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State transitions and storage

Substrate uses a simple key-value data store implemented as a database-backed, modified Merkle tree. All of Substrate's higher-level storage abstractions are built on top of this simple key-value store.

Key-Value database

Substrate implements its storage database with RocksDB, a persistent key-value store for fast storage environments. It also supports an experimental Parity DB.

The DB is used for all the components of Substrate that require persistent storage, such as:

  • Substrate clients
  • Substrate light-clients
  • Off-chain workers

Trie abstraction

One advantage of using a simple key-value store is that you are able to easily abstract storage structures on top of it.

Substrate uses a Base-16 Modified Merkle Patricia tree ("trie") from paritytech/trie to provide a trie structure whose contents can be modified and whose root hash is recalculated efficiently.

Tries allow efficient storing and sharing of the historical block state. The trie root is a representation of the data within the trie; that is, two tries with different data will always have different roots. Thus, two blockchain nodes can easily verify that they have the same state by simply comparing their trie roots.

Accessing trie data is costly. Each read operation takes O(log N) time, where N is the number of elements stored in the trie. To mitigate this, we use a key-value cache.

All trie nodes are stored in the DB and part of the trie state can get pruned, i.e. a key-value pair can be deleted from storage when it is out of pruning range for non-archive nodes. We do not use reference counting for performance reasons.

State trie

Substrate-based chains have a single main trie, called the state trie, whose root hash is placed in each block header. This is used to easily verify the state of the blockchain and provide a basis for light clients to verify proofs.

This trie only stores content for the canonical chain, not forks. There is a separate state_db layer that maintains the trie state with references counted in memory for all that is non-canonical.

Child trie

Substrate also provides an API to generate new child tries with their own root hashes that can be used in the runtime.

Child tries are identical to the main state trie, except that a child trie's root is stored and updated as a node in the main trie instead of the block header. Since their headers are a part of the main state trie, it is still easy to verify the complete node state when it includes child tries.

Child tries are useful when you want your own independent trie with a separate root hash that you can use to verify the specific content in that trie. Subsections of a trie do not have a root-hash-like representation that satisfy these needs automatically; thus a child trie is used instead.

Querying storage

Blockchains that are built with Substrate expose a remote procedure call (RPC) server that can be used to query runtime storage. When you use the Substrate RPC to access a storage item, you only need to provide the key associated with that item. Substrate's runtime storage APIs expose a number of storage item types; keep reading to learn how to calculate storage keys for the different types of storage items.

Storage value keys

To calculate the key for a simple Storage Value, take the TwoX 128 hash of the name of the pallet that contains the Storage Value and append to it the TwoX 128 hash of the name of the Storage Value itself. For example, the Sudo pallet exposes a Storage Value item named Key:

twox_128("Sudo")                   = "0x5c0d1176a568c1f92944340dbfed9e9c"
twox_128("Key")                    = "0x530ebca703c85910e7164cb7d1c9e47b"
twox_128("Sudo") + twox_128("Key") = "0x5c0d1176a568c1f92944340dbfed9e9c530ebca703c85910e7164cb7d1c9e47b"

If the familiar Alice account is the sudo user, an RPC request and response to read the Sudo pallet's Key Storage Value could be represented as:

state_getStorage("0x5c0d1176a568c1f92944340dbfed9e9c530ebca703c85910e7164cb7d1c9e47b") = "0xd43593c715fdd31c61141abd04a99fd6822c8558854ccde39a5684e7a56da27d"

In this case, the value that is returned ("0xd43593c715fdd31c61141abd04a99fd6822c8558854ccde39a5684e7a56da27d") is Alice's SCALE-encoded account ID (5GrwvaEF5zXb26Fz9rcQpDWS57CtERHpNehXCPcNoHGKutQY).

You may have noticed that the non-cryptographic TwoX 128 hash algorithm is used to generate Storage Value keys. This is because it is not necessary to pay the performance costs associated with a cryptographic hash function since the input to the hash function (the names of the pallet and storage item) are determined by the runtime developer and not by potentially malicious users of your blockchain.

Storage map keys

Like Storage Values, the keys for Storage Maps are equal to the TwoX 128 hash of the name of the pallet that contains the map prepended to the TwoX 128 hash of the name of the Storage Map itself. To retrieve an element from a map, append the hash of the desired map key to the storage key of the Storage Map. For maps with two keys (Storage Double Maps), append the hash of the first map key followed by the hash of the second map key to the Storage Double Map's storage key.

Like Storage Values, Substrate uses the TwoX 128 hashing algorithm for the pallet and Storage Map names, but you will need to make sure to use the correct hashing algorithm (the one that was declared in the #[pallet::storage] macro) when determining the hashed keys for the elements in a map.

Here is an example that illustrates querying a Storage Map named FreeBalance from a pallet named Balances for the balance of the Alice account. In this example, the FreeBalance map is using the transparent Blake2 128 Concat hashing algorithm:

twox_128("Balances")                                             = "0xc2261276cc9d1f8598ea4b6a74b15c2f"
twox_128("FreeBalance")                                          = "0x6482b9ade7bc6657aaca787ba1add3b4"
scale_encode("5GrwvaEF5zXb26Fz9rcQpDWS57CtERHpNehXCPcNoHGKutQY") = "0xd43593c715fdd31c61141abd04a99fd6822c8558854ccde39a5684e7a56da27d"

blake2_128_concat("0xd43593c715fdd31c61141abd04a99fd6822c8558854ccde39a5684e7a56da27d") = "0xde1e86a9a8c739864cf3cc5ec2bea59fd43593c715fdd31c61141abd04a99fd6822c8558854ccde39a5684e7a56da27d"

state_getStorage("0xc2261276cc9d1f8598ea4b6a74b15c2f6482b9ade7bc6657aaca787ba1add3b4de1e86a9a8c739864cf3cc5ec2bea59fd43593c715fdd31c61141abd04a99fd6822c8558854ccde39a5684e7a56da27d") = "0x0000a0dec5adc9353600000000000000"

The value that is returned from the storage query ("0x0000a0dec5adc9353600000000000000" in the example above) is the SCALE-encoded value of Alice's account balance ("1000000000000000000000" in this example). Notice that before hashing Alice's account ID it has to be SCALE-encoded. Also notice that the output of the blake2_128_concat function consists of 32 hexadecimal characters followed by the function's input. This is because the Blake2 128 Concat is a transparent hashing algorithm.

Although the above example may make this characteristic seem superfluous, its utility becomes more apparent when the goal is to iterate over the keys in a map (as opposed to retrieving the value associated with a single key). The ability to iterate over the keys in a map is a common requirement in order to allow people to use the map in a way that seems natural (such as UIs): first, a user is presented with a list of elements in the map, then, that user can select the element that they are interested in and query the map for more details about that particular element.

Here is another example that uses the same example Storage Map (a map named FreeBalances that uses a Blake2 128 Concat hashing algorithm in a pallet named Balances that demonstrates using the Substrate RPC to query a Storage Map for its list of keys via the state_getKeys RPC endpoint:

twox_128("Balances")                                      = "0xc2261276cc9d1f8598ea4b6a74b15c2f"
twox_128("FreeBalance")                                   = "0x6482b9ade7bc6657aaca787ba1add3b4"

state_getKeys("0xc2261276cc9d1f8598ea4b6a74b15c2f6482b9ade7bc6657aaca787ba1add3b4") = [
 "0xc2261276cc9d1f8598ea4b6a74b15c2f6482b9ade7bc6657aaca787ba1add3b4de1e86a9a8c739864cf3cc5ec2bea59fd43593c715fdd31c61141abd04a99fd6822c8558854ccde39a5684e7a56da27d",
 "0xc2261276cc9d1f8598ea4b6a74b15c2f6482b9ade7bc6657aaca787ba1add3b432a5935f6edc617ae178fef9eb1e211fbe5ddb1579b72e84524fc29e78609e3caf42e85aa118ebfe0b0ad404b5bdd25f",
 ...
]

Each element in the list that is returned by the Substrate RPC's state_getKeys endpoint can be directly used as input for the RPC's state_getStorage endpoint. In fact, the first element in the example list above is equal to the input used for the state_getStorage query in the previous example (the one used to find the balance for Alice). Because the map that these keys belong to uses a transparent hashing algorithm to generate its keys, it is possible to determine the account associated with the second element in the list. Notice that each element in the list is a hexadecimal value that begins with the same 64 characters; this is because each list element represents a key in the same map, and that map is identified by concatenating two TwoX 128 hashes, each of which are 128-bits or 32 hexadecimal characters. After discarding this portion of the second element in the list, you are left with 0x32a5935f6edc617ae178fef9eb1e211fbe5ddb1579b72e84524fc29e78609e3caf42e85aa118ebfe0b0ad404b5bdd25f.

You saw in the previous example that this represents the Blake2 128 Concat hash of some SCALE-encoded account ID. The Blake 128 Concat hashing algorithm consists of appending (concatenating) the hashing algorithm's input to its Blake 128 hash. This means that the first 128 bits (or 32 hexadecimal characters) of a Blake2 128 Concat hash represents a Blake2 128 hash, and the remainder represents the value that was passed to the Blake 2 128 hashing algorithm. In this example, after you remove the first 32 hexadecimal characters that represent the Blake2 128 hash (i.e. 0x32a5935f6edc617ae178fef9eb1e211f) what is left is the hexadecimal value 0xbe5ddb1579b72e84524fc29e78609e3caf42e85aa118ebfe0b0ad404b5bdd25f, which is a SCALE-encoded account ID. Decoding this value yields the result 5GNJqTPyNqANBkUVMN1LPPrxXnFouWXoe2wNSmmEoLctxiZY, which is the account ID for the familiar Alice_Stash account.

Runtime storage API

Substrate's FRAME Support crate provides utilities for generating unique, deterministic keys for your runtime's storage items. These storage items are placed in the state trie and are accessible by querying the trie by key.

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