Paper 2019/1128

SoK: Communication Across Distributed Ledgers

Alexei Zamyatin, Mustafa Al-Bassam, Dionysis Zindros, Eleftherios Kokoris-Kogias, Pedro Moreno-Sanchez, Aggelos Kiayias, and William J. Knottenbelt


Since the inception of Bitcoin, a plethora of distributed ledgers differing in design and purpose has been created. While by design, blockchains provide no means to securely communicate with external systems, numerous attempts towards trustless cross-chain communication have been proposed over the years. Today, cross-chain communication (CCC) plays a fundamental role in cryptocurrency exchanges, scalability efforts via sharding, extension of existing systems through sidechains, and bootstrapping of new blockchains. Unfortunately, existing proposals are designed ad-hoc for specific use-cases, making it hard to gain confidence in their correctness and composability. We provide the first systematic exposition of cross-chain communication protocols. We formalize the underlying research problem and show that CCC is impossible without a trusted third party, contrary to common beliefs in the blockchain community. With this result in mind, we develop a framework to design new and evaluate existing CCC protocols, focusing on the inherent trust assumptions thereof, and derive a classification covering the field of cross-chain communication to date. We conclude by discussing open challenges for CCC research and the implications of interoperability on the security and privacy of blockchains.

Note: Updated evaluation with latest cross-chain research papers. Extended discussion on challenges and future research directions.

Available format(s)
Cryptographic protocols
Publication info
Published elsewhere. MAJOR revision.Financial Cryptography and Data Security 2021
blockchainsdistributed ledgersinteroperabilitycross-chain communication
Contact author(s)
azamyatin @ imperial ac uk
2021-02-05: last of 4 revisions
2019-10-02: received
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Short URL
Creative Commons Attribution


      author = {Alexei Zamyatin and Mustafa Al-Bassam and Dionysis Zindros and Eleftherios Kokoris-Kogias and Pedro Moreno-Sanchez and Aggelos Kiayias and William J.  Knottenbelt},
      title = {SoK: Communication Across Distributed Ledgers},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2019/1128},
      year = {2019},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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