Freenet is essentially a global decentralized key-value store where keys are WebAssembly code called Contracts. Contracts are stored in the network, along with their data or "state". The contract controls what state is permitted and how it can be modified, and also how to efficiently synchronize state between peers.

A contract's state is just a block of bytes, and can be anything from a simple number to a complex data structure. The contract's code defines the state's formatting. Even the serialization format is up to the contract, so it can be anything from JSON to Bincode, or a custom binary format.

Network users can read a contract's state and subscribe to receive immediate updates if the state is modified.

Contracts play a similar role in Freenet to databases and real-time publish-subscribe mechanisms in traditional online services, while being entirely decentralized, secure, and scalable.

Contract Operation

State synchronization and merging

Fundamental Concepts

Contracts need to provide a mechanism to merge any two valid states, creating a new state that integrates both. This process ensures the eventual consistency of contract states in Freenet, a concept similar to Conflict-free Replicated Data Types.

As a very simple example, if the contract's state is a single number, then the contract could define the merging of two states as the maximum of the two numbers.

In mathematical terms, a contract defines a commutative monoid on the contract's state - but you can ignore this if you're not a mathematician.

Efficient State Synchronization

Naively we could transfer the entire state between peers, but this would be inefficient for larger states. Instead, Freenet transmits only the difference between states.

To do this a contract implements three functions:

  • summarize_state - Returns a concise summary of the contract's state.

  • get_state_delta - Compares the contract's state against the summary of another state and returns the difference between the two, the "delta".

  • update_state - Applies a delta to the contract's state, updating it to bring it in sync with the other peer's contract state.

Contracts can implement these functions however they wish depending on the type of data their state contains.


PeerA and PeerB need to synchronize their states. The algorithm for efficient state synchronization consists of the following steps:

  1. Summarize State by Initiator: PeerA compiles a concise summary of its current state using the summarize_state function.

    • This summary is transmitted to PeerB
  2. Compare State at Receiver: PeerB uses get_state_delta to compare the summary against its own state.

    • If they are different, proceed to the next step; if not, synchronization is complete.
  3. Send Delta: If the states are different, PeerB calculates the delta and sends it to PeerA.

  4. Apply Delta: PeerA applies this received delta to its state using update_state.

  5. Reverse Synchronization: This process is repeated in the opposite direction.

This approach allows peers to synchronize state over the network while minimizing data transfer.

Blog Use Case

Consider a public blog contract. The state of this contract would be the blog's content, including blog posts. The contract's code requires that new posts can only be added if they are signed by the blog's owner. The owner's public key is part of the contract's parameters.

The contract would summarize its state by returning a list of post identifiers, and the state delta would be a list of new posts. The contract would apply the delta by appending the new posts to its list of posts. The contract may have a limit on the number of posts it can store, in which case it would remove old posts to make room for new ones.

Writing a Contract in Rust

Freenet Contracts can be written in any programming language that compiles to WebAssembly, but as Freenet is written in Rust it is currently the best supported language for writing contracts.

The ContractInterface Trait

Rust contracts implement the ContractInterface trait, which defines the functions that the core calls to interact with the contract. This trait is defined in the freenet-stdlib.

/// # ContractInterface
/// This trait defines the core functionality for managing and updating a contract's state.
/// Implementations must ensure that state delta updates are *commutative*. In other words,
/// when applying multiple delta updates to a state, the order in which these updates are
/// applied should not affect the final state. Once all deltas are applied, the resulting
/// state should be the same, regardless of the order in which the deltas were applied.
/// Noncompliant behavior, such as failing to obey the commutativity rule, may result
/// in the contract being deprioritized or removed from the p2p network.
pub trait ContractInterface {
    /// Verify that the state is valid, given the parameters.
    fn validate_state(
        parameters: Parameters<'static>,
        state: State<'static>,
        related: RelatedContracts<'static>,
    ) -> Result<ValidateResult, ContractError>;

    /// Verify that a delta is valid if possible, returns false if and only delta is
    /// definitely invalid, true otherwise.
    fn validate_delta(
        parameters: Parameters<'static>,
        delta: StateDelta<'static>,
    ) -> Result<bool, ContractError>;

    /// Update the state to account for the new data
    fn update_state(
        parameters: Parameters<'static>,
        state: State<'static>,
        data: Vec<UpdateData<'static>>,
    ) -> Result<UpdateModification<'static>, ContractError>;

    /// Generate a concise summary of a state that can be used to create deltas
    /// relative to this state.
    fn summarize_state(
        parameters: Parameters<'static>,
        state: State<'static>,
    ) -> Result<StateSummary<'static>, ContractError>;

    /// Generate a state delta using a summary from the current state.
    /// This along with [`Self::summarize_state`] allows flexible and efficient
    /// state synchronization between peers.
    fn get_state_delta(
        parameters: Parameters<'static>,
        state: State<'static>,
        summary: StateSummary<'static>,
    ) -> Result<StateDelta<'static>, ContractError>;

Flexibility versus Convenience

The ContractInterface trait is a low-level "Layer 0" API that provides direct access to the contract's state and parameters. This API is useful for contracts that require fine-grained control over their state, but can be cumbersome.

Soon we will provide higher-level APIs on top of Layer 0 that will sacrifice some flexibility for ease of contract implementation.