This document describes the high-level architecture of nearcore. The focus here is on the implementation of the blockchain protocol, not the protocol itself. For reference documentation of the protocol, please refer to nomicon

Some parts of our architecture are also covered in this video series on YouTube.

Bird's Eye View

If we put the entirety of nearcore onto one picture, we get something like this:

Don't worry if this doesn't yet make a lot of sense: hopefully, by the end of this document the above picture would become much clearer!

Overall Operation

nearcore is a blockchain node -- it's a single binary (neard) which runs on some machine and talks to other similar binaries running elsewhere. Together, the nodes agree (using a distributed consensus algorithm) on a particular sequence of transactions. Once transaction sequence is established, each node applies transactions to the current state. Because transactions are fully deterministic, each node in the network ends up with identical state. To allow greater scalability, NEAR protocol uses sharding, which allows a node to hold only a small subset (shard) of the whole state.

neard is a stateful, restartable process. When neard starts, the node connects to the network and starts processing blocks (block is a batch of transactions, processed together; transactions are batched into blocks for greater efficiency). The results of processing are persisted in the database. RocksDB is used for storage. Usually, the node's data is found in the ~/.near directory. The node can be stopped at any moment and be restarted later. While the node is offline it misses the block, so, after a restart, the sync process kicks in which brings the node up-to-speed with the network by downloading the missing bits of history from more up-to-date peer nodes.

Major components of nearcore:

  • JSON RPC. This HTTP RPC interface is how neard communicates with non-blockchain outside world. For example, to submit a transaction, some client sends an RPC request with it to some node in the network. From that node, the transaction propagates through the network, until it is included in some block. Similarly, a client can send an HTTP request to a node to learn about current state of the blockchain. The JSON RPC interface is documented here.

  • Network. If RPC is aimed "outside" the blockchain, "network" is how peer neard nodes communicate with each other within the blockchain. RPC carries requests from users of the blockchain, while network carries various messages needed to implement consensus. Two directly connected nodes communicate by sending protobuf-encoded messages over TCP. A node also includes logic to route messages for indirect peers through intermediaries. Oversimplifying a lot, it's enough for a new node to know an IP address of just one other network participant. From this bootstrap connection, the node learns how to communicate with any other node in the network.

  • Client. Somewhat confusingly named, client is the logical state of the blockchain. After receiving and decoding a request, both RPC and network usually forward it in the parsed form to the client. Internally, client is split in two somewhat independent components: chain and runtime.

  • Chain. The job of chain, in a nutshell, is to determine a global order of transactions. Chain builds and maintains the blockchain data structure. This includes block and chunk production and processing, consensus, and validator selection. However, chain is not responsible for actually applying transactions and receipts.

  • Runtime. If chain selects the order of transactions, Runtime applies transaction to the state. Chain guarantees that everyone agrees on the order and content of transactions, and Runtime guarantees that each transaction is fully deterministic. It follows that everyone agrees on the "current state" of the blockchain. Some transactions are as simple as "transfer X tokens from Alice to Bob". But a much more powerful class of transactions is supported: "run this arbitrary WebAssembly code in the context of the current state of the chain". Running such "smart contract" transactions securely and efficiently is a major part of what Runtime does. Today, Runtime uses a JIT compiler to do that.

  • Storage. Storage is more of a cross-cutting concern, than an isolated component. Many parts of a node want to durably persist various bits of state to disk. One notable case is the logical state of the blockchain, and, in particular, data associated with each account. Logically, the state of an account on a chain is a key-value map: HashMap<Vec<u8>, Vec<u8>>. But there is a twist: it should be possible to provide a succinct proof that a particular key indeed holds a particular value. To allow that internally the state is implemented as a persistent (in both senses, "functional" and "on disk") merkle-patricia trie.

  • Parameter Estimator. One kind of transaction we support is "run this arbitrary, Turing-complete computation". To protect from a loop {} transaction halting the whole network, Runtime implements resource limiting: each transaction runs with a certain finite amount of "gas", and each operation costs a certain amount of gas to perform. Parameter estimator is essentially a set of benchmarks used to estimate relative gas costs of various operations.

Entry Points

neard/src/main.rs contains the main function that starts a blockchain node. However, this file mostly only contains the logic to parse arguments and dispatch different commands. start_with_config in nearcore/src/lib.rs is the actual entry point and it starts all the actors.

JsonRpcHandler::process in the jsonrpc crate is the RPC entry point. It implements the public API of a node, which is documented here.

PeerManagerActor::spawn in the network is an entry for the other point of contract with the outside world -- the peer-to-peer network.

Runtime::apply in the runtime crate is the entry point for transaction processing logic. This is where state transitions actually happen, after chain decided, according to distributed consensus, which transitions need to happen.

Code Map

This section contains some high-level overview of important crates and data structures.


This crate contains most of the types that are shared across different crates.


This crate contains types needed for runtime.


This directory contains the MPT state implementation. Note that we usually use TrieUpdate to interact with the state.


This crate contains most of the chain logic (consensus, block processing, etc). ChainUpdate::process_block is where most of the block processing logic happens.

State update

The blockchain state of a node can be changed in the following two ways:

  • Applying a chunk. This is how the state is normally updated: through Runtime::apply.
  • State sync. State sync can happen in two cases:
    • A node is far enough behind the most recent block and triggers state sync to fast forward to the state of a very recent block without having to apply blocks in the middle.
    • A node is about to become validator for some shard in the next epoch, but it does not yet have the state for that shard. In this case, it would run state sync through the catchup routine.


This crate contains most of the sharding logic which includes chunk creation, distribution, and processing. ShardsManager is the main struct that orchestrates everything here.


This crate defines two important structs, Client and ViewClient. Client includes everything necessary for the chain (without network and runtime) to function and runs in a single thread. ViewClient is a "read-only" client that answers queries without interfering with the operations of Client. ViewClient runs in multiple threads.


This crate contains the entire implementation of the p2p network used by NEAR blockchain nodes.

Two important structs here: PeerManagerActor and Peer. Peer manager orchestrates all the communications from network to other components and from other components to network. Peer is responsible for low-level network communications from and to a given peer (more details in this article). Peer manager runs in one thread while each Peer runs in its own thread.

Architecture Invariant: Network communicates to Client through NetworkClientMessages and to ViewClient through NetworkViewClientMessages. Conversely, Client and ViewClient communicates to network through NetworkRequests.


This crate is responsible for determining validators and other epoch related information such as epoch id for each epoch.

Note: EpochManager is constructed in NightshadeRuntime rather than in Chain, partially because we had this idea of making epoch manager a smart contract.


This crate implements JSON-RPC API server to enable submission of new transactions and inspection of the blockchain data, the network state, and the node status. When a request is processed, it generates a message to either ClientActor or ViewClientActor to interact with the blockchain. For queries of blockchain data, such as block, chunk, account, etc, the request usually generates a message to ViewClientActor. Transactions, on the other hand, are sent to ClientActor for further processing.


This crate contains the main entry point to runtime -- Runtime::apply. This function takes ApplyState, which contains necessary information passed from chain to runtime, a list of SignedTransaction and a list of Receipt, and returns an ApplyResult, which includes state changes, execution outcomes, etc.

Architecture Invariant: The state update is only finalized at the end of apply. During all intermediate steps state changes can be reverted.


VMLogic contains all the implementations of host functions and is the interface between runtime and wasm. VMLogic is constructed when runtime applies function call actions. In VMLogic, interaction with NEAR blockchain happens in the following two ways:

  • VMContext, which contains lightweight information such as current block hash, current block height, epoch id, etc.
  • External, which is a trait that contains functions to interact with blockchain by either reading some nontrivial data, or writing to the blockchain.


run function in runner.rs is the entry point to the vm runner. This function essentially spins up the vm and executes some function in a contract. It supports different wasm compilers including wasmer0, wasmer2, and wasmtime through compile-time feature flags. Currently we use wasmer0 and wasmer2 in production. The imports module exposes host functions defined in near-vm-logic to WASM code. In other words, it defines the ABI of the contracts on NEAR.


As mentioned before, neard is the crate that contains that main entry points. All the actors are spawned in start_with_config. It is also worth noting that NightshadeRuntime is the struct that implements RuntimeAdapter.


This file contains the schema (DBCol) of our internal RocksDB storage - a good starting point when reading the code base.

Cross Cutting Concerns


The tracing crate is used for structured, hierarchical event output and logging. We also integrate Prometheus for light-weight metric output. See the style documentation for more information on the usage.


Rust has built-in support for writing unit tests by marking functions with the #[test] directive. Take full advantage of that! Testing not only confirms that what was written works the way it was intended to but also helps during refactoring since it catches unintended behaviour changes.

Not all tests are created equal though and while some may only need milliseconds to run, others may run for several seconds or even minutes. Tests that take a long time should be marked as such with an expensive_tests feature, for example:

fn main() {
#[cfg_attr(not(feature = "expensive_tests"), ignore)]
fn test_catchup_random_single_part_sync() {
    test_catchup_random_single_part_sync_common(false, false, 13)

Such tests will be ignored by default and can be executed by using --ignored or --include-ignored flag as in cargo test -- --ignored or by compiling the tests with expensive_tests feature enabled.

Because expensive tests are not run by default, they are also not run in CI. Instead, they are run nightly and need to be explicitly included in nightly/expensive.txt file; for example:

expensive --timeout=1800 near-client near_client tests::catching_up::test_catchup_random_single_part_sync
expensive --timeout=1800 near-client near_client tests::catching_up::test_catchup_random_single_part_sync --features nightly

For more details regarding nightly tests see nightly/README.md.

Note that what counts as a slow test isn’t exactly defined as of now. If it takes just a couple seconds then it’s probably fine. Anything slower should probably be classified as an expensive test. In particular, if libtest complains the test takes more than 60 seconds then it definitely is an expensive test.