Capability Requirements

Because Fabric is a distributed system that will usually involve multiple organizations (sometimes in different countries or even continents), it is possible (and typical) that many different versions of Fabric code will exist in the network. Nevertheless, it’s vital that networks process transactions in the same way so that everyone has the same view of the current network state.

This means that every network – and every channel within that network – must define a set of what we call “capabilities” to be able to participate in processing transactions. For example, Fabric v1.1 introduces new MSP role types of “Peer” and “Client”. However, if a v1.0 peer does not understand these new role types, it will not be able to appropriately evaluate an endorsement policy that references them. This means that before the new role types may be used, the network must agree to enable the v1.1 channel capability requirement, ensuring that all peers come to the same decision.

Only binaries which support the required capabilities will be able to participate in the channel, and newer binary versions will not enable new validation logic until the corresponding capability is enabled. In this way, capability requirements ensure that even with disparate builds and versions, it is not possible for the network to suffer a state fork.

Defining Capability Requirements

Capability requirements are defined per channel in the channel configuration (found in the channel’s most recent configuration block). The channel configuration contains three locations, each of which defines a capability of a different type.

Capability Type Canonical Path JSON Path
Channel /Channel/Capabilities .channel_group.values.Capabilities
Orderer /Channel/Orderer/Capabilities .channel_group.groups.Orderer.values.Capabilities
Application /Channel/Application/Capabilities .channel_group.groups.Application.values. Capabilities
  • Channel: these capabilities apply to both peer and orderers and are located in the root Channel group.
  • Orderer: apply to orderers only and are located in the Orderer group.
  • Application: apply to peers only and are located in the Application group.

The capabilities are broken into these groups in order to align with the existing administrative structure. Updating orderer capabilities is something the ordering orgs would manage independent of the application orgs. Similarly, updating application capabilities is something only the application admins would manage. By splitting the capabilities between “Orderer” and “Application”, a hypothetical network could run a v1.6 ordering service while supporting a v1.3 peer application network.

However, some capabilities cross both the ‘Application’ and ‘Orderer’ groups. As we saw earlier, adding a new MSP role type is something both the orderer and application admins agree to and need to recognize. The orderer must understand the meaning of MSP roles in order to allow the transactions to pass through ordering, while the peers must understand the roles in order to validate the transaction. These kinds of capabilities – which span both the application and orderer components – are defined in the top level “Channel” group.


It is possible that the channel capabilities are defined to be at version v1.3 while the orderer and application capabilities are defined to be at version 1.1 and v1.4, respectively. Enabling a capability at the “Channel” group level does not imply that this same capability is available at the more specific “Orderer” and “Application” group levels.

Setting Capabilities

Capabilities are set as part of the channel configuration (either as part of the initial configuration – which we’ll talk about in a moment – or as part of a reconfiguration).


We have a two documents that talk through different aspects of channel reconfigurations. First, we have a tutorial that will take you through the process of Adding an Org to a Channel. And we also have a document that talks through Updating a Channel Configuration which gives an overview of the different kinds of updates that are possible as well as a fuller look at the signature process.

Because new channels copy the configuration of the Orderer System Channel by default, new channels will automatically be configured to work with the orderer and channel capabilities of the Orderer System Channel and the application capabilities specified by the channel creation transaction. Channels that already exist, however, must be reconfigured.

The schema for the Capabilities value is defined in the protobuf as:

message Capabilities {
      map<string, Capability> capabilities = 1;

message Capability { }

As an example, rendered in JSON:

    "capabilities": {
        "V1_1": {}

Capabilities in an Initial Configuration

In the configtx.yaml file distributed in the config directory of the release artifacts, there is a Capabilities section which enumerates the possible capabilities for each capability type (Channel, Orderer, and Application).

The simplest way to enable capabilities is to pick a v1.1 sample profile and customize it for your network. For example:

        <<: *GlobalCapabilities
        <<: *OrdererDefaults
            - *SampleOrg
            <<: *OrdererCapabilities
                - *SampleOrg

Note that there is a Capabilities section defined at the root level (for the channel capabilities), and at the Orderer level (for orderer capabilities). The sample above uses a YAML reference to include the capabilities as defined at the bottom of the YAML.

When defining the orderer system channel there is no Application section, as those capabilities are defined during the creation of an application channel. To define a new channel’s application capabilities at channel creation time, the application admins should model their channel creation transaction after the SampleSingleMSPChannelV1_1 profile.

     Consortium: SampleConsortium
             - *SampleOrg
             <<: *ApplicationCapabilities

Here, the Application section has a new element Capabilities which references the ApplicationCapabilities section defined at the end of the YAML.


The capabilities for the Channel and Orderer sections are inherited from the definition in the ordering system channel and are automatically included by the orderer during the process of channel creation.