[tor-dev] Proposal 275: Stop including meaningful "published" time in microdescriptor consensus
nickm at torproject.org
Fri Feb 24 16:25:26 UTC 2017
Title: Stop including meaningful "published" time in microdescriptor consensus
Author: Nick Mathewson
This document proposes that, in order to limit the bandwidth needed
for networkstatus diffs, we remove "published" part of the "r" lines
in microdescriptor consensuses.
The more extreme, compatibility-breaking version of this idea will
reduce ed consensus diff download volume by approximately 55-75%. A
less-extreme interim version would still reduce volume by
The current microdescriptor consensus "r" line format is:
r Nickname Identity Published IP ORPort DirPort
r moria1 lpXfw1/+uGEym58asExGOXAgzjE 2017-01-10 07:59:25 \
220.127.116.11 9101 9131
As I'll show below, there's not much use for the "Published" part
of these lines. By omitting them or replacing them with
something more compressible, we can save space.
What's more, changes in the Published field are one of the most
frequent changes between successive networkstatus consensus
documents. If we were to remove this field, then networkstatus diffs
(see proposal 140) would be smaller.
3. Compatibility notes
Above I've talked about "removing" the published field. But of
course, doing this would make all existing consensus consumers
stop parsing the consensus successfully.
Instead, let's look at how this field is used currently in Tor,
and see if we can replace the value with something else.
* Published is used in the voting process to decide which
descriptor should be considered. But that is takend from
vote networkstatus documents, not consensuses.
* Published is used in mark_my_descriptor_dirty_if_too_old()
to decide whether to upload a new router descriptor. If the
published time in the consensus is more than 18 hours in the
past, we upload a new descriptor. (Relays are potentially
looking at the microdesc consensus now, since #6769 was
merged in 0.3.0.1-alpha.) Relays have plenty of other ways
to notice that they should upload new descriptors.
* Published is used in client_would_use_router() to decide
whether a routerstatus is one that we might possibly use.
We say that a routerstatus is not usable if its published
time is more than OLD_ROUTER_DESC_MAX_AGE (5 days) in the
past, or if it is not at least
TestingEstimatedDescriptorPropagationTime (10 minutes) in
the future. [***] Note that this is the only case where anything
is rejected because it comes from the future.
* client_would_use_router() decides whether we should
download a router descriptor (not a microdescriptor)
* client_would_use_router() is used from
count_usable_descriptors() to decide which relays are
potentially usable, thereby forming the denominator of
our "have descriptors / usable relays" fraction.
So we have a fairly limited constraints on which Published values
we can safely advertize with today's Tor implementations. If we
advertise anything more than 10 minutes in the future,
client_would_use_router() will consider routerstatuses unusable.
If we advertize anything more than 18 hours in the past, relays
will upload their descriptors far too often.
Immediately, in 0.2.9.x-stable (our LTS release series), we
should stop caring about published_on dates in the future. This
is a two-line change.
As an interim solution: We should add a new consensus method number
that changes the process by which Published fields in consensuses are
generated. It should set all all Published fields in the consensus
should be the same value. These fields should be taken to rotate
every 15 hours, by taking consensus valid-after time, and rounding
down to the nearest multiple of 15 hours since the epoch.
As a longer-term solution: Once all Tor versions earlier than 0.2.9.x
are obsolete (in mid 2018), we can update with a new consensus
method, and set the published_on date to some safe time in the
To consider the impact on consensus diffs: I analyzed consensus
changes over the month of January 2017, using scripts at .
With the interim solution in place, compressed diff sizes fell by
2-7% at all measured intervals except 12 hours, where they increased
by about 4%. Savings of 5-6% were most typical.
With the longer-term solution in place, and all published times held
constant permanently, the compressed diff sizes were uniformly at
least 56% smaller.
With this in mind, I think we might want to only plan to support the
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