Paper 2021/805

Practical Settlement Bounds for Proof-of-Work Blockchains

Peter Gaži, Ling Ren, and Alexander Russell


Nakamoto proof-of-work ledger consensus currently underlies the majority of deployed cryptocurrencies and smart-contract blockchains. While a long and fruitful line of work studying the provable security guarantees of this mechanism has succeeded to identify its exact security region---that is, the set of parametrizations under which it possesses asymptotic security---the existing theory does not provide concrete settlement time guarantees that are tight enough to inform practice. In this work we provide a new approach for obtaining concrete and practical settlement time guarantees suitable for reasoning about deployed systems. We give an efficient method for computing explicit upper bounds on settlement time as a function of primary system parameters: honest and adversarial computational power and a bound on network delays. We implement this computational method and provide a comprehensive sample of concrete bounds for several settings of interest. We also analyze a well-known attack strategy to provide lower bounds on the settlement times. For Bitcoin, for example, our upper and lower bounds are within 90 seconds of each other for 1-hour settlement assuming 10 second network delays and a 10% adversary. In comparison, the best prior result has a gap of 2 hours in the upper and lower bounds with the same parameters.

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Publication info
Published elsewhere. MINOR revision.ACM CCS 2022
Bitcoinproof of work
Contact author(s)
peter gazi @ iohk io
renling @ illinois edu
alexander russell @ uconn edu
2022-04-26: last of 3 revisions
2021-06-16: received
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      author = {Peter Gaži and Ling Ren and Alexander Russell},
      title = {Practical Settlement Bounds for Proof-of-Work Blockchains},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2021/805},
      year = {2021},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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