Highway: Efficient Consensus with Flexible Finality

01/06/2021 ∙ by Daniel Kane, et al. ∙ 0

There has been recently a lot of progress in designing efficient partially synchronous BFT consensus protocols that are meant to serve as core consensus engines for Proof of Stake blockchain systems. While the state-of-the-art solutions attain virtually optimal performance under this theoretical model, there is still room for improvement, as several practical aspects of such systems are not captured by this model. Most notably, during regular execution, due to financial incentives in such systems, one expects an overwhelming fraction of nodes to honestly follow the protocol rules and only few of them to be faulty, most likely due to temporary network issues. Intuitively, the fact that almost all nodes behave honestly should result in stronger confidence in blocks finalized in such periods, however it is not the case under the classical model, where finality is binary. We propose Highway, a new consensus protocol that is safe and live in the classical partially synchronous BFT model, while at the same time offering practical improvements over existing solutions. Specifically, block finality in Highway is not binary but is expressed by fraction of nodes that would need to break the protocol rules in order for a block to be reverted. During periods of honest participation finality of blocks might reach well beyond 1/3 (as what would be the maximum for classical protocols), up to even 1 (complete certainty). Having finality defined this way, Highway offers flexibility with respect to the configuration of security thresholds among nodes running the protocol, allowing nodes with lower thresholds to reach finality faster than the ones requiring higher levels of confidence.

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