Prime: Byzantine Replication Under Attack



Prime is a Byzantine fault-tolerant state machine replication engine. The system maintains correctness as long as no more than f servers are Byzantine, and remains available as long as no more than f servers are Byzantine and no more than k servers are crashed/paritioned out of the total 3f+2k+1 servers.

This implementation is based on the protocols described in:

  • Y. Amir, B. Coan, J. Kirsch, J. Lane. Byzantine Replication Under Attack. In Proceedings of the 38th IEEE/IFIP International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks (DSN 2008), Anchorage, Alaska, June 2008, pp. 197-206.

  • M. Platania, D. Obenshain, T. Tantillo, R. Sharma, Y. Amir. Towards a Practical Surviviable Intrusion Tolerant Replication System. In Proceedings of the IEEE International Symposium on Reliable Distributed Systems (SRDS14), Nara, Japan, October 2014, pp. 242-252.

The current release implements the complete Prime protocol as described in the Byzantine Replication Under Attack paper and J. Kirsch's PhD thesis. This version provides an ephemeral ordering service that can tolerate f compromised replicas and k unavailable replicas (due to crashes, partitions, or recovery). In addition, this version is able to recover from temporary network partitions. If there are not enough connected replicas to make progress due to a partition, progress will resume once the partition heals. If some replica(s) are disconnected from a quorum of replicas that continues to make progress, these replicas will be caught up and able to rejoin the system once they are reconnected.

In the replication model used in this version, each replica consists of an application replica paired with a Prime daemon co-located on the same machine. The application replicas introduce updates or events into the system for ordering through their paired Prime daemon. The Prime daemons execute the Prime Byzantine agreement protocol to assign each update an ordinal in the global total ordering.

Each application replica receives an ordered stream of updates from its Prime daemon, including both the updates it introduced and updates introduced by other application replicas. If the replica pair (application and Prime) miss messages (e.g., due to crash-recovery or network partition), the Prime daemon will explicitly notify the application that it should do a state transfer (applications may vary as to whether or not the application-level state transfer is necessary). This Prime daemon will reconcile with the other Prime daemons to rejoin the ordering protocol, and will resume delivering ordered updates to the application replica starting from the ordinal immediately following the one that the application will become consistent with after its state transfer.

Note that this new replication model is different than that of Prime version 2.0, which treated Prime as both an ordering service and a persistent database that stored and recovered application state with its own Prime-level state transfer protocol.

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.

The current version of Prime is configured to make use of Spines (, an overlay messaging toolkit also developed at Johns Hopkins University. Spines provides an intrusion-tolerant networking foundation that serves as Prime's communication layer, protecting Prime from attacks and compromises at the underlying network level. Spines is also helpful for testing wide-area topologies and placing bandwidth and latency constraints on the links between Prime servers.

By default, Prime is setup to use Spines. The latest compatible version is included in the Prime software package at Prime/spines. We recommend using Spines because it provides intrusion tolerance at the network level, as well as resiliency to normal benign network issues (e.g., lossy links). Note that to use Spines, a Spines network topology and options should be configured in the spines/daemon/spines.conf file, and then the spines daemons should be started (see Spines documentation for more details). To work without Spines, comment the two lines in src/Makefile beginning with SPINES and SPINES_LIB.

Prime also makes use of several other open-source libraries, all of which are included in the Prime software package. OpenTC provides an implementation of the Shoup threshold cryptography algorithm, which Prime uses during the View Change protocol to efficiently challenge the new leader. stdutil provides efficient C implementations of several common data structures. libspread-util provides access a suite of functions, including event handling and logging.


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).

NOTE: If you are using Spines (which is the default), please also configure spines_address.config to indicate which spines daemon each Prime server connects with.

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


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, prime and client.


The following assumes that you have successfully compiled the Prime server and client and carried out the necessary configuration steps discussed above. The Prime 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 Prime 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. This also generates threshold cryptography shares for the Prime servers, which are used in the Prime View Change protocol.

Then, the Prime server can be run as follows:

./prime -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:


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. The client sends its updates through the Prime server with id SERVER_ID.

NOTE: With the replication model used in the version, only one client can connect to each Prime replica at a given time, and that client must be co-located on the same machine as the target Prime server.

By default, each client sends one update at a time through its connected Prime server, only sending the next update once it has received a response for the current pending one. By setting the NUM_CLIENTS_TO_EMULATE parameter in src/client.c and recompiling, the client will instead send several updates at once, maintaining multiple outstanding updates in a pipeline fashion. As soon as a response is received for one of these pending updates, another one is sent to the Prime server.

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. Change the parameters in src/def.h accordingly. Note that the number of servers must be equal to 3*NUM_F + 2*NUM_K + 1, which are parameters in src.def.h.
  3. If using Spines (which is the default setting), configure the Spines network (spines/daemon/spines.conf) and configure bin/spines_address.config accordingly.
  4. Type make in the src directory.
  5. cd to the bin directory. Run the gen_keys program: ./gen_keys
  6. Run the spines network.
  7. Change the bin/address.config file as described above.
  8. The server and client programs can now be run.
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