[tor-dev] Proposal: Load-balancing hidden services by splitting introduction from rendezvous

Tom van der Woerdt info at tvdw.eu
Wed Sep 30 15:27:28 UTC 2015

Hey all,

I'd like your thoughts and comments on this proposal.


PS: If you want to deliver them in person, I'm in Berlin.

Filename: xxx-intro-rendezvous-controlsocket.txt
Title: Load-balancing hidden services by splitting introduction from
Author: Tom van der Woerdt
Created: 2015-09-30
Status: draft

1. Overview and motivation

To address scaling concerns with the onion web, we want to be able to
spread the load of hidden services across multiple machines.
OnionBalance is a great stab at this, and it can currently give us 60x
the capacity by publishing 6 separate descriptors, each with 10
introduction points, but more is better. This proposal aims to address
hidden service scaling up to a point where we can handle millions of
concurrent connections.

The basic idea involves splitting the 'introduce' from the
'rendezvous', in the tor implementation, and adding new events and
commands to the control specification to allow intercepting
introductions and transmitting them to different nodes, which will then
take care of the actual rendezvous. External controller code could
relay the data to another node or a pool of nodes, all which are run by
the hidden service operator, effectively distributing the load of
hidden services over multiple processes.

By cleverly utilizing the current descriptor methods, we could publish
up to sixty unique introduction points, which could translate to many
thousands of parallel tor workers. This should allow hidden services to
go multi-threaded, with a few small changes.

2. Specification

We propose two additions to the control specification, of which one is
an event and the other is a new command. We also introduce a new
configuration option.

2.1. DisableAutomaticRendezvous configuration option

The syntax is:
     "DisableAutomaticRendezvous" SP [1|0] CRLF

This configuration option is defined to be a boolean toggle which, if
set, stops the tor implementation from automatically doing a rendezvous
when an INTRODUCE2 cell is received. Instead, an event will be sent to
the controllers. If no controllers are present, the introduction cell
should be dropped, as acting on it instead of dropping it could open a
window for a DoS.

For security reasons, the configuration should be made available only
in the configuration files, and not as an option settable by the

2.2. The "INTRODUCE" event

The syntax is:
     "650" SP "INTRODUCE" SP RendezvousData CRLF

     RendezvousData = implementation-specific, but must not contain
                      whitespace, must only contain human-readable
                      characters, and should be no longer than 512 bytes

The INTRODUCE event should contain sufficient data to allow continuing
the rendezvous from another Tor instance. The exact format is left
unspecified and left up to the implementation. From this follows that
only matching versions can be used safely to coordinate the rendezvous
of hidden service connections.


The syntax is:

This command allows a controller to perform a rendezvous using data
received through an INTRODUCE event. The format of RendezvousData is
not specified other than that it must not contain whitespace, and
should be no longer than 512 bytes.

3. Compatibility and security

The implementation of these methods should, ideally, not change
anything in the network, and all control changes are opt-in, so this
proposal is fully backwards compatible.

Controllers handling this data must be careful to not leak rendezvous
data to untrusted parties, as it could be used to intercept and
manipulate hidden services traffic.

4. Example

Let's take an example where a client (Alice) tries to contact Bob's
hidden service. To do this, Bob follows the normal hidden service
specification, except he sets up ten servers to do this. One of these
publishes the descriptor, the others have this desabled. When the
INTRODUCE2 cell arrives at the node which published the descriptor, it
does not immediately try to perform the rendezvous, but instead outputs
this to the controller. Through an out-of-band process this message is
relayed to a controller of another node of Bob's, and this transmits
the "PERFORM-RENDEZVOUS" command to that node. This node finally
performs the rendezvous, and will continue to serve data to Alice,
whose client will now not have to talk to the introduction point

5. Other considerations

We have left the actual format of the rendezvous data in the control
protocol unspecified, so that controllers do not need to worry about
the various types of hidden service connections, most notably proposal

The decision to not implement the actual cell relaying in the tor
implementation itself was taken to allow more advanced configurations,
and to leave the actual load-balancing algorithm to the implementor of
the controller. The developer of the tor implementation should not
have to choose between a round-robin algorithm and something that could
pull CPU load averages from a centralized monitoring system.

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