This week’s newsletter includes another entry in our limited weekly series about mempool policy, plus our regular sections announcing new releases and release candidates and describing notable changes to popular Bitcoin infrastructure software.


No significiant news was found this week on the Bitcoin-Dev and Lightning-Dev mailing lists.

Waiting for confirmation #8: Policy as an Interface

A limited weekly series about transaction relay, mempool inclusion, and mining transaction selection—including why Bitcoin Core has a more restrictive policy than allowed by consensus and how wallets can use that policy most effectively.

So far in this series, we have explored the motivations and challenges associated with decentralized transaction relay, leading to a local and global need for transaction validation rules more restrictive than consensus. Since transaction relay policy changes to Bitcoin Core can impact whether an application’s transactions relay, they require socialization with the wider Bitcoin community prior to consideration. Similarly, applications and second layer protocols that utilize transaction relay must be designed with policy rules in mind to avoid creating transactions that are rejected.

Contracting protocols are even more intimately dependent on policies related to prioritization because enforceability on-chain depends on being able to get transactions confirmed quickly. In adversarial environments, cheating counterparties may have an interest in delaying a transaction’s confirmation, so we must also think about how quirks in the transaction relay policy interface can be used against a user.

Lightning Network transactions adhere to the standardness rules mentioned in earlier posts. For example, the peer-to-peer protocol specifies a dust_limit_satoshis in its open_channel message to specify a dust threshold. Since a transaction containing an output with a value lower than the dust threshold would not relay due to nodes’ dust limits, those payments are considered “not enforceable on-chain” and trimmed from commitment transactions.

Contracting protocols often use timelocked spending paths to give each participant the opportunity to contest the state published on-chain. If the affected user cannot get a transaction confirmed within that frame of time, they may suffer loss of funds. This makes fees extremely important as the primary mechanism for boosting confirmation priority, but also more challenging. Feerate estimation is complicated by the fact that transactions will be broadcast at some unknown later time, nodes often operate as thin clients, and some fee-bumping options are unavailable. For example, if an LN channel participant goes offline, the other party may unilaterally broadcast a presigned commitment transaction to settle the distribution of their shared funds on-chain. Neither party can unilaterally spend the shared UTXO, so when one party is offline, signing a replacement transaction to fee-bump the commitment transaction is not possible. Instead, LN commitment transactions may include anchor outputs for channel participants to attach a fee-bumping child at broadcast time.

However, this fee-bumping method also has limitations. As mentioned in a previous post, adding a CPFP transaction is not effective if mempool minimum feerates rise higher than the commitment transaction’s feerate, so they must still be signed with a slightly overestimated feerate in case mempool minimum feerates rise in the future. Additionally, the development of anchor outputs included a number of considerations for the fact that one party may have an interest in delaying confirmation. For example, a party (Alice) may broadcast their own commitment transaction to the network prior to going offline. If this commitment transaction’s feerate is too low for immediate confirmation and if Alice’s counterparty (Bob) doesn’t receive her transaction, he may be confused when his broadcasts of his version of the commitment transaction aren’t successfully relayed. Each commitment transaction has two anchor outputs so that either party may CPFP any of the commitment transactions, e.g. Bob may try to blindly broadcast a CPFP fee bump of Alice’s version of the commitment transaction even if he isn’t sure that she previously broadcast her version. Each anchor output is assigned a small value above the dust threshold and claimable by anyone after some time to avoid bloating the UTXO set.

However, guaranteeing each party’s ability to CPFP a transaction is more complicated than giving each party an anchor output. As mentioned in a previous post, Bitcoin Core limits the number and total size of descendant transactions that can be attached to an unconfirmed transaction as a DoS protection. Since each counterparty has the ability to attach descendants to the shared transaction, one could block the other’s CPFP transaction from relaying by exhausting those limits. The presence of these descendants consequently “pins” the commitment transaction to its low-priority status in mempools.

To mitigate this potential attack, the LN anchor outputs proposal locks all non-anchor outputs with a relative timelock, preventing them from being spent while the transaction is unconfirmed, and Bitcoin Core’s descendant limit policy was modified to allow one extra descendant when this new descendant was small and had no other ancestors. This combination of changes to both protocols ensured that at least two participants in a shared transaction could make feerate adjustments at broadcast time, while not significantly increasing the transaction relay DoS attack surface.

CPFP prevention through domination of the descendant limit is an example of a pinning attack. Pinning attacks take advantage of limitations in mempool policy to prevent incentive-compatible transactions from entering mempools or getting confirmed. In this case, mempool policy has made a tradeoff between DoS-resistance and incentive compatibility. Some tradeoff must be made – a node should consider fee bumps but cannot process infinitely many descendants. CPFP carve out refines this tradeoff for a specific use case.

Beyond exhausting the descendant limit, there are other pinning attacks that altogether prevent use of RBF, make RBF prohibitively expensive, or leverage RBF to delay confirmation of an ANYONECANPAY transaction. Pinning is only an issue in scenarios where multiple parties collaborate in creating a transaction or when there is otherwise room for an untrusted party to interact with the transaction. Minimizing a transaction’s exposure to untrusted parties is generally a good way to avoid pinning.

These points of friction highlight not just the importance of policy as an interface for applications and protocols in the Bitcoin ecosystem, but where it needs to improve. Next week’s post will discuss policy proposals and open questions.

Releases and release candidates

New releases and release candidates for popular Bitcoin infrastructure projects. Please consider upgrading to new releases or helping to test release candidates.

  • Core Lightning 23.05.2 is a maintenance release of this LN node software that contains several bug fixes that may affect users in production.

Notable code and documentation changes

Notable changes this week in Bitcoin Core, Core Lightning, Eclair, LDK, LND, libsecp256k1, Hardware Wallet Interface (HWI), Rust Bitcoin, BTCPay Server, BDK, Bitcoin Improvement Proposals (BIPs), Lightning BOLTs, and Bitcoin Inquisition.

  • Bitcoin Core #24914 loads wallet database records in order by type instead of iterating through the whole database twice to detect dependencies. Some wallets with corrupted records may no longer load after this change, but they can be loaded with a previous version of Bitcoin Core and ported to a new wallet.

  • Bitcoin Core #27896 removes the experimental system call (syscall) sandbox feature (see Newsletter #170). A related issue and follow up comments note the drawbacks of the feature including maintainability (both of the syscall whitelist and OS support), better-supported alternatives, and considerations about whether syscall sandboxing should be Bitcoin Core’s responsibility.

  • Core Lightning #6334 updates and expands CLN’s experimental support for anchor outputs (see Newsletter #111 for CLN’s initial implementation). Some of the updates in this PR include enabling experimental support for zero-fee HTLC anchors and adding configurable checks to ensure the node has at least the minimum amount of emergency funds it needs to operate an anchor channel.

  • BIPs #1452 updates the BIP329 specification for a wallet label export format with a new optional spendable tag that indicates whether the associated output should be spendable by the wallet. Many wallets implement coin control features that allow a user to tell the coin selection algorithm to not spend certain outputs, such as outputs that might reduce the user’s privacy.

  • BIPs #1354 adds BIP389 for the multiple derivation path descriptors described in Newsletter #211. It allows a single descriptor to specify two related BIP32 paths for HD key generation—the first path for incoming payments and the second path for internal wallet payments (such as change).