Proposal 158: Clients download consensus + microdescriptors

Roger Dingledine arma at
Sun Jan 18 19:22:52 UTC 2009

Filename: 158-microdescriptors.txt
Title: Clients download consensus + microdescriptors
Version: $Revision: 18172 $
Last-Modified: $Date: 2009-01-18 13:57:20 -0500 (Sun, 18 Jan 2009) $
Author: Roger Dingledine
Created: 17-Jan-2009
Status: Open

1. Overview

  This proposal replaces section 3.2 of proposal 141, which was
  called "Fetching descriptors on demand". Rather than modifying the
  circuit-building protocol to fetch a server descriptor inline at each
  circuit extend, we instead put all of the information that clients need
  either into the consensus itself, or into a new set of data about each
  relay called a microdescriptor. The microdescriptor is a direct
  transform from the relay descriptor, so relays don't even need to know
  this is happening.

  Descriptor elements that are small and frequently changing should go
  in the consensus itself, and descriptor elements that are small and
  relatively static should go in the microdescriptor. If we ever end up
  with descriptor elements that aren't small yet clients need to know
  them, we'll need to resume considering some design like the one in
  proposal 141.

2. Motivation

  See and and especially
  for a discussion of the options and why this is currently the best

3. Design

  There are three pieces to the proposal. First, authorities will list in
  their votes (and thus in the consensus) what relay descriptor elements
  are included in the microdescriptor, and also list the expected hash
  of microdescriptor for each relay. Second, directory mirrors will serve
  microdescriptors. Third, clients will ask for them and cache them.

3.1. Consensus changes

  V3 votes should include a new line:
    microdescriptor-elements bar baz foo
  listing each descriptor element (sorted alphabetically) that authority
  included when it calculated its expected microdescriptor hashes.

  We also need to include the hash of each expected microdescriptor in
  the routerstatus section. I suggest a new "m" line for each stanza,
  with the base64 of the hash of the elements that the authority voted
  for above.

  The consensus microdescriptor-elements and "m" lines are then computed
  as described in Section 3.1.2 below.

  I believe that means we need a new consensus-method "6" that knows
  how to compute the microdescriptor-elements and add "m" lines.

3.1.1. Descriptor elements to include for now

  To start, the element list that authorities suggest should be
    family onion-key

  (Note that the or-dev posts above only mention onion-key, but if
  we don't also include family then clients will never learn it. It
  seemed like it should be relatively static, so putting it in the
  microdescriptor is smarter than trying to fit it into the consensus.)

  We could imagine a config option "family,onion-key" so authorities
  could change their voted preferences without needing to upgrade.

3.1.2. Computing consensus for microdescriptor-elements and "m" lines

  One approach is for the consensus microdescriptor-elements line to
  include every element listed by a majority of authorities, sorted. The
  problem here is that it will no longer be deterministic what the correct
  hash for the "m" line should be. We could imagine telling the authority
  to go look in its descriptor and produce the right hash itself, but
  we don't want consensus calculation to be based on external data like
  that. (Plus, the authority may not have the descriptor that everybody
  else voted to use.)

  The better approach is to take the exact set that has the most votes
  (breaking ties by the set that has the most elements, and breaking
  ties after that by whichever is alphabetically first). That will
  increase the odds that we actually get a microdescriptor hash that
  is both a) for the descriptor we're putting in the consensus, and b)
  over the elements that we're declaring it should be for.

  Then the "m" line for a given relay is the one that gets the most votes
  from authorities that both a) voted for the microdescriptor-elements
  line we're using, and b) voted for the descriptor we're using.

  (If there's a tie, use the smaller hash. But really, if there are
  multiple such votes and they differ about a microdescriptor, we caught
  one of them lying or being buggy. We should log it to track down why.)

  If there are no such votes, then we leave out the "m" line for that
  relay. That means clients should avoid it for this time period. (As
  an extension it could instead mean that clients should fetch the
  descriptor and figure out its microdescriptor themselves. But let's
  not get ahead of ourselves.)

  It would be nice to have a more foolproof way to agree on what
  microdescriptor hash each authority should vote for, so we can avoid
  missing "m" lines. Just switching to a new consensus-method each time
  we change the set of microdescriptor-elements won't help though, since
  each authority will still have to decide what hash to vote for before
  knowing what consensus-method will be used.

  Here's one way we could do it. Each vote / consensus includes
  the microdescriptor-elements that were used to compute the hashes,
  and also a preferred-microdescriptor-elements set. If an authority
  has a consensus from the previous period, then it should use the
  consensus preferred-microdescriptor-elements when computing its votes
  for microdescriptor-elements and the appropriate hashes in the upcoming
  period. (If it has no previous consensus, then it just writes its
  own preferences in both lines.)

3.2. Directory mirrors serve microdescriptors

  Directory mirrors should then read the microdescriptor-elements line
  from the consensus, and learn how to answer requests. (Directory mirrors
  continue to serve normal relay descriptors too, a) to serve old clients
  and b) to be able to construct microdescriptors on the fly.)

  The microdescriptors with hashes <D1>,<D2>,<D3> should be available at:

  All the microdescriptors from the current consensus should also be
  available at:
  so a client that's bootstrapping doesn't need to send a 70KB URL just
  to name every microdescriptor it's looking for.

  The format of a microdescriptor is the header line
  followed by each element (keyword and body), alphabetically. There's
  no need to mention what hash it's for, since it's self-identifying:
  you can hash the elements to learn this.

  (Do we need a footer line to show that it's over, or is the next
  microdescriptor line or EOF enough of a hint? A footer line wouldn't
  hurt much. Also, no fair voting for the microdescriptor-element

  The hash of the microdescriptor is simply the hash of the concatenated
  elements -- not counting the header line or hypothetical footer line.
  Unless you prefer that?

  Is there a reasonable way to version these things? We could say that
  the microdescriptor-header line can contain arguments which clients
  must ignore if they don't understand them. Any better ways?

  Directory mirrors should check to make sure that the microdescriptors
  they're about to serve match the right hashes (either the hashes from
  the fetch URL or the hashes from the consensus, respectively).

  We will probably want to consider some sort of smart data structure to
  be able to quickly convert microdescriptor hashes into the appropriate
  microdescriptor. Clients will want this anyway when they load their
  microdescriptor cache and want to match it up with the consensus to
  see what's missing.

3.3. Clients fetch them and cache them

  When a client gets a new consensus, it looks to see if there are any
  microdescriptors it needs to learn. If it needs to learn more than
  some threshold of the microdescriptors (half?), it requests 'all',
  else it requests only the missing ones.

  Clients maintain a cache of microdescriptors along with metadata like
  when it was last referenced by a consensus. They keep a microdescriptor
  until it hasn't been mentioned in any consensus for a week. Future
  clients might cache them for longer or shorter times.

3.3.1. Information leaks from clients

  If a client asks you for a set of microdescs, then you know she didn't
  have them cached before. How much does that leak? What about when
  we're all using our entry guards as directory guards, and we've seen
  that user make a bunch of circuits already?

  Fetching "all" when you need at least half is a good first order fix,
  but might not be all there is to it.

  Another future option would be to fetch some of the microdescriptors
  anonymously (via a Tor circuit).

4. Transition and deployment

  Phase one, the directory authorities should start voting on
  microdescriptors and microdescriptor elements, and putting them in the
  consensus. This should happen during the 0.2.1.x series, and should
  be relatively easy to do.

  Phase two, directory mirrors should learn how to serve them, and learn
  how to read the consensus to find out what they should be serving. This
  phase could be done either in 0.2.1.x or early in 0.2.2.x, depending
  on how messy it turns out to be and how quickly we get around to it.

  Phase three, clients should start fetching and caching them instead
  of normal descriptors. This should happen post 0.2.1.x.

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