Hyperledger Fabric Model¶
This section outlines the key design features woven into Hyperledger Fabric that fulfill its promise of a comprehensive, yet customizable, enterprise blockchain solution:
- Assets — Asset definitions enable the exchange of almost anything with monetary value over the network, from whole foods to antique cars to currency futures.
- Chaincode — Chaincode execution is partitioned from transaction ordering, limiting the required levels of trust and verification across node types, and optimizing network scalability and performance.
- Ledger Features — The immutable, shared ledger encodes the entire transaction history for each channel, and includes SQL-like query capability for efficient auditing and dispute resolution.
- Privacy through Channels — Channels enable multi-lateral transactions with the high degrees of privacy and confidentiality required by competing businesses and regulated industries that exchange assets on a common network.
- Security & Membership Services — Permissioned membership provides a trusted blockchain network, where participants know that all transactions can be detected and traced by authorized regulators and auditors.
- Consensus — A unique approach to consensus enables the flexibility and scalability needed for the enterprise.
Assets can range from the tangible (real estate and hardware) to the intangible (contracts and intellectual property). Hyperledger Fabric provides the ability to modify assets using chaincode transactions.
Assets are represented in Hyperledger Fabric as a collection of key-value pairs, with state changes recorded as transactions on a Channel ledger. Assets can be represented in binary and/or JSON form.
You can easily define and use assets in your Hyperledger Fabric applications using the Hyperledger Composer tool.
Chaincode is software defining an asset or assets, and the transaction instructions for modifying the asset(s); in other words, it’s the business logic. Chaincode enforces the rules for reading or altering key-value pairs or other state database information. Chaincode functions execute against the ledger’s current state database and are initiated through a transaction proposal. Chaincode execution results in a set of key-value writes (write set) that can be submitted to the network and applied to the ledger on all peers.
The ledger is the sequenced, tamper-resistant record of all state transitions in the fabric. State transitions are a result of chaincode invocations (‘transactions’) submitted by participating parties. Each transaction results in a set of asset key-value pairs that are committed to the ledger as creates, updates, or deletes.
The ledger is comprised of a blockchain (‘chain’) to store the immutable, sequenced record in blocks, as well as a state database to maintain current fabric state. There is one ledger per channel. Each peer maintains a copy of the ledger for each channel of which they are a member.
Some features of a Fabric ledger:
- Query and update ledger using key-based lookups, range queries, and composite key queries
- Read-only queries using a rich query language (if using CouchDB as state database)
- Read-only history queries — Query ledger history for a key, enabling data provenance scenarios
- Transactions consist of the versions of keys/values that were read in chaincode (read set) and keys/values that were written in chaincode (write set)
- Transactions contain signatures of every endorsing peer and are submitted to ordering service
- Transactions are ordered into blocks and are “delivered” from an ordering service to peers on a channel
- Peers validate transactions against endorsement policies and enforce the policies
- Prior to appending a block, a versioning check is performed to ensure that states for assets that were read have not changed since chaincode execution time
- There is immutability once a transaction is validated and committed
- A channel’s ledger contains a configuration block defining policies, access control lists, and other pertinent information
- Channels contain Membership Service Provider instances allowing for crypto materials to be derived from different certificate authorities
See the Ledger topic for a deeper dive on the databases, storage structure, and “query-ability.”
Privacy through Channels¶
Hyperledger Fabric employs an immutable ledger on a per-channel basis, as well as chaincodes that can manipulate and modify the current state of assets (i.e. update key-value pairs). A ledger exists in the scope of a channel — it can be shared across the entire network (assuming every participant is operating on one common channel) — or it can be privatized to include only a specific set of participants.
In the latter scenario, these participants would create a separate channel and thereby isolate/segregate their transactions and ledger. In order to solve scenarios that want to bridge the gap between total transparency and privacy, chaincode can be installed only on peers that need to access the asset states to perform reads and writes (in other words, if a chaincode is not installed on a peer, it will not be able to properly interface with the ledger).
To further obfuscate the data, values within chaincode can be encrypted (in part or in total) using common cryptographic algorithms such as AES before sending transactions to the ordering service and appending blocks to the ledger. Once encrypted data has been written to the ledger, it can be decrypted only by a user in possession of the corresponding key that was used to generate the cipher text. For further details on chaincode encryption, see the Chaincode for Developers topic.
Security & Membership Services¶
Hyperledger Fabric underpins a transactional network where all participants have known identities. Public Key Infrastructure is used to generate cryptographic certificates which are tied to organizations, network components, and end users or client applications. As a result, data access control can be manipulated and governed on the broader network and on channel levels. This “permissioned” notion of Hyperledger Fabric, coupled with the existence and capabilities of channels, helps address scenarios where privacy and confidentiality are paramount concerns.
See the Membership Service Providers (MSP) topic to better understand cryptographic implementations, and the sign, verify, authenticate approach used in Hyperledger Fabric.
In distributed ledger technology, consensus has recently become synonymous with a specific algorithm, within a single function. However, consensus encompasses more than simply agreeing upon the order of transactions, and this differentiation is highlighted in Hyperledger Fabric through its fundamental role in the entire transaction flow, from proposal and endorsement, to ordering, validation and commitment. In a nutshell, consensus is defined as the full-circle verification of the correctness of a set of transactions comprising a block.
Consensus is achieved ultimately when the order and results of a block’s transactions have met the explicit policy criteria checks. These checks and balances take place during the lifecycle of a transaction, and include the usage of endorsement policies to dictate which specific members must endorse a certain transaction class, as well as system chaincodes to ensure that these policies are enforced and upheld. Prior to commitment, the peers will employ these system chaincodes to make sure that enough endorsements are present, and that they were derived from the appropriate entities. Moreover, a versioning check will take place during which the current state of the ledger is agreed or consented upon, before any blocks containing transactions are appended to the ledger. This final check provides protection against double spend operations and other threats that might compromise data integrity, and allows for functions to be executed against non-static variables.
In addition to the multitude of endorsement, validity and versioning checks that take place, there are also ongoing identity verifications happening in all directions of the transaction flow. Access control lists are implemented on hierarchical layers of the network (ordering service down to channels), and payloads are repeatedly signed, verified and authenticated as a transaction proposal passes through the different architectural components. To conclude, consensus is not merely limited to the agreed upon order of a batch of transactions; rather, it is an overarching characterization that is achieved as a byproduct of the ongoing verifications that take place during a transaction’s journey from proposal to commitment.
Check out the Transaction Flow diagram for a visual representation of consensus.