Bitcoin Optech Newsletter #26

This week’s newsletter describes the new libminisketch library for bandwidth efficient set reconciliation, links to an email about Schnorr/Taproot plans, and mentions an upcoming LN protocol specification meeting. Also included are a list of notable code changes in the past week from popular Bitcoin infrastructure projects.

Action items

  • Help test Bitcoin Core 0.17.1RC1: the first release candidate for this maintenance release has been uploaded. Testing by businesses and individual users of both the daemon and the GUI is greatly appreciated and helps ensure the highest-quality release.

News

  • Minisketch library released: Bitcoin developers Pieter Wuille, Gregory Maxwell, and Gleb Naumenko have been researching optimized transaction relay as described in the News section of Newsletter #9. One result of that research is a new standalone library they’ve released, libminisketch, that allows transferring the differences between two sets of information in roughly the byte size of the expected differences themselves. That may not sound exciting—the rsync tool has done that for over two decades—but libminisketch allows transferring the differences without knowing what they are ahead of time.

    For example, Alice has elements 1, 2, and 3. Bob has elements 1 and 3. Despite neither knowing which elements the other has, Alice can send Bob a sketch the size of a single element that contains enough information for him reconstruct element 2. If Bob instead has elements 1 and 2 (not 3), the exact same sketch allows him to reconstruct element 3. Alternatively, if Bob sends Alice a sketch based on his two-element set while Alice has her three-element set, she can determine which element Bob is missing and send it to him directly.

    These sketches can provide a powerful new way to optimize relay of unconfirmed transactions for the Bitcoin P2P network. The current gossip-based mechanism has each node receiving or sending 32-byte identifiers for each transaction for each of their peers. For example, if you have 100 peers, you send or receive 3,200 bytes of announcements, plus overhead, for what is (on average) just a 400 byte transaction. An early estimate using a simulator indicates combining sketches with shortened transaction identifiers (for relay only) could reduce total transaction propagation bandwidth by a factor of 44x. Sketches also have the potential to provide other desirable features—for example, LN protocol developer Rusty Russel started a thread on the Lightning-Dev mailing list about using them for sending LN routing table updates.

  • Description about what might be included in a Schnorr/Taproot soft fork: Bitcoin protocol developer Anthony Towns has posted a well-written email describing what he thinks ought to be included in a soft fork that adds the Schnorr signature scheme plus Taproot-style MAST to Bitcoin. This is not a formal proposal, but it’s similar to opinions we’ve heard from other developers and so should provide a good overview of current thinking.

  • LN protocol IRC meeting: protocol developers for LN have agreed to try converting their periodic meeting for developing the LN specification from a Google Hangout to an IRC meeting after receiving requests from several developers. The next meeting will be Tuesday, January 8th, at 19:00 (UTC).

Notable code changes

Notable code changes this week in Bitcoin Core, LND, C-lightning, and libsecp256k1.

  • Bitcoin Core #14573 moves various miscellaneous options that opened separate dialogues in the Bitcoin-Qt GUI to a new top-level menu item labeled Window, hopefully making those options easier to find and use.

  • LND #1984 adds a new listunspent RPC that lists each of the wallet’s unspent outputs. It can take two parameters: (1) the minimum number of confirmations the unspent output must have or (2) the maximum it can have. The minimum can be set to 0 to print unconfirmed outputs.

  • LND #2039 adds the ability to get the status of the autopilot functionality as well as allowing enabling or disabling it while the program is running. Autopilot is the ability of the software to automatically suggest new channels to open when a user is first connecting to LN or wants additional spending capacity.

  • C-Lightning #2155 disables by default the option_data_loss_protect feature described in the notable commits of newsletter #10. The feature wasn’t working reliably, so it will only be enabled for users that opt-in to experimental features.

  • C-Lightning #2154 now allows plugins to send log notifications that will be written to the lightningd’s log files.

  • C-Lightning #2161 adds a small Python library and framework that can be used for writing plugins. It provides function decorators similar to those used by the popular flask library that can be used to tag functions as providing particular plugin interfaces, and this information is automatically used to generate a plugin manifest. The sample helloworld.py plugin has been updated to use this library, reducing its size by 75% (111 lines to 28).

Holiday publication schedule

Due to the holidays, the Optech Newsletter will not be publishing newsletters on December 25th or January 1st. Instead, we will publish a special year-in-review newsletter on Friday, December 28th, and will return to our regular Tuesday publication schedule starting on January 8th.