Simulating a fraud-proof blockchain network – Hacker Noon

Simulation as a verification

Generally, a Montecarlo method is a way of doing calculations in complex systems where formal proofs are hard, or where complete computation is intractable. Its applications are so broad that I guess the term is often abused.

The very basic idea is using random-sampling to calculate an empirical mean of the desired output of the model with the goal of, hopefully, getting close to the real mean.

We can apply the same idea to find results by simulating a probabilistic system. We run many simulations and calculate the empirical mean that should match the desired real mean. As a tool of verification, we can compare the result of the simulation with the results obtained in another way, e.g., a formal proof.

However, the simulation idea is, in fact, more powerful. We could start playing with the system, tuning parameters or introducing new ideas, and quickly see how it reacts. How easy is to play with the simulation depends on how resource-intensive is running a simulation instance and the minimal amount of iterations we want for calculating a reliable empirical mean.

Fraud-proof network simulation

The authors of the paper analyze multiple properties of the solution using closed mathematical formulas. Most of the heavy-lifting math goes around calculating probabilities as a result of light-nodes doing a random-sampling of shares of the blocks.

As a way to check those closed formulas, we could make a program that simulates the light-nodes and full-nodes behaviors, let them interact and see what happens. If we run this simulation multiple times, we could make a statistical analysis of the interesting metrics and see if they match with the closed formulas from the paper.

A full-node starting in every simulation instance makes available a new block composed of 4 shares. A number c of light-nodes try to pull s distinct random shares from the full-node. The full-node accept to give shares to light-nodes up to a point where he already shared 4k²-(k+1)² distinct shares; this is the worst case scenario for light-nodes.

When a simulation iteration reaches a point where the full-node decides to reject the response share request, then the iteration is considered successful (meaning the full-node was exposed). By running many iterations, we can estimate p by calculating the ratio of successful iterations of a setup.

The simulator is program written in Go and publicly available, anyone is invited to see the details or improving it. It has a CLI which has three commands:

  • verifypaper: verifies the results of Table 1 of the paper.
  • solve: solves c for a particular setup of k, s and p.
  • compare: compares the Standard vs Enhanced model proposed in the paper.

My initial motivation was only doing the first command, but after some thought and emails with Mustafa and Alberto, I decided to go a little further and implement the last two.

Running the program without commands gives some helpful info about how to use the CLI interface:

$ git clone
$ cd fraudproofsim && go get ./...
$ go run main.go
It permits to compare, solve and verify fraud-proof networks.
fraudproofsim [command]
Available Commands:
compare Compares the Standard and Enhanced models
help Help about any command
solve Solves c for k, s and p
verifypaper Verifies setups calculated in the paper
--enhanced run an Enhanced Model
-h, --help help for fraudproofsim
--n int number of iterations to run per instance (default 500)
Use "fraudproofsim [command] --help" for more information about a command.

You can see the three mentioned commands, but also two general flags:

  • enhanced, which allows you to choose running the network on an Enhanced model. The default is the Standard model.
  • n, is the number of iterations of the simulation within a setup to calculate the desired result. The default value is 500.

I’m going to show each command and discuss the results. All the runs are made in my laptop, i7–4710HQ and 8GB of RAM. Not really powerful hardware for running simulations.

verifypaper command

The idea of this command is to verify the results of Table 1 in the paper:

As the footnote mentions, evaluating Theorem 4 is extremely resource-intensive:

The verifypaper command has baked in the setups that correspond to each case in the table.

$ go run main.go help solve
It solves c for k, s and p (p, within a threshold)
fraudproofsim solve [k] [s] [p] [threshold?] [flags]
-h, --help help for solve
Global Flags:
--enhanced run an Enhanced Model
--n int number of iterations to run per instance (default 500)
$ go run main.go verifypaper
k=16, s=50, c=28 => p=1 37ms
k=16, s=20, c=69 => p=0.994 28ms
k=16, s=10, c=138 => p=0.988 37ms
k=16, s=5, c=275 => p=0.986 37ms
k=16, s=2, c=690 => p=0.99 63ms
k=32, s=50, c=112 => p=0.996 137ms
k=32, s=20, c=280 => p=0.994 131ms
k=32, s=10, c=561 => p=0.988 136ms
k=32, s=5, c=1122 => p=0.992 143ms
k=32, s=2, c=2805 => p=0.994 175ms
k=64, s=50, c=451 => p=0.996 464ms
k=64, s=20, c=1129 => p=0.996 536ms
k=64, s=10, c=2258 => p=0.992 510ms
k=64, s=5, c=4516 => p=0.988 527ms
k=64, s=2, c=11289 => p=0.996 679ms
k=128, s=50, c=1811 => p=0.992 2193ms
k=128, s=20, c=4500 => p=0.702 2068ms
exit status 2

Some notes to understand these results:

  • Since the n flag wasn’t present, the default value was used. This means each setup runs 500 times to estimate p.
  • Since the enhanced flag wasn’t present, a Standard model is used. Regarding verification of the paper configurations, the kind of model used isn’t relevant since the idea of the different models is to improve soundness of the network.
  • The letters k, s, c and p have the same meaning as defined in the paper.
  • For the configuration described in each line, the simulation runs and estimate p. Also, it shows how much time took to run.
  • The last line of the output is the total time of the verification.

In all the cases with k less than 128, we see that the estimated p is always close to .99. This means that the simulation results agree with the ones of Table 1.

For k=128 we wee that p isn’t always close to 0.99. For s=50, we can see that we have good results, but for other values, we have lower probabilities than expected. This result is reasonable since the table gave some approximate results. I left these setups intentionally optimistic to see that the value p is coherent.

So these results are great since we can safely say that the results of the simulation match the results obtained by the paper using the closed formulas. Moreover, we can see that the running times for each setup is quite short, which is nice too.

Instead of fixing c and calculating p, we can use the solve command as I’ll show below.

solve command

Generally, verifying results is cheaper than finding them. The verifypaper above tries to verify p for k, s and c. But we could also populate Table 1 by solving c for k, s and p. This is what the solve command does.

In particular, it finds c doing a binary-search in some reasonable domain space. For each candidate c, p is estimated. Depending if the estimated p is greater or lower than the desired p, the value of c is binary-searched.

$ go run main.go help solve
It solves c for k, s and p (p, within a threshold)
fraudproofsim solve [k] [s] [p] [threshold?] [flags]
-h, --help help for solve
Global Flags:
--enhanced run an Enhanced Model
--n int number of iterations to run per instance (default 500)

If we see in Table 1, for k=64 and s=10 and p=.99 the value of c is 2258. Let’s solve for this setup and see what happens:

$ go run main.go solve 64 10 .99 0.005
Solving for (k:64, s:10, p:0.99, threshold:0.005)
[1, 16384]: c=8192 p=1
[1, 8192]: c=4096 p=1
[1, 4096]: c=2048 p=0
[2048, 4096]: c=3072 p=1
[2048, 3072]: c=2560 p=1
[2048, 2560]: c=2304 p=1
[2048, 2304]: c=2176 p=0.002
[2176, 2304]: c=2240 p=0.902
[2240, 2304]: c=2272 p=1
[2240, 2272]: c=2256 p=0.994
Solution c=2256 with p=0.994 (4900ms)

In each line we can see:

  • [a,b] shows where are we standing in the current step of the binary-search.
  • c is the proposal being evaluated.
  • p is the estimated result of the desired p we’re looking for

As we can see, we found a value of c quite close to the exact result. The threshold parameter is used to solve for p within a range.

Let’s try with a smaller threshold and a lot more iterations for calculations:

$ go run main.go solve 64 10 .99 0.0001 --n 2000
Solving for (k:64, s:10, p:0.99, threshold:0.0001)
[1, 16384]: c=8192 p=1
[1, 8192]: c=4096 p=1
[1, 4096]: c=2048 p=0
[2048, 4096]: c=3072 p=1
[2048, 3072]: c=2560 p=1
[2048, 2560]: c=2304 p=1
[2048, 2304]: c=2176 p=0.0025
[2176, 2304]: c=2240 p=0.8955
[2240, 2304]: c=2272 p=0.9995
[2240, 2272]: c=2256 p=0.9885
[2256, 2272]: c=2264 p=0.9955
[2256, 2264]: c=2260 p=0.9945
[2256, 2260]: c=2258 p=0.992
[2256, 2258]: c=2257 p=0.994
[2256, 2257]: c=2256 p=0.9865
[2256, 2257]: c=2256 p=0.9915
Solution c=2256 with p=0.9915 (31346ms)

The found solution is the same, but we can see that the total running time is greater. The reason for this is twofold:

  • Since n is greater, each simulation for the candidate c takes more time.
  • Since threshold is smaller, the binary search goes further in getting close to 0.99.

Now we’ll try to calculate the estimated solution for the >40000 scenario in the Table 1:

$ go run main.go solve 128 2 0.99 0.005
Solving for (k:128, s:2, p:0.99, threshold:0.005)
[1, 65536]: c=32768 p=0
[32768, 65536]: c=49152 p=1
[32768, 49152]: c=40960 p=0
[40960, 49152]: c=45056 p=0.796
[45056, 49152]: c=47104 p=1
[45056, 47104]: c=46080 p=1
[45056, 46080]: c=45568 p=1
[45056, 45568]: c=45312 p=1
[45056, 45312]: c=45184 p=0.956
[45184, 45312]: c=45248 p=0.976
[45248, 45312]: c=45280 p=0.998
[45248, 45280]: c=45264 p=0.986
Solution c=45264 with p=0.986 (34220ms)

Good, pretty in line with the Table 1 estimation.

Let’s force the simulation to find a solution for a k that doubles the biggest analyzed in the paper, and a number s that makes the worst-case scenario for k:

$ go run main.go solve 256 2 0.99 0.005
Solving for (k:256, s:2, p:0.99, threshold:0.005)
[1, 262144]: c=131072 p=0
[131072, 262144]: c=196608 p=1
[131072, 196608]: c=163840 p=0
[163840, 196608]: c=180224 p=0.076
[180224, 196608]: c=188416 p=1
[180224, 188416]: c=184320 p=1
[180224, 184320]: c=182272 p=1
[180224, 182272]: c=181248 p=0.964
[181248, 182272]: c=181760 p=1
[181248, 181760]: c=181504 p=0.994
Solution c=181504 with p=0.994 (142453ms)

We can see that we found the solution in some reasonable time 2min and 22s. Alberto confirmed that these times are several of orders faster than computing Theorem 4 for Table 1 in the paper.

compare command

The paper put discuss the soundness property of the solution. This means, understanding if any light-nodes would complete pulling their shares before being alerted of a data unavailability problem.

As a summary, the Standard models allows the full-node to recognize which light-node is asking for each share. Thus, full-node is able to select which light-nodes to reply to satisfy the maximum possible number of light-nodes.

The Enhanced model implies not allowing the full-node to recognize which light-node is asking for each share. Thus, the full-node can’t have certainty about how many full-nodes are close to being satisfied.

In the simulation, each time the full-node receive a share request it has the option to accept or reject the request. If the latter happens, then the full-node is considered malicious, meaning that it probably has intentions of making data unavailable.

When simulating with the Standard Model, the c light-nodes run serially. This model the worst-case scenario for the light-nodes because it violates soundness as much as possible. The first z light-nodes, each asking for s shares, produce a total of z*s share request. While this number is small enough compared with the full-node rejection criteria, then all appear to run smoothly. However, when z comes to the critical point close to c, then the full-node probably reject start rejecting requests.

On the other hand, when the simulation run in Enhanced Model, a random light-node is elected to ask for the next share. Since the light-nodes are selected randomly, on average they all progress evenly in their journey of asking for their corresponding s shares. Thus, fewer of them will complete their journey before someone noticing the data-unavailability.

To understand this better we have the compare command. This command compares the two models for a k and s setup for various c. For each simulation, it calculates how many light-nodes finished asking their s shares before the full-node makes a rejection.

It automatically generates a plot as a png file to understand the results:

$ go run main.go help compare
Compares Standard and Enhanced model to understand their impact on soundness
fraudproofsim compare [k] [s] [#points] [flags]
-h, --help help for compare
Global Flags:
--enhanced run an Enhanced Model
--n int number of iterations to run per instance (default 500)

The #points parameter is the number of points we want to generate to make the interpolation.

Let’s compare for a setup:

$ go run main.go compare 64 10 25
Solving c for (k: 64, s: 10) with precision .99+-.005:
[1, 16384]: c=8192 p=1
[1, 8192]: c=4096 p=1
[1, 4096]: c=2048 p=0
[2048, 4096]: c=3072 p=1
[2048, 3072]: c=2560 p=1
[2048, 2560]: c=2304 p=1
[2048, 2304]: c=2176 p=0
[2176, 2304]: c=2240 p=0.896
[2240, 2304]: c=2272 p=0.998
[2240, 2272]: c=2256 p=0.99
Found solution c=2256, now generating 25 points in [.50*c,1.5*c]=[1128, 3384]:
Plotted in plot.png

The first thing it does is to solve for c for a p=.99. This is done in order to plot for values of c within .50 and 1.5 of c. Let’s see the generated plot.png:

The result of the compare command for k=64 and s=10


For values of c lower than the one for .99 guarantee, we see that both the Standard and Enhanced model have the same result. All the light-nodes finish asking their s shares successfully even when the full block isn’t guaranteed to be available. This is reasonable; thinking an extreme case of c=1 then it’s evident that asking only for s shares will be successful.

When we reach and exceed the critical point of c (=.99) light-nodes something interesting happens.

In the Standard model, if we keep adding light-nodes, the total number of fooled light-nodes is bounded. This sound reasonable since c*s shares where already asked and the full-node is pretty doomed to reject any more share request if interested in making the block unavailable. This means that no more light-nodes can be tricked.

In the Enhanced-model we see something different. The more light-nodes we add from c, the less total light-nodes finished asking for their s shares. Since each share request the full-node receives comes from a random light-node, when the full-node reaches the critical point of share rejection not many light-nodes have yet finished asking their shares. The light-nodes share the risk evenly.

If the network has more than the minimum amount of c light-nodes, then rapidly fewer and fewer light-nodes complete pulling their s shares before someone finds out that the full-node is malicious and alert the rest of the network.

For other setups, we see the same shape. Intuitively we expect that s will have some influence on how fast the Enhanced model improves soundness. Let’s check this intuition.

With the same k=64 and a bigger s (also more calculated points which don’t affect anything but the plot interpolation):

$ go run main.go compare 64 50 50
Solving c for (k: 64, s: 50) with precision .99+-.005:
[1, 16384]: c=8192 p=1
[1, 8192]: c=4096 p=1
[1, 4096]: c=2048 p=1
[1, 2048]: c=1024 p=1
[1, 1024]: c=512 p=1
[1, 512]: c=256 p=0
[256, 512]: c=384 p=0
[384, 512]: c=448 p=0.93
[448, 512]: c=480 p=1
[448, 480]: c=464 p=1
[448, 464]: c=456 p=1
[448, 456]: c=452 p=0.998
[448, 452]: c=450 p=0.978
[450, 452]: c=451 p=0.992
Found solution c=451, now generating 50 points in [.50*c,1.5*c]=[225, 676]:
Plotted in plot.png

And the plot:

Result of the compare command for k=64 and s=50

Yes!, a bigger s in the Enhanced Model is much more aggressive in the soundness guarantee in respect of c.

Finally, let’s see for a smaller s:

$ go run main.go compare 64 2 50
Solving c for (k: 64, s: 2) with precision .99+-.005:
[1, 16384]: c=8192 p=0
[8192, 16384]: c=12288 p=1
[8192, 12288]: c=10240 p=0
[10240, 12288]: c=11264 p=0.97
[11264, 12288]: c=11776 p=1
[11264, 11776]: c=11520 p=1
[11264, 11520]: c=11392 p=1
[11264, 11392]: c=11328 p=0.998
[11264, 11328]: c=11296 p=0.994
Found solution c=11296, now generating 50 points in [.50*c,1.5*c]=[5648, 16944]:
Plotted in plot.png

Result for the compare command for k=64 and s=2

We can appreciate that with a smaller s, soundness is guaranteed much slower.

Running times and bottlenecks

The running times of the simulation depend on three factors: s, k, c and the number of iterations.

I profiled the code using pprof multiple times to find where is the bottleneck in the simulation. It turns out that the bottlenecks are when the light-nodes decides which s shares to ask from the 4k² shares. I’ve made multiple implementations of this particular part to improve the running times.

As a summary, I noticed a locking-contention issue within the default rand library. After some research, other people already noticed that within rand standard-library there’s a mutex; something quite reasonable when using a singleton random seed for a concurrent library.

Then I decided that each light-node would make their random seed to avoid locking-contention between different goroutines. After another pprof, I found out that this was quite computer-expensive; better than the original lock-contention, but expensive. Concurrency in the simulation is at the iteration level, so generating a random-seed for each operation instead of light-nodes made a significant improvement.

Profiling the code and finding these things was fun too. Maybe I explain all this in more detail in a further article.

Possible Improvements

There’re a bunch of things that could be improved/enhancements in the simulation.

Domain-size and binary-search for solve command

In the solve command, I do a binary search for c until the explored domain is exhausted or the desired p lies within a chosen threshold. There may be other ways of implementing the solve command or reducing the domain of search.

Full-node decision-making for share request rejection

The full-node make the first share request rejection when 4k²-(k+1)² were shared. That number corresponds to the maximum number of shares the full-node could give and still make the block unavailable.

This is the best-case scenario for full-nodes where the light-nodes ask for a particular subset of shares. Since the data is encoded in 2D-Reed-Solomon, each unavailable share could be reconstructed from a row or column point of view. This full-node best-case happens when the unshared shares always are in the rows and columns still unrecoverable from the block. In other words, unshared shares contribute as much as possible to block unavailability.

This implies that the simulation is pessimistic, so lies on the safe-side of the claims it makes. Saying it differently, most of the times the block will be recoverable even when the simulation continues considering it isn’t.

This aspect of the simulation could be improved if each time the full-node makes a new share available, it calculates what remaining shares are unrecoverable since they can’t still be reconstructed with the already shared shares using the 2D Reed-Solomon encoding. After the last unrecoverable share is shared, the full-node can be considered doomed. Notice that unrecoverable and unshared are different things. An unshared share could be reconstructed if enough shares of its column or row are available.

Running time and memory usage

The simulation already has some moderate optimizations result of multiple pprof profilings. Since the simulation is cpu-bound and it only needs enough random seeds depending on the number of cores in the CPU to avoid locking-contention issues, the Simulation.Init() method could be improved.

Also, there could be a better solution to generate the random subset of s distinct elements of a set of 4 elements (shares to pull). The actual solution is nice since it exploits the fact that s is much smaller than (2k)².

I’ve made no memory profiling, so I’m convinced there are many things to be improved in this direction.

Simulation configuration scan

The simulation configurations in the simulation are fixed and correspond to the ones proposed in the paper. This could be easily changed, and be useful to search for a configuration that matches some required criteria.

Mustafa suggested that may be interesting to include network bandwidth usage or latency. In the same vein, we could scan for network configurations that optimize or establish bounds of these metrics within some minimum security requirements. The possibilities are broad, and we could play a lot with it.

Explore other possible codings and their impact on results

Another idea mentioned by Mustafa was considering the impact on the network when using other codings for the block data. For example, adding more dimensions with Reed-Solomon, or using even other codings.


The simulation verified the mathematical calculations in the paper and provided a way several orders of magnitude faster to estimate values of the model than computing the closed-mathematical formula.

Finally, it helps to get better intuition on how the Standard and Enhanced model impacts the soundness property of the system.

Further work could be done to improve the simulation in various directions.

Finally, I’d like to thank both Mustafa and Alberto for their opinions and suggestions. Special thanks to Mustafa for various ideas for the article, and kindly reviewing a draft.

read original article here