a timestamp higher than the median of the past 11 blocks (it's a consensus rule). Second you need to check that the timestamp is not unacceptably far in the future. For historic blocks, it definitely won't be because the timestamp will be far in the past (as the block was created far in the past).

Latest block or not, it just needs to follow those rules. That does mean it's possible for a block with an invalid timestamp to become valid after some time has passed. But if it is invalid, nobody will be mining on it, so it's unlikely to remain part of the longest chain.


The median thing makes sense, thanks!


Wouldn't you only need to verify proof-of-work on the largest chain? Largest meaning the highest cumulative difficulty rather than number of blocks.

If you include a timestamp in each block, just have each node simply reject times that are out of order or too far from the current time, which will prevent people from mining on an invalid chain. "Current time" meaning nothing more than a few minutes in the future of now. Yes, even when dealing with an old chain.

Here is how it works:

If an invalid or malicious person spends hashrate to mine a block with a bad date, all the nodes in the network will see it and reject the block.

Because the block is rejected, everyone else keeps attempting to mine the same block, but with the correct timestamp. The window is: greater than the last block, less than a couple minutes from now.

Because most miners are on non-malicious nodes, they eventually produce a longer chain than the chain with the bad timestamp.

Because this good chain is longer, new nodes that sync the blockchain from scratch would simply pick the longest of the available chains (which is the good one).

This could still go wrong if the attacker has a large amount of hashrate (or luck) for an extended period of time, but this gets very expensive very fast. This is why it is sometimes good to wait a few blocks before assuming consensus.


In my toy blockchain implementation, I just went with two constraints: 1) every timestamp must be strictly larger than the one of the previous block (this makes difficulty calculation easier) 2) timestamps may not be in the future (except for a little wiggle room for unsynchronized clocks)

My reasoning was roughly as follows:

Miners are incentivized to pick very large timestamps, because the longer it takes to mine X blocks, the easier becomes the proof of work they need to solve, giving them more block rewards and transaction fees in the long run. But if they want the network to accept their blocks, they can't pick timestamps in the future, so the best they can do is pick the current time as their timestamp.


Your method is easily exploited by a malicious miner. Clocks across the network are going to have some inherent amount of skew. By forcing blocks to have incrementing timestamps and also by refusing to accept blocks in the future, you have made it easy for me as a miner to commit abuse. Instead of picking the exact current time, I will pick a time that is as far in the future as the network allows (taking full advantage of the wiggle room).

Because other miners are required to use a higher timestamp for their block to be valid, they have no ability to correct my outlier time. You have essentially allowed me to put the blocktime permanently forward by the allotted wiggle room, and also you have allowed me to consume all that space you allocated for miners who have clock skew.

It's overall a small attack, but highlights that even tiny decisions can have consequences that impact security. Bitcoin accounts for this by requiring that timestamps be greater than the median of the past 11 blocks, and that's enough to prevent one evil miner from forcing the block times forward for all blocks.


Yes, if the next block by an honest miner is very quick it will pick a timestamp of (wrong_timestamp + 1) instead of the actual time, but after a few blocks they will certainly able to use the correct time again.

But even if all miners decide to do as you say and always pick a date slightly in the future but inside the wiggle room, all that they achieve is a one-time very slight difficulty decrease, but by the next difficulty adjustment that's already lost because by then both the start date and end date of the period are offset by the same amount into the future.


It significantly increases the risk of network forks for people who don't have completely correct clocks. If a merchant has a clock that is off by 1 hour (they didn't adjust properly for daylight savings perhaps, or maybe they just have a really crappy clock), then it's possible they will not even be seeing the most recent 6 blocks, as all of them are 2 hours in the future (3 hours as seen by the merchant).

There are consequences to having blocks that are permanently set forwards beyond a one-time difficulty decrease of 0.6%.


Okay, this makes sense! I keep thinking too strictly with my constraints.


AFAIK you don't need to check historical timestamps (beyond sanity checks) during initial block download (IBD).

What you need to consider is whether an attacker can manipulate historical timestamps to get you to follow the wrong blockchain. The answer is, they can't.

The only thing manipulating historical timestamps would accomplish is allow the attacker to change the historical difficulty of their alternative blockchain. But that doesn't enable them to add additional proof of work. The amount of total proof of work they can add to an alternative blockchain is not dictated by difficulty, but merely by how much hashrate they have poured into the chain.

Since total proof of work for a chain is the metric by which the "correct" blockchain is established we can conclude that manipulating historical timestamps doesn't make it any easier for an attacker to get you to follow their chain.

That's for IBD. Obviously you need to verify timestamps after IBD, since timestamps are used to adjust difficulty and that's a consensus critical rule.


A block's timestamp is frozen in its hash, which is validated by any node receiving a block (whether during initial block download or otherwise). Bitcoin and tinychain don't accept blocks with a timestamp in the future beyond some threshold (in both cases 2 hours).


Couldn't you just do everything in UTC?


I'm not sure how that solves anything, since UTC would have the same issues as a UNIX timestamp.


I'd assume the correct thing to do is a vector clock, where each blocks time stamp is nothing more than a offset from the previous blocks.

It's easy to get most machines in agreement with how long a second is, but it's very very hard to get all nodes in agreement to what the exact time is.

So skip it entirely.


I'm also working on my own cryptocurrency implementation forked from known basiccoin of Zack Hess. Simply I'm trying to make the code more readable, fix bugs and provide better API. Currently I do not have a fine README that explains my intentions but going through the whole code and rewriting most parts made me realize how simple actually blockchain is. Thinking about fine details like how synchronization of blockchain should work is really inspiring. If you want to take a look at the code it is on https://github.com/halilozercan/halocoin


I will take a look and would you be willing to answer noob kind of questions?



Props for the killer README!


thanks :)


nice work, this is really cool. Source is very readable, great resource for those looking to understand bitcoin. Can't wait to play around with it and deploy it on my little raspberry pi swarm!


Thanks! It's definitely meant for forking, hacking on, and experimentation. A few ideas:

- use dns for peer discovery

- implement Script language subset

- implement SegWit


I would love to see this for Ethereum. I was able to understand the Bitcoin protocol fairly quickly with a little reading, but I haven't come across much good writing on the mechanics of the Ethereum protocol. All of the intro texts I've seen are about like "Step 1: install the client" kind of stuff.

I'm not interested so much in how to write smart contracts, so much as how the miners work, how conflicts are resolved, and how the incentive schemes play out.

Would love to get some reading suggestions!



This is great. I already understood most of BTC and ETH protocols, but learned some new bits, thanks for sharing!


I agree, Ethereum needs better reading material. I bought an Ethereum book by Henning Diedrich and it's pretty light to be honest.


What are the top (say, three) things you'd like to learn from such a book?

I agree, insides on the Ethereum tech (like how their proof of work relates to smart contract state, where the DAG fits in) are very brief / difficult to digest at some points.

Ethereum is elegant in many ways - for example, strengthening security by rewarding the linking of orphan blocks in the network. I think there's a need for some better education between the marketing material and War and Peace white/yellow paper ;)


I think it should assume the reader is fairly educated on what Bitcoin is, as most newcomers to Ethereum are probably coming from the Bitcoin space, and then differentiating the two coins.

- What makes it potentially more powerful than Bitcoin?

- What are Ethereum Dapps/smart contracts good for and what are they not good for? There are definitely limitations to coding apps on a distributed network where every node has the code

- Developer intro

There's a lot of marketing gimmicky material out there jumping on the buzz word train ("Distributed! Consensus! OSS!") without offering any real value. Something with real substance that is presented effectively would be awesome


Yeah I get you. Because Ethereum has such an enterprise-facing governance (eg. Ethereum Enterprise Alliance) most of the education that goes into it is to business and big corps right now.

Do you mind if I get your email and send you something? Looking at writing about this and would love some feedback.


I can see this useful for all cryptocurrencies as well as alleviating some of the need for hedge funds investing in cryptocurrencies for their clients as brought out here ...Hedge Funds Investing in Cryptocurrencies ‘Exploding’ – 62 in Pipeline https://news.bitcoin.com/hedge-funds-investing-in-cryptocurr...


Currently reading through a book on bitcoin, so this is extremely timely!

Got me thinking, what are some solid bitcoin/cryptocurrency resources that the HN community would recommend?


I link to some of my favorite resources at the end of this section: https://github.com/jamesob/tinychain#what-is-bitcoin

I also recommend subscribing to the bitcoin-core-dev mailing list.


The original bitcoin paper is fantastic, as well as the wiki.


Satoshi's original posts to the cryptography mailing list, and its members' responses are also of tremendous value. The chain starts at: http://www.metzdowd.com/pipermail/cryptography/2008-October/...


Cool project! Reminds me of Naivechain, a blockchain in 200 lines of code

https://github.com/lhartikk/naivechain




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