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Distributed Consensus in Block Chain

  • A procedure to reach in a common agreement in a distributed or decentralized multi- agent platform
  • Important for message passing system

Why Consensus
  • Reliability and fault tolerance in a distributed system
         → Ensure correct operations in the presence of faulty individuals
  • Example
         → Commit a transaction in a database
         → State machine replication
         → Clock synchronization

Why Consensus can be difficult in certain scenarios
  • Consider a message passing system, and a general behaves maliciously

Distributed Consensus

If there is no failure, it is easy and trivial to reach in a consensus
  • Broadcast the personal choice to all
  • Apply a choice function, say the maximum of all the values
  • There can be various types of faults in a distributed system.
  • Crash fault : A node suddenly crashes or becomes unavailable in the middle of a communication
  • Network or Partitioned Faults : A network fault occurs (say the link failure ) and the network gets partitioned.
  • Byzantine Fault : A node starts behaving maliciously

Distributed Consensus - Properties
  • Termination : Every correct individual decides some value at the end of the consensus protocol
  • Validity : If all the individuals proposes the same value, then all correct individuals decide on that value
  • Integrity : Every correct individual decides at most one value , and the decide value must be proposed by some individuals
  • Agreement : Every correct individual must agree on the same value
Synchronous vs Asynchronous Systems
  • Synchronous message passing system : The message must be received within a predefined time interval
            → Strong guarantee on message transmission delay
  • Asynchronous message passing system : There is no upper bound on the message transmission delay or the message reception time
            → No timing constraint, message can be delayed for arbitrary period of times

Asynchronous Consensus

FLP85 (Impossibility Result) : In s purely asynchronous distributed system, the consensus problem is impossible ( with a deterministic solution) to solve if in the presence of a single crash failure.
  • Results by Fischer, Lynch and Patterson (most influential paper awarded in ACM PODC 2001)
  • Randomized algorithm may exist
Various consensus algorithms has been explored by the distributed system community
  • Paxos
  • Raft
  • Byzantine fault tolerance (BFT)
We'll look into these consensus algorithms, but later !!

Correctness of a Distributed Consensus Protocol
  • Safety : Correct individuals must not agree on an incorrect value
          → Nothing bad happend
  • Livelines (or Liveness) : Every correct value must be accepted eventually
          → Something good eventually happens

Consensus in an open system

The tradition distributed protocols are based on 
  • Message passing (when individuals are connected over the internet)
  • Shared memory (when a common memory place is available to read and write the shared variables the everyone can access)
Message passing requires a closed environment - every need to know the identity of others

Shared memory is not suitable for internet grade computing 
  • Where do you put the shared memory ?

Bitcoin is an open environment
  • Anyone can join in the Bitcoin network anytime
  • How do you ensure consensus in such an open system ? - A key challenge.

Blockchain Council

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