Understanding the Honey Badger Consensus Algorithm

Bernd Strehl
Sep 25, 2018 · 6 min read

The Honey Badger BFT is a consensus algorithm for asynchronous environments. Most consensus algorithms rely on a synchronous networks and elect a leader. Honey Badger is especially suitable for application for blockchains, as it makes progress even under highly adverse conditions.
As I first read the paper, I quickly realized that my university din’t prepare me for such an elaborate algorithm, even the lecture on cryptography and distributed systems didn’t provide all the necessary basics for understanding that algorithm. After a week of reading around in different papers and source code I now think, that I have a superficial understanding of the algorithm, that I want to share with you. The goal of this article is to help you understand the basic concept of the Honey Badger BFT algorithm.
Before we will look into the Honey Badger BFT algorithm (HB) itself, we will look at some other concepts and algorithms, that HB is built on.

Honey Bader doesn’t care.

What is BFT?

Generally speaking byzantine faults can be just everything: A node failing to answer, a node returning faulty responses by accident or even on purpose. If you think of cryptocurrencies, there could be nodes, that want to forge transactions to their advantage. Distributed systems are byzantine fault tolerant if they can withstand faulty nodes and achieve consensus, even if some nodes are faulty. The number of faulty nodes is labeled as f. If you want to dig further into this topic I recommend to read this article.

Part 1: Erasure Coding

The goal of erasure coding is to split information i into n blocks and only require k blocks to restore i. An example could be if you want to save an important file distributed to 5 hard drives (n=5) and you want to be able to restore the file even if two of the hard drives are broken (k= 5–2 = 3). For example Reed-Solomon codes can achieve this.

Part 2: Merkle Trees

Merkle trees are used to validate the integrity of a file in a faster way, it is especially handy if the data is chunked into blocks. Every block of the file is hashed and then these hashes are concatenated in pairs and then hashed again. This way a tree is built, which has a hash for its root. If we would receive the block L4, we would only need Hash 1–0 and Hash 0 to verify that block L4 is valid for the root hash.

Part 3: Reliable Broadcast

This algorithm ensures, that all parties receive an input value v. The sender applies erasure coding to the input and receives N blocks. A merkle tree is computed over all blocks and the root hash is stored in h. Then the sender sends one block with the root hash and the corresponding tree branch to each party. Upon receiving this message, every party forwards its received block to all other parties with a message called ECHO. This ensures, that the sending of the value doesn’t create a network bottleneck at the sender.
Whenever a block is received in an ECHO message, the block is validated against the merkle root. When enough (N-f) ECHO messages have been received, the blocks are interpolated from the received messages with erasure coding and the blocks are validated by calculating the merkle tree. Also if no READY message has been sent, a READY message is sent.
When f+1 READY messages have been received, the receiver also sends a READY message, if not sent before.
When 2f+1 READY messages have been received, the party waits for N-2f ECHO messages and uses these to decode v.

Part 4: Threshold Cryptography

Threshold Cryptography enables to distribute multiple secret keys among n parties and k of those parties need to collaborate to create a signature or to decrypt a ciphertext. For signatures each party can sign the message and with k signature shares a valid signature, that verifies under the public key, can be created. For decryption each party can produce a decryption share and with k decryption shares the original message, that was encrypted with the public key, can be obtained.

Part 5: Cryptographic Common Coin

For this algorithm threshold signatures are required. The Common Coin lets us create a random number, which is only revealed when at least f+1 parties have called the GetCoin method. All parties receive the same value. This is achieved by creating a collaborative signature on the coin sid, the random number is simply the signature itself, which can not be known before at least f+1 parties revealed their share and it can not be influenced by the adversary.

Part 6: Binary Byzantine Agreement

This algorithm allows the honest nodes to agree on the value of a single bit. The common coin is used for synchronization in the binary agreement. If the coin matches the majority vote, then this is the decided value. The majority can only be influenced by the adversary until the coin is revealed.

Part 7: Common Subset Agreement

The binary agreement and the reliable broadcast are used to construct the common subset agreement. In this algorithm every node inputs a value v to the agreement, which is delivered to all the other nodes with the reliable broadcast and the binary agreement is used to vote if the value of a node is included. The vote is yes (1) if the majority received the value through the broadcast and no (0) otherwise. The union of all values, for which the binary agreement was yes, is the outcome of this algorithm and every honest node knows the values, that were agreed on. This algorithm is the centerpiece of the honey badger algorithm.

Part 8: HoneyBadgerBFT

The Honey Badger algorithm itself is mainly just a wrapper for the common subset agreement, that prevents censorship attacks. Every node proposes a random batch of transactions from its buffer, that are encrypted by a threshold encryption scheme, to the common subset agreement. When there is an agreement on the subset of transactions, the nodes work together to decrypt the transactions, by producing their secret share and sending it to the other nodes. The decrypted transactions are then sorted and stored as the block.

Further resources

elbstack

elbstack is a software engineering & design company. We question, we advise, and we’re excited to help your next project to succeed.

Bernd Strehl

Written by

Tixl, serverless, DevOps mindest, DApps, Node.js & Beer 🍺

elbstack

elbstack

elbstack is a software engineering & design company. We question, we advise, and we’re excited to help your next project to succeed.

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