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IBFT Consensus Overview


Istanbul Byzantine Fault Tolerant (IBFT) consensus is inspired by Castro-Liskov 99 paper. IBFT inherits from the original PBFT by using a 3-phase consensus, PRE-PREPARE, PREPARE and COMMIT. The system can tolerate at most F faulty nodes in a N validator network, where N = 3F + 1.



  • Validator: Block validation participant.
  • Proposer: A block validation participant that is chosen to propose block in a consensus round.
  • Round: Consensus round. A round starts with the proposer creating a block proposal and ends with a block commitment or round change.
  • Proposal: New block generation proposal which is undergoing consensus processing.
  • Sequence: Sequence number of a proposal. A sequence number should be greater than all previous sequence numbers. Currently each proposed block height is its associated sequence number.
  • Backlog: The storage to keep future consensus messages.
  • Round state: Consensus messages of a specific sequence and round, including pre-prepare message, prepare message, and commit message.
  • Consensus proof: The commitment signatures of a block that can prove the block has gone through the consensus process.
  • Snapshot: The validator voting state from last epoch.


Istanbul BFT Consensus protocol begins at Round 0 with the validators picking a proposer from themselves in a round robin fashion. The proposer will then propose a new block proposal and broadcast it along with the PRE-PREPARE message. Upon receiving the PRE-PREPARE message from the proposer, other validators validate the incoming proposal and enter the state of PRE-PREPARED and broadcast PREPARE message. This step is to make sure all validators are working on the same sequence and on the same round. When ceil(2N/3) of PREPARE messages is received by the validator from other validators, the validator switches to the state of PREPARED and broadcasts COMMIT message. This step is to inform other validators that it accepts the proposed block and is going to insert the block to the chain. Lastly, validators wait for ceil(2N/3) of COMMIT messages to enter COMMITTED state and then append the block to the chain.

Blocks in Istanbul BFT protocol are final, which means that there are no forks and any valid block must be somewhere in the main chain. To prevent a faulty node from generating a totally different chain from the main chain, each validator appends ceil(2N/3) of received COMMIT signatures to extraData field in the header before inserting it into the chain. Thus all blocks are self-verifiable. However, the dynamic extraData would cause an issue on block hash calculation. Since the same block from different validators can have different set of COMMIT signatures, the same block can have different block hashes as well. To solve this, we calculate the block hash by excluding the COMMIT signatures part. Therefore, we can still keep the block/block hash consistency as well as put the consensus proof in the block header.

Consensus States

Istanbul BFT is a state machine replication algorithm. Each validator maintains a state machine replica in order to reach block consensus. Various states in IBFT consensus are,

  • NEW ROUND: Proposer to send new block proposal. Validators wait for PRE-PREPARE message.
  • PRE-PREPARED: A validator has received PRE-PREPARE message and broadcasts PREPARE message. Then it waits for ceil(2N/3) of PREPARE or COMMIT messages.
  • PREPARED: A validator has received ceil(2N/3) of PREPARE messages and broadcasts COMMIT messages. Then it waits for ceil(2N/3) of COMMIT messages.
  • COMMITTED: A validator has received ceil(2N/3) of COMMIT messages and is able to insert the proposed block into the blockchain.
  • FINAL COMMITTED: A new block is successfully inserted into the blockchain and the validator is ready for the next round.
  • ROUND CHANGE: A validator is waiting for ceil(2N/3) of ROUND CHANGE messages on the same proposed round number.

State Transitions: State Transitions

    • Proposer collects transactions from txpool.
    • Proposer generates a block proposal and broadcasts it to validators. It then enters the PRE-PREPARED state.
    • Each validator enters PRE-PREPARED upon receiving the PRE-PREPARE message with the following conditions:
      • Block proposal is from the valid proposer.
      • Block header is valid.
      • Block proposal’s sequence and round match the validator‘s state.
    • Validator broadcasts PREPARE message to other validators.
    • Validator receives ceil(2N/3) of valid PREPARE messages to enter PREPARED state. Valid messages conform to the following conditions:
      • Matched sequence and round.
      • Matched block hash.
      • Messages are from known validators.
    • Validator broadcasts COMMIT message upon entering PREPARED state.
    • Validator receives ceil(2N/3) of valid COMMIT messages to enter COMMITTED state. Valid messages conform to the following conditions:
      • Matched sequence and round.
      • Matched block hash.
      • Messages are from known validators.
    • Validator appends ceil(2N/3) commitment signatures to extraData and tries to insert the block into the blockchain.
    • Validator enters FINAL COMMITTED state when insertion succeeds.
    • Validators pick a new proposer and begin a new round timer.

Round change flow

  • There are three conditions that would trigger ROUND CHANGE:
    • Round change timer expires.
    • Invalid PREPREPARE message.
    • Block insertion fails.
  • When a validator notices that one of the above conditions applies, it broadcasts a ROUND CHANGE message along with the proposed round number and waits for ROUND CHANGE messages from other validators. The proposed round number is selected based on following condition:
    • If the validator has received ROUND CHANGE messages from its peers, it picks the largest round number which has F + 1 of ROUND CHANGE messages.
    • Otherwise, it picks 1 + current round number as the proposed round number.
  • Whenever a validator receives F + 1 of ROUND CHANGE messages on the same proposed round number, it compares the received one with its own. If the received is larger, the validator broadcasts ROUND CHANGE message again with the received number.
  • Upon receiving ceil(2N/3) of ROUND CHANGE messages on the same proposed round number, the validator exits the round change loop, calculates the new proposer, and then enters NEW ROUND state.
  • Another condition that a validator jumps out of round change loop is when it receives verified block(s) through peer synchronization.

Proposer selection

Currently we support two policies: round robin and sticky proposer.

  • Round robin: Round robin is the default proposer selection policy. In this setting proposer will change in every block and round change.
  • Sticky proposer: in a sticky proposer setting, proposer will change only when a round change happens.

Validator list voting

Istanbul BFT uses a similar validator voting mechanism as Clique and copies most of the content from Clique EIP. Every epoch transaction resets the validator voting, meaning any pending votes for adding/removing a validator are reset.

For all transactions blocks:

  • Proposer can cast one vote to propose a change to the validators list.
  • Only the latest proposal per target beneficiary is kept from a single validator.
  • Votes are tallied live as the chain progresses (concurrent proposals allowed).
  • Proposals reaching majority consensus VALIDATOR_LIMIT come into effect immediately.
  • Invalid proposals are not to be penalized for client implementation simplicity.
  • A proposal coming into effect entails discarding all pending votes for that proposal (both for and against) and starts with a clean slate.

Future message and backlog

In an asynchronous network environment, one may receive future messages which cannot be processed in the current state. For example, a validator can receive COMMIT messages on NEW ROUND. We call this kind of message a “future message.” When a validator receives a future message, it will put the message into its backlog and try to process later whenever possible.


Istanbul BFT define the following constants

  • EPOCH_LENGTH: Default: 30000 blocks. Number of blocks after which to checkpoint and reset the pending votes.
  • REQUEST_TIMEOUT: Timeout for each consensus round before firing a round change in millisecond.
  • BLOCK_PERIOD: Minimum timestamp difference in seconds between two consecutive blocks.
  • PROPOSER_POLICY: Proposer selection policy, defaults to round robin.
  • ISTANBUL_DIGEST: Fixed magic number 0x63746963616c2062797a616e74696e65206661756c7420746f6c6572616e6365 of mixDigest in block header for Istanbul block identification.
  • DEFAULT_DIFFICULTY: Default block difficulty, which is set to 0x0000000000000001.
  • EXTRA_VANITY: Fixed number of extra-data prefix bytes reserved for proposer vanity.
    • Suggested 32 bytes to retain the current extra-data allowance and/or use.
  • NONCE_AUTH: Magic nonce number 0xffffffffffffffff to vote on adding a validator.
  • NONCE_DROP: Magic nonce number 0x0000000000000000 to vote on removing a validator.
  • UNCLE_HASH: Always Keccak256(RLP([])) as uncles are meaningless outside of PoW.
  • PREPREPARE_MSG_CODE: Fixed number 0. Message code for PREPREPARE message.
  • PREPARE_MSG_CODE: Fixed number 1. Message code for PREPARE message.
  • COMMIT_MSG_CODE: Fixed number 2. Message code for COMMIT message.
  • ROUND_CHANGE_MSG_CODE: Fixed number 3. Message code for ROUND CHANGE message
  • VALIDATOR_LIMIT: Number of validators to pass an authorization or de-authorization proposal.
    • Must be floor(N / 2) + 1 to enforce majority consensus on a chain.

Block Header

Istanbul BFT does not add new block header fields. Instead, it follows Clique in repurposing the ethash header fields as follows:

  • nonce: Proposer proposal regarding the account defined by the beneficiary field.
    • Should be NONCE_DROP to propose deauthorizing beneficiary as an existing validator.
    • Should be NONCE_AUTH to propose authorizing beneficiary as a new validator.
    • Must be filled with zeroes, NONCE_DROP or NONCE_AUTH
  • mixHash: Fixed magic number 0x63746963616c2062797a616e74696e65206661756c7420746f6c6572616e6365 for Istanbul block identification.
  • ommersHash: Must be UNCLE_HASH as uncles are meaningless outside of PoW.
  • timestamp: Must be at least the parent timestamp + BLOCK_PERIOD
  • difficulty: Must be filled with 0x0000000000000001.
  • extraData: Combined field for signer vanity and RLP encoded Istanbul extra data, where Istanbul extra data contains validator list, proposer seal, and commit seals. Istanbul extra data is defined as follows:

    type IstanbulExtra struct {
            Validators    []common.Address  //Validator addresses
            Seal          []byte            //Proposer seal 65 bytes
            CommittedSeal [][]byte          //Committed seal, 65 * len(Validators) bytes
    Thus the extraData would be in the form of EXTRA_VANITY | ISTANBUL_EXTRA where | represents a fixed index to separate vanity and Istanbul extra data (not an actual character for separator).

    • First EXTRA_VANITY bytes (fixed) may contain arbitrary proposer vanity data.
    • ISTANBUL_EXTRA bytes are the RLP encoded Istanbul extra data calculated from RLP(IstanbulExtra), where RLP() is RLP encoding function, and IstanbulExtra is the Istanbul extra data.
      • Validators: The list of validators, which must be sorted in ascending order.
      • Seal: The proposer’s signature sealing of the header.
      • CommittedSeal: The list of commitment signature seals as consensus proof.

Block hash, proposer seal and committed seals

The Istanbul block hash calculation is different from the ethash block hash calculation due to the following reasons:

  1. The proposer needs to put proposer’s seal in extraData to prove the block is signed by the chosen proposer.
  2. The validators need to put ceil(2N/3) of committed seals as consensus proof in extraData to prove the block has gone through consensus.

The calculation is still similar to the ethash block hash calculation, with the exception that we need to deal with extraData. We calculate the fields as follows:

Proposer seal calculation

By the time of proposer seal calculation, the committed seals are still unknown, so we calculate the seal with those unknowns empty. The calculation is as follows:

  • Proposer seal: SignECDSA(Keccak256(RLP(Header)), PrivateKey)
  • PrivateKey: Proposer’s private key.
  • Header: Same as ethash header only with a different extraData.
  • extraData: vanity | RLP(IstanbulExtra), where in the IstanbulExtra, CommittedSeal and Seal are empty arrays.
Block hash calculation

While calculating block hash, we need to exclude committed seals since that data is dynamic between different validators. Therefore, we make CommittedSeal an empty array while calculating the hash. The calculation is:

  • Header: Same as ethash header only with a different extraData.
  • extraData: vanity | RLP(IstanbulExtra), where in the IstanbulExtra, CommittedSeal is an empty array.
Consensus proof

Before inserting a block into the blockchain, each validator needs to collect ceil(2N/3) of committed seals from other validators to compose a consensus proof. Once it receives enough committed seals, it will fill the CommittedSeal in IstanbulExtra, recalculate the extraData, and then insert the block into the blockchain. Note that since committed seals can differ by different sources, we exclude that part while calculating the block hash as in the previous section.

Committed seal calculation:

Committed seal is calculated by each of the validators signing the hash along with COMMIT_MSG_CODE message code of its private key. The calculation is as follows:

  • Committed seal: SignECDSA(Keccak256(CONCAT(Hash, COMMIT_MSG_CODE)), PrivateKey).
  • CONCAT(Hash, COMMIT_MSG_CODE): Concatenate block hash and COMMIT_MSG_CODE bytes.
  • PrivateKey: Signing validator’s private key.


Istanbul BFT implementation in GoQuorum is based on EIP 650. It has been updated since the EIP was opened to resolve safety issues by introducing locking.

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