Cryptology ePrint Archive: Report 2018/400

Agreement with Satoshi On the Formalization of Nakamoto Consensus

Nicholas Stifter and Aljosha Judmayer and Philipp Schindler and Alexei Zamyatin and Edgar Weippl

Abstract: The term Nakamoto consensus is generally used to refer to Bitcoin's novel consensus mechanism, by which agreement on its underlying transaction ledger is reached. It is argued that this agreement protocol represents the core innovation behind Bitcoin, because it promises to facilitate the decentralization of trusted third parties. Specifically, Nakamoto consensus seeks to enable mutually distrusting entities with weak pseudonymous identities to reach eventual agreement while the set of participants may change over time. When the Bitcoin white paper was published in late 2008, it lacked a formal analysis of the protocol and the guarantees it claimed to provide. It would take the scientific community several years before first steps towards such a formalization of the Bitcoin protocol and Nakamoto consensus were presented. However, since then the number of works addressing this topic has grown substantially, providing many new and valuable insights. Herein, we present a coherent picture of advancements towards the formalization of Nakamoto consensus, as well as a contextualization in respect to previous research on the agreement problem and fault tolerant distributed computing. Thereby, we outline how Bitcoin's consensus mechanism sets itself apart from previous approaches and where it can provide new impulses and directions to the scientific community. Understanding the core properties and characteristics of Nakamoto consensus is of key importance, not only for assessing the security and reliability of various blockchain systems that are based on the fundamentals of this scheme, but also for designing future systems that aim to fulfill comparable goals.

Category / Keywords: foundations / distributed blockchain consensus formalization

Date: received 1 May 2018, last revised 1 May 2018

Contact author: nstifter at sba-research org

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Version: 20180502:074316 (All versions of this report)

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