Permissionless Consensus

Blockchain protocols typically aspire to run in the permissionless setting, in which nodes are owned and operated by a large number of diverse and unknown entities, with each node free to start or stop running the protocol at any time. This setting is more challenging than the traditional permissioned setting, in which the set of nodes that will be running the protocol is fixed and known at the time of protocol deployment. The goal of this paper is to provide a framework for reasoning about the rich design space of blockchain protocols and their capabilities and limitations in the permissionless setting.
This paper offers a hierarchy of settings with different “degrees of permissionlessness”, specified by the amount of knowledge that a protocol has about the current participants: These are the fully permissionless, dynamically available and quasi-permissionless settings.
The paper also proves several results illustrating the utility of our analysis framework for reasoning about blockchain protocols in these settings. For example:
(1) In the fully permissionless setting, even with synchronous communication and with severe restrictions on the total size of the Byzantine players, every deterministic protocol for Byzantine agreement has an infinite execution.
(2) In the dynamically available and partially synchronous setting, no protocol can solve the Byzantine agreement problem with high probability, even if there are no Byzantine players at all.
(3) In the quasi-permissionless and partially synchronous setting, by contrast, assuming a bound on the total size of the Byzantine players, there is a deterministic protocol guaranteed to solve the Byzantine agreement problem in a finite amount of time.
(4) In the quasi-permissionless and synchronous setting, every proof-of-stake protocol that does not use advanced cryptography is vulnerable to long-range attacks.

Permissionless Consensus: pdf

This journal version of the paper subsumes the earlier conference versions “Byzantine Generals in the Permissionless Setting” and “Resource Pools and the CAP Theorem”, substantially revises the frameworks presented in those papers, and presents a number of new results.

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