Transaction Graphical LanguageJanuary 28, 2017
TXGL is a graphical framework, loosely based on circuit diagrams, for describing multi-transaction Bitcoin Contracts.
You can download the TXGL SVG template here.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
When discussing cryptocurrency protocols, it can often be very difficult to describe to others what’s going on.
Chain is doing some awesome work on Ivy, which is a higher-level language that can compile to bitcoin scripts, which not only helps build scripts, but helps others understand them as well.
However, complexity in Bitcoin hides not only at the script level, but also at the transaction level.
TXGL is an attempt to create a visual diagram language for sketching out transactions pictorially. I originally began working on TXGL as I prepared my talk for BPASE 2017 as I struggled to clearly communicate the ideas I was presenting. The diagrams went a long way for my talk, and afterwards there was significant interest in TXGL as a stand-alone work, so I decided to try to better document how to read and construct TXGL diagrams.
One of the key insights of TXGL is to draw (loosely) from EE schematics as a form of “transaction circuit diagram”. Each component in the diagram represents something that could appear on the blockchain during execution. This is an important point. There are many considerations in actually executing such complex multi-transaction contracts, such as program storage, deadlocks, and multi-party construction/negotation. I’ve covered some of these complexities in my BPASE talk.
TXGL is by no means a finished product, but hopefully by putting it out there, the academic community can begin experimenting with it as a rough standard and provide feedback on how to improve! 😁
One of the issues that arises when describing multi-transaction bitcoin contracts is that the distinction between the terms input and output is not clear. This disturbing lack of clarity is because during a transaction, a set of unspent outputs are treated the set of inputs and create a new set of unspent outputs. But what is an input? Is it a spent output? Not quite, the input is a reference to the unspent output. This concept is difficult to disambiguate orally and graphically. Instead of using terminology which can be misunderstood, we will instead refer to either an input or an output as a transaction component when it is not being created or consumed specifically.
A component should have a label. A component without a label shouldn’t be referred to in any accompanying text. Labels allow us to template out (in the c++ sense) generalizable information. For instance, a component could be “spent” via an M-of-N script or via a direct P2PKH. If the information is pertinent, it’s preferable to include it in an accompanying table rather than jam it into the diagram (an Asterisk on the label can be used to emphasize that there is more information needed).
Each component (may) have a set of arrows pointing into it. An inwards arrow shows how the component was created. If there is no such arrow, then the source of the component is irrelevant.
Each component (may) have a single arrow* pointing out of it. An outwards arrow shows how the component will be used. It is important to note that it may be possible that the component has other possible outwards arrows! An outward arrow does not “guarantee” execution, it only demonstrates intended spend.
An arrow between two components composes a transaction.
There are a few special types of component that have some additional rules.
Multiplexer “Select One” Component
A mux component takes in wires through the side-port, and emits only one of it’s branches. Above each black arrow, an optional condition can be placed. One such condition must be satisfied in order for the spend to occur (essentially, a kind of “switch” statement).
You can think of this as being like the following bitcoin script.
OP_DUP <0> OP_EQUAL OP_IF A OP_ELSE OP_DROP OP_DUP <1> OP_IF B OP_ELSE ... OP_ENDIF OP_ENDIF OP_VERIFY
It is important to note that a bijection between conditions and outputs IS NOT ENFORCED by the mux component natively. Thus, one must consider the mux component as a list of possible spend conditions and a list of outputs which could occur under the intended execution. One must layer in some additional logic to ensure the bijection, and layer in further logic to ensure that one branch must be taken. This will be demonstrated in the “TXGL Extensions” section.
Demultiplexer “Select All” Component
A demux takes in wires through the side-port and is intended to emit all of it’s outputs. Again, bijection is not guaranteed and the engineer must be careful to ensure that this is the case.
This is essentially the following Bitcoin Script:
P_1 OP_VERIFY P_2 OP_VERIFY ... P_N OP_VERIFY
These extensions depend on new features in Bitcoin, which are all well within the realm of possibility. I’m not completely pleased with the graphical representations here, but they are a start.
We allow adding a constraint of a covenant to specify some invariant that must hold of the output.
A component with a dome hat is generated by what we’ll call a Join Covenant.
In a Join Covenant, it is restricted that the input components must be spent together.
This is a property which could be correct either by construction (ie, the only component signed by N-of-N for each input) or by computation (the inputs script checks a property).
In the case where only one input component depends on the others, a dotted arrow pointing upwards can be made.
Virtual and Intermediate Components
In many cases, an output is a “temporary” value – that is, it is meant to be spent atomically with it’s parent.
In this case, the component should be drawn with a dashed border.
An example of such a component being used is as follows:
In the above example, B must be consumed for A to be validly consumed.
Impossible Component Covenant
It is possible to make a transaction depend on a proof that a component could not be constructed.
We draw an “un-constructible” component as follows:
Naively, this can be done in Bitcoin by emitting an output component on spend which is consumed by dependents of that output. Such a dependent impossible component covenant can be drawn as follows:
Note that we still black-out and complement the component for clarity, although clearly this sentinel-value output is possible to construct.
An impossible component covenant could also be implemented as an introspective proof on the blockchain, as in:
- Specify a component desired to be proved impossible
- Provide witness of how to construct
- Provide witness of another component that already exists which shares has an ancestor input that must consume in it’s construction.
- If consumes , this implies that cannot also consume
- Therefore, is impossible to construct because exists.
For this construction, we won’t actually show how the proof is constructed.
Relatedly, the trivial case of this proof is a Consumed Output Proof, which is simply a proof that some component has been spent.
Sequentially Existent Output Covenant
Similarly, it is possible to simply require that an input component does exist.
The simplest way to implement this in Bitcoin, is via a transaction which recreates one of its inputs.
Requiring this is possible with simple covenants (Russel O’Conner has demonstrated a quine).
Such an observation is said to be Sequential, because observing the existence of the component serves to consume it, and re-emit it with a different txid, thus forcing an ordering of operations.
Using a Multiplexer component and two covenants, we can construct a component which is guaranteed to select one of it’s outputs:
In order to highlight what path through the multi-transaction contract is actually taken, red highlights can be used.
This contract allows for program compression by hashed branch elimination.
Optical Isolation Contract
Much like sensitive electronics can isolate components using an optical isolator, we can build bitcoin contracts which isolate value from control flow. In the diagram below, provides the fee amount (like Gas in Ethereum) and provides the value. cannot spend to unless it is proven that the protocol can no longer progress to .
The below figure demonstrates the possible executions:
There are certainly more things to be able to add to TXGL. This is a rough working list of things I’ll hopefully add in the coming weeks.
You can download the TXGL SVG template here.