Re: Bitcoin P2P e-cash paper

Hal Finney wrote:
> it is mentioned that if a broadcast transaction does not reach all nodes,
> it is OK, as it will get into the block chain before long. How does this
> happen – what if the node that creates the “next” block (the first node
> to find the hashcash collision) did not hear about the transaction,
> and then a few more blocks get added also by nodes that did not hear
> about that transaction? Do all the nodes that did hear it keep that
> transaction around, hoping to incorporate it into a block once they get
> lucky enough to be the one which finds the next collision?

Right, nodes keep transactions in their working set until they get into a
block. If a transaction reaches 90% of nodes, then each time a new block is
found, it has a 90% chance of being in it.

> Or for example, what if a node is keeping two or more chains around as
> it waits to see which grows fastest, and a block comes in for chain A
> which would include a double-spend of a coin that is in chain B? Is that
> checked for or not? (This might happen if someone double-spent and two
> different sets of nodes heard about the two different transactions with
> the same coin.)

That does not need to be checked for. The transaction in whichever branch ends
up getting ahead becomes the valid one, the other is invalid. If someone tries
to double spend like that, one and only one spend will always become valid, the
others invalid.

Receivers of transactions will normally need to hold transactions for perhaps
an hour or more to allow time for this kind of possibility to be resolved.
They can still re-spend the coins immediately, but they should wait before
taking an action such as shipping goods.

> I also don’t understand exactly how double-spending, or cancelling
> transactions, is accomplished by a superior attacker who is able to muster
> more computing power than all the honest participants. I see that he can
> create new blocks and add them to create the longest chain, but how can
> he erase or add old transactions in the chain? As the attacker sends out
> his new blocks, aren’t there consistency checks which honest nodes can
> perform, to make sure that nothing got erased? More explanation of this
> attack would be helpful, in order to judge the gains to an attacker from
> this, versus simply using his computing power to mint new coins honestly.

The attacker isn’t adding blocks to the end. He has to go back and redo the
block his transaction is in and all the blocks after it, as well as any new
blocks the network keeps adding to the end while he’s doing that. He’s
rewriting history. Once his branch is longer, it becomes the new valid one.

This touches on a key point. Even though everyone present may see the
shenanigans going on, there’s no way to take advantage of that fact.

It is strictly necessary that the longest chain is always considered the valid
one. Nodes that were present may remember that one branch was there first and
got replaced by another, but there would be no way for them to convince those
who were not present of this. We can’t have subfactions of nodes that cling to
one branch that they think was first, others that saw another branch first, and
others that joined later and never saw what happened. The CPU power
proof-of-work vote must have the final say. The only way for everyone to stay
on the same page is to believe that the longest chain is always the valid one,
no matter what.

> As far as the spending transactions, what checks does the recipient of a
> coin have to perform? Does she need to go back through the coin’s entire
> history of transfers, and make sure that every transaction on the list is
> indeed linked into the “timestamp” block chain? Or can she just do the
> latest one?

The recipient just needs to verify it back to a depth that is sufficiently far
back in the block chain, which will often only require a depth of 2
transactions. All transactions before that can be discarded.

> Do the timestamp nodes check transactions, making sure that
> the previous transaction on a coin is in the chain, thereby enforcing
> the rule that all transactions in the chain represent valid coins?

Right, exactly. When a node receives a block, it checks the signatures of
every transaction in it against previous transactions in blocks. Blocks can
only contain transactions that depend on valid transactions in previous blocks
or the same block. Transaction C could depend on transaction B in the same
block and B depends on transaction A in an earlier block.

> Sorry about all the questions, but as I said this does seem to be a
> very promising and original idea, and I am looking forward to seeing
> how the concept is further developed. It would be helpful to see a more
> process oriented description of the idea, with concrete details of the
> data structures for the various objects (coins, blocks, transactions),
> the data which is included in messages, and algorithmic descriptions
> of the procedures for handling the various events which would occur in
> this system. You mentioned that you are working on an implementation,
> but I think a more formal, text description of the system would be a
> helpful next step.

I appreciate your questions. I actually did this kind of backwards. I had to
write all the code before I could convince myself that I could solve every
problem, then I wrote the paper. I think I will be able to release the code
sooner than I could write a detailed spec. You’re already right about most of
your assumptions where you filled in the blanks.

Satoshi Nakamoto

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