Validator Timestamp Oracle
Third-party users of Solana sometimes need to know the real-world time a block was produced, generally to meet compliance requirements for external auditors or law enforcement. This proposal describes a validator timestamp oracle that would allow a Solana cluster to satisfy this need.
The general outline of the proposed implementation is as follows:
At regular intervals, each validator records its observed time for a known slot on-chain (via a Timestamp added to a slot Vote)
A client can request a block time for a rooted block using the
getBlockTimeRPC method. When a client requests a timestamp for block N:
A validator determines a "cluster" timestamp for a recent timestamped slot before block N by observing all the timestamped Vote instructions recorded on the ledger that reference that slot, and determining the stake-weighted mean timestamp.
This recent mean timestamp is then used to calculate the timestamp of block N using the cluster's established slot duration
- Any validator replaying the ledger in the future must come up with the same time for every block since genesis
- Estimated block times should not drift more than an hour or so before resolving to real-world (oracle) data
- The block times are not controlled by a single centralized oracle, but ideally based on a function that uses inputs from all validators
- Each validator must maintain a timestamp oracle
The same implementation can provide a timestamp estimate for a not-yet-rooted block. However, because the most recent timestamped slot may or may not be rooted yet, this timestamp would be unstable (potentially failing requirement 1). Initial implementation will target rooted blocks, but if there is a use case for recent-block timestamping, it will be trivial to add the RPC apis in the future.
At regular intervals as it is voting on a particular slot, each validator
records its observed time by including a timestamp in its Vote instruction
submission. The corresponding slot for the timestamp is the newest Slot in the
Vote vector (
Vote::slots.iter().max()). It is signed by the validator's
identity keypair as a usual Vote. In order to enable this reporting, the Vote
struct needs to be extended to include a timestamp field,
timestamp: Option<UnixTimestamp>, which will be set to
None in most Votes.
As of https://github.com/solana-labs/solana/pull/10630, validators submit a timestamp every vote. This enables implementation of a block time caching service that allows nodes to calculate the estimated timestamp immediately after the block is rooted, and cache that value in Blockstore. This provides persistent data and quick queries, while still meeting requirement 1) above.
A validator's vote account will hold its most recent slot-timestamp in VoteState.
The on-chain Vote program needs to be extended to process a timestamp sent with a Vote instruction from validators. In addition to its current process_vote functionality (including loading the correct Vote account and verifying that the transaction signer is the expected validator), this process needs to compare the timestamp and corresponding slot to the currently stored values to verify that they are both monotonically increasing, and store the new slot and timestamp in the account.
Calculating Stake-Weighted Mean Timestamp
In order to calculate the estimated timestamp for a particular block, a validator first needs to identify the most recently timestamped slot:
let timestamp_slot = floor(current_slot / timestamp_interval);
Then the validator needs to gather all Vote WithTimestamp transactions from the
ledger that reference that slot, using
Blockstore::get_slot_entries(). As these
transactions could have taken some time to reach and be processed by the leader,
the validator needs to scan several completed blocks after the timestamp_slot to
get a reasonable set of Timestamps. The exact number of slots will need to be
tuned: More slots will enable greater cluster participation and more timestamp
datapoints; fewer slots will speed how long timestamp filtering takes.
From this collection of transactions, the validator calculates the
stake-weighted mean timestamp, cross-referencing the epoch stakes from
Any validator replaying the ledger should derive the same stake-weighted mean timestamp by processing the Timestamp transactions from the same number of slots.
Calculating Estimated Time for a Particular Block
Once the mean timestamp for a known slot is calculated, it is trivial to calculate the estimated timestamp for subsequent block N:
let block_n_timestamp = mean_timestamp + (block_n_slot_offset * slot_duration);
block_n_slot_offset is the difference between the slot of block N and
the timestamp_slot, and
slot_duration is derived from the cluster's
slots_per_year stored in each Bank