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Updated on September 1, 2021

Using Clef

What is Clef?

clef was introduced in Quorum v2.6.0.

Clef for GoQuorum is the standard go-ethereum clef tool, with additional support for GoQuorum-specific features, including:

  • Support for private transactions
  • Ability to extend functionality with account plugins

clef runs as a separate process to geth and provides an alternative method of managing accounts and signing transactions/data.

Instead of geth loading and using accounts directly, geth delegates account management responsibilities to clef.


Account management will be deprecated within geth in the future and replaced with clef.

Using clef instead of geth for account management has several benefits:


geth and all included tools (clef, bootnode, …) can be installed to PATH by building GoQuorum from source with make all.

Verify the installation with:

clef help

Getting started

See cmd/clef/ for an overview and step-by-step guide on clef initialisation, startup and automation rules configuration.


clef can be used in one of two ways:

  1. As an external signer
  2. As a geth signer


In the long term, the preferred way of using clef will be as an external signer. However, whilst waiting for tooling to support the clef API, the go-ethereum project have included the option to use clef as a geth signer. This ensures existing tooling and user flows can remain unchanged. The option to use clef as a geth signer will be deprecated in a future release of go-ethereum once the migration of account management from geth to clef is complete.

As an external signer

Using clef as an external signer requires interacting with clef through its RPC API. By default this is exposed over IPC socket. The API can also be exposed over HTTP by using the --rpcaddr CLI flag.


An example workflow would be:

  1. Start clef and make your accounts available to it
  2. Sign a transaction with the account by using clef‘s account_signTransaction API. clef will return the signed transaction.
  3. Use eth_sendRawTransaction or eth_sendRawPrivateTransaction to send the signed transaction to a GoQuorum node that does not have your accounts available to it
  4. The GoQuorum node validates the transaction and propagates it through the network for minting.
echo '{"id": 1, "jsonrpc": "2.0", "method": "account_list"}' | nc -U /path/to/clef.ipc
echo '{"id": 1, "jsonrpc": "2.0", "method": "account_signData", "params": ["data/plain", "0x6038dc01869425004ca0b8370f6c81cf464213b3", "0xaaaaaa"]}' | nc -U /path/to/clef.ipc

As a geth signer

Using clef as a geth signer does not require direct interaction through the clef API. Instead geth can be used as normal and will automatically delegate to clef.

To use clef as a geth signer:

  1. Start clef
  2. Start geth with the --signer /path/to/clef.ipc CLI flag

An example workflow would be:

  1. Start clef and make your accounts available to it
  2. Start geth and do not make your accounts available to it
  3. Use eth_sendTransaction to sign and submit a transaction for validation, propagation, and minting

Extending with account plugins

By default, clef manages file-stored keystore accounts. Alternative account management options can be enabled through the use of account plugins. See the Pluggable Architecture Overview for more info on using plugins with clef.

clef --plugins file:///path/to/plugin-config.json

More information

More information can be found in the .md files in the cmd/clef directory.

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