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Reading List


If you went through the last section on Protocol Theory, you’ll notice that we assumed that there was an existing communication network that is able to facilitate the passing of messages across nodes. That’s what we will explore here.

Peer Protocols explain how nodes connect to each other, publish transactions and blocks to the blockchain, update the state of the network, and communicate information to each other.

Non-blockchain Protocol Readings

Similar to Consensus Protocols, it’s best to begin exploring general protocols that demonstrate the core challenges of Peer-to-Peer (P2P) systems.

Kademlia paper. Or, an easier Kademlia overview.

  • Kademlia is an elegant protocol that shows how a new node chooses which nodes to connect to and how to find the nodes in the network that have the information you are looking for.

Bittorrent High Level Overview.

  • There is a surprising amount of sophistication that goes into downloading a file efficiently! Contrast how simple this is in the centralized case: you open a TCP connection, maybe a TLS handshake, then you just download the bytes from first to last.

Ethereum Readings

Ethereum Wire Protocol.

  • This shows the basic messages that Eth full nodes exchange with one another. I recommend skimming it with some questions in mind. If I send a transaction, how do all the other nodes find out about it? (This mechanism is called gossiping.) How do nodes avoid sending redundant information to a peer, say a transaction or a block that the peer already has?

Ethereum Light Client Protocol.

  • The light protocol is an (experimental, not yet widely used) extension to the base protocol. The goal is to download only the block headers, a tiny fraction of the size of the full transaction data. Then, when a light wallet wants to, for example, check its own balance, it asks peers for just the bits of state that it needs along with Merkle proofs.

Note: there are actually two light protocols. The official one, described above, is the Light Ethereum Subprotocol (LES). OpenEthereum has its own variant that aims to be faster.

Bonus, Vitalik on Data Availability and Erasure Coding. This isn’t strictly about low-level peer protocols, but I think it’s really interesting to keep in mind as we learn about older data exchange protocols like Bittorrent.