The Prime Replication System

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Secure Spread

    Prime: Byzantine Replication Under Attack

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Prime is a Byzantine fault-tolerant state machine replication system. The system consists of (1) a collection of servers providing the replicated service and (2) one or more clients that use the provided service by communicating with the servers. The system maintains correctness as long as no more than f out of 3f+1 servers are Byzantine.

This implementation is based on the protocol described in:

  • Byzantine Replication Under Attack
        Yair Amir, Brian Coan, Jonathan Kirsch, John Lane
        38th IEEE/IFIP International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks (DSN 2008), Anchorage, Alaska, June 2008, pp. 197-206.
The current release is intended to be used to benchmark the protocol in various configurations (LAN, WAN, emulated WAN). It can also be used to test the performance of Prime under certain types of attacks. Specifically, the code can be instrumented (by setting a flag) so that the leader attempts to slow down the performance by causing as much delay as possible without being suspected. The code can also be instrumented (by setting a flag) so that faulty servers try to cause the correct servers to undergo as much reconciliation as possible (i.e., to recover missing Preorder Requests).

The current release also supports proactive recovery and implements the state transfer protocol that prioritizes bandwidth usage over low latency described in: By default the proactive recovery protocol is enabled. It can be turned off by setting the flag RECOVERY to false in src/def.h.

Software Dependencies

Prime uses the OpenSSL cryptographic library. OpenSSL can be downloaded from The Makefile is set up to dynamically link to to OpenSSL. If necessary, you can modify the Makefile to statically link to the library libcrypto.a.

Prime can be configured to make use of Spines, an overlay network developed at Johns Hopkins (see ). This can be useful for testing wide-area topologies and placing bandwidth and latency constraints on the links between servers. By default, the system is set up not to use Spines. In order to use Spines, download and compile it, and place it at Prime/spines. Then uncomment the two lines in src/Makefile beginning with SPINES and SPINES_LIB.


The bin directory contains a sample address configuration file (address.config), which tells the servers the IP addresses of all servers based on server id. The file contains a line for each server with the following format:

server_id ip_address

The server_id is a number from 1 to the number of servers in the system. The ip_address is a standard dotted ipv4 address.

NOTE: The parameters in src/def.h must be written to match the address configuration file (i.e., if NUM_SERVERS is set to 4, then there must be an entry for each of the four servers in the bin/address.config file).

Prime contains many configurable parameters; the code must be recompiled to change these parameters. The parameters are contained in src/def.h. Please refer to this file for details. For reference, the file is organized as follows:

  • System-wide Configuration Settings
  • Networking Settings
  • Cryptography Settings
  • Throttling Settings (to control how much bandwidth is used)
  • Periodic Sending Settings (to control message flow at certain steps)
  • Attack Settings


Enter the libspread-util folder and type ./configure and then make to build the libraries. Prime can be compiled by typing make in the src directory. Three executables will be generated and stored in the bin directory. The programs are gen_keys, server and client. To install the MultiCompiler follow the instruction on the README file in the MultiCompiler folder. To compile Prime with the MultiCompiler you have to replace the Makefile in src with the Makefile in the MultiCompiler folder.


The following assumes that you have successfully compiled the server and client and carried out the necessary configuration steps discussed above. The servers can be run as follows:

First make sure you are in the bin directory.

The gen_keys program must be run first:


This generate RSA keys for the servers and clients. The keys are stored in bin/keys. The server and client programs must read the keys from the bin/keys directory. We assume that in a secure deployment the private keys are accessible only to the server to which they belong.

Then, the server can be run as follows:

./server -i SERVER_ID

where SERVER_ID denotes an integer from 1 to the number of servers in the system.

The client can be run like this:

./client -l IP_ADDRESS -i CLIENT_ID [-s SERVER_ID]

The first two arguments are required. IP_ADDRESS denotes the IP address of the client program, and CLIENT_ID denotes an integer from 1 to the maximum number of clients in the system. If no other arguments are specified, then the client will send each update to a randomly-chosen server (note that this assumes all servers are running). When the "-s" option is used, the client will send its updates only to the specified server. One or more clients can be run.

A single client process can be configured to emulate the behavior of many clients. This can be achieved by setting the NUM_CLIENTS_TO_EMULATE parameter in src/client.c and recompiling. A client process acts like a single client by default.

Output files

Prime can output several different types of files, which we now describe.

STATE_MACHINE Output: Each server outputs a file bin/state_machine_out.SERVER_ID.log, where SERVER_ID is the server's ID. This file contains an entry for each ordered update that has been applied to the state machine at the server. Prime provides a total order on all updates injected into the system. Therefore, the files should be consistent. Note that it is possible that the different servers have ordered different numbers of updates. However, all updates ordered by a server should match any corresponding ordered updates in all other servers.

LATENCY Output: Each client writes the average latency of its update, measured in seconds, in the file bin/latencies/, where ID is the client's ID. The latency is the time difference from when the client submitted an update to when it received a message indicating that the update was ordered.

Erasure Codes

The Prime protocol makes use of erasure codes to send efficient reconciliation (RECON) messages. RECON messages keep correct servers up to date despite the efforts of faulty servers to block execution by failing to properly disseminate updates.

Prime was developed using Michael Luby's implementation of Cauchy-based Reed-Solomon erasure codes, which can be downloaded here:

Due to licensing restrictions, we are unable to include this library in the current release. By default, the current release performs reconciliation without using erasure codes (i.e., full PO-Request messages are sent rather than erasure-encoded ones). This is less efficient than using erasure codes but serves the same functional purpose. Note that the results from the DSN '08 paper reflect the use of erasure codes, and thus performance obtained from the current release in bandwidth-constrained environments will be lower than what is actually achievable.

The current release is set up to use a generic interface to an erasure encoding library. By default, the interface calls are not invoked, because the USE_ERASURE_CODES flag is set to 0 (see src/def.h). The Luby library (or some other erasure encoding library) can be fairly easily integrated into the current release by setting USE_ERASURE_CODES to 1 and filling in the implementations of the interface functions (see src/erasure.h and src/erasure.c).

Prime Checklist

The following is a short summary of the important things that you must do to run Prime.

  1. Download and compile OpenSSL. Make sure the shared library can be located, or modify the Makefile to link to the static library libcrypto.a.
  2. Decide on the number of servers in the system, as well as the number of clients. Change the parameters in src/def.h accordingly. Note that the number of servers must be greater than or equal to 3*NUM_FAULTS + 1. (NUM_FAULTS is a parameter in src/def.h).
  3. Type make in the src directory.
  4. cd to the bin directory. Run the gen_keys program: ./gen_keys
  5. Change the bin/address.config file as described above.
  6. The server and client programs can now be run.

Questions or comments to:
TEL: (410) 516-5562
FAX: (410) 516-6134
Distributed Systems and Networks Lab
Computer Science Department
Johns Hopkins University
3400 N. Charles Street Baltimore, MD 21218-2686