Gossip data dissemination protocol

Hyperledger Fabric optimizes blockchain network performance, security and scalability by dividing workload across transaction execution (endorsing and committing) peers and transaction ordering nodes. This decoupling of network operations requires a secure, reliable and scalable data dissemination protocol to ensure data integrity and consistency. To meet these requirements, Hyperledger Fabric implements a gossip data dissemination protocol.

Gossip protocol

Peers leverage gossip to broadcast ledger and channel data in a scalable fashion. Gossip messaging is continuous, and each peer on a channel is constantly receiving current and consistent ledger data, from multiple peers. Each gossiped message is signed, thereby allowing Byzantine participants sending faked messages to be easily identified and the distribution of the message(s) to unwanted targets to be prevented. Peers affected by delays, network partitions or other causations resulting in missed blocks, will eventually be synced up to the current ledger state by contacting peers in possession of these missing blocks.

The gossip-based data dissemination protocol performs three primary functions on a Hyperledger Fabric network:

  1. Manages peer discovery and channel membership, by continually identifying available member peers, and eventually detecting peers that have gone offline.
  2. Disseminates ledger data across all peers on a channel. Any peer with data that is out of sync with the rest of the channel identifies the missing blocks and syncs itself by copying the correct data.
  3. Bring newly connected peers up to speed by allowing peer-to-peer state transfer update of ledger data.

Gossip-based broadcasting operates by peers receiving messages from other peers on the channel, and then forwarding these messages to a number of randomly-selected peers on the channel, where this number is a configurable constant. Peers can also exercise a pull mechanism, rather than waiting for delivery of a message. This cycle repeats, with the result of channel membership, ledger and state information continually being kept current and in sync. For dissemination of new blocks, the leader peer on the channel pulls the data from the ordering service and initiates gossip dissemination to peers.

Gossip messaging

Online peers indicate their availability by continually broadcasting “alive” messages, with each containing the public key infrastructure (PKI) ID and the signature of the sender over the message. Peers maintain channel membership by collecting these alive messages; if no peer receives an alive message from a specific peer, this “dead” peer is eventually purged from channel membership. Because “alive” messages are cryptographically signed, malicious peers can never impersonate other peers, as they lack a signing key authorized by a root certificate authority (CA).

In addition to the automatic forwarding of received messages, a state reconciliation process synchronizes world state across peers on each channel. Each peer continually pulls blocks from other peers on the channel, in order to repair its own state if discrepancies are identified. Because fixed connectivity is not required to maintain gossip-based data dissemination, the process reliably provides data consistency and integrity to the shared ledger, including tolerance for node crashes.

Because channels are segregated, peers on one channel cannot message or share information on any other channel. Though any peer can belong to multiple channels, partitioned messaging prevents blocks from being disseminated to peers that are not in the channel by applying message routing policies based on peers’ channel subscriptions.

1. Security of point-to-point messages are handled by the peer TLS layer, and do not require signatures. Peers are authenticated by their certificates, which are assigned by a CA. Although TLS certs are also used, it is the peer certificates that are authenticated in the gossip layer. Ledger blocks are signed by the ordering service, and then delivered to the leader peers on a channel. 2. Authentication is governed by the membership service provider for the peer. When the peer connects to the channel for the first time, the TLS session binds with the membership identity. This essentially authenticates each peer to the connecting peer, with respect to membership in the network and channel.