How neard works

This chapter describes how neard works with a focus on implementation details and practical scenarios. To get a better understanding of how the protocol works, please refer to nomicon. For a high-level code map of nearcore, please refer to this document.

High level overview

On the high level, neard is a daemon that periodically receives messages from the network and sends messages to peers based on different triggers. Neard is implemented using an actor framework called actix.

Note: Using actix was decided in the early days of the implementation of nearcore and by no means represents our confidence in actix. On the contrary, we have noticed a number of issues with actix and are considering implementing an actor framework in house.

There are several important actors in neard:

  • PeerActor - Each peer is represented by one peer actor and runs in a separate thread. It is responsible for sending messages to and receiving messages from a given peer. After PeerActor receives a message, it will route it to ClientActor, ViewClientActor, or PeerManagerActor depending on the type of the message.

  • PeerManagerActor - Peer Manager is responsible for receiving messages to send to the network from either ClientActor or ViewClientActor and routing them to the right PeerActor to send the bytes over the wire. It is also responsible for handling some types of network messages received and routed through PeerActor. For the purpose of this document, we only need to know that PeerManagerActor handles RoutedMessages. Peer manager would decide whether the RoutedMessages should be routed to ClientActor or ViewClientActor.

  • ClientActor - Client actor is the “core” of neard. It contains all the main logic including consensus, block and chunk processing, state transition, garbage collection, etc. Client actor is single-threaded.

  • ViewClientActor - View client actor can be thought of as a read-only interface to client. It only accesses data stored in a node’s storage and does not mutate any state. It is used for two purposes:

    • Answering RPC requests by fetching the relevant piece of data from storage.
    • Handling some network requests that do not require any changes to the storage, such as header sync, state sync, and block sync requests.

    ViewClientActor runs in four threads by default but this number is configurable.

Data flow within neard

Flow for incoming messages:

Flow for outgoing messages:

How neard operates when it is fully synced

When a node is fully synced, the main logic of the node operates in the following way (the node is assumed to track all shards, as most nodes on mainnet do today):

  1. A block is produced by some block producer and sent to the node through broadcasting.
  2. The node receives a block and tries to process it. If the node is synced it presumably has the previous block and the state before the current block to apply. It then checks whether it has all the chunks available. If the node is not a validator node, it won’t have any chunk parts and therefore won’t have the chunks available. If the node is a validator node, it may already have chunk parts through chunk parts forwarding from other nodes and therefore may have already reconstructed some chunks. Regardless, if the node doesn’t have all chunks for all shards, it will request them from peers by parts.
  3. The chunk requests are sent and the node waits for enough chunk parts to be received to reconstruct the chunks. For each chunk, 1/3 of all the parts (100) is sufficient to reconstruct a chunk. If new blocks arrive while waiting for chunk parts, they will be put into an OrphanPool, waiting to be processed. If a chunk part request is not responded to within chunk_request_retry_period, which is set to 400ms by default, then a request for the same chunk part would be sent again.
  4. After all chunks are reconstructed, the node processes the current block by applying transactions and receipts from the chunks. Afterwards, it will update the head according to the fork choice rule, which only looks at block height. In other words, if the newly processed block is of higher height than the current head of the node, the head is updated.
  5. The node checks whether any blocks in the OrphanPool are ready to be processed in a BFS order and processes all of them until none can be processed anymore. Note that a block is put into the OrphanPool if and only if its previous block is not accepted.
  6. Upon acceptance of a block, the node would check whether it needs to run garbage collection. If it needs to, it would garbage collect two blocks worth of data at a time. The logic of garbage collection is complicated and could be found here.
  7. If the node is a validator node, it would start a timer after the current block is accepted. After min_block_production_delay which is currently configured to be 1.3s on mainnet, it would send an approval to the block producer of the next block (current block height + 1).

The main logic is illustrated below:

How neard works when it is synchronizing

PeerManagerActor periodically sends a NetworkInfo message to ClientActor to update it on the latest peer information, which includes the height of each peer. Once ClientActor realizes that it is more than sync_height_threshold (which by default is set to 1) behind the highest height among peers, it starts to sync. The synchronization process is done in three steps:

  1. Header sync. The node first identifies the headers it needs to sync through a get_locator calculation. This is essentially an exponential backoff computation that tries to identify commonly known headers between the node and its peers. Then it would request headers from different peers, at most MAX_BLOCK_HEADER_HASHES (which is 512) headers at a time.

  2. After the headers are synced, the node would determine whether it needs to run state sync. The exact condition can be found here but basically a node would do state sync if it is more than 2 epochs behind the head of the network. State sync is a very complex process and warrants its own section. We will give a high level overview here.

    1. First, the node computes sync_hash which is the hash of the block that identifies the state that the node wants to sync. This is guaranteed to be the first block of the most recent epoch. In fact, there is a check on the receiver side that this is indeed the case. The node would also request the block whose hash is sync_hash
    2. The node deletes basically all data (blocks, chunks, state) from its storage. This is not an optimal solution, but it makes the implementation for combining state easier when there is no stale data in storage.
    3. For the state of each shard that the node needs to download, it first requests a header that contains some metadata the node needs to know about. Then the node computes the number of state parts it needs to download and requests those parts from different peers who track the shard.
    4. After all parts are downloaded, the node combines those state parts and then finalizes the state sync by applying the last chunk included in or before the sync block so that the node has the state after applying sync block to be able to apply the next block.
    5. The node resets heads properly after state sync.
  3. Block Sync. The node first gets the block with highest height that is on the canonical chain and request from there MAX_BLOCK_REQUESTS (which is set to 5) blocks from different peers in a round robin order. The block sync routine runs again if head has changed (progress is made) or if a timeout (which is set to 2s) has happened.

Note: when a block is received and its height is no more than 500 + the node’s current head height, then the node would request its previous block automatically. This is called orphan sync and helps to speed up the syncing process. If, on the other hand, the height is more than 500 + the node’s current head height, the block is simply dropped.

How ClientActor works

ClientActor has some periodically running routines that are worth noting:

  • Doomslug timer - This routine runs every doosmslug_step_period (set to 100ms by default) and updates consensus information. If the node is a validator node, it also sends approvals when necessary.
  • Block production - This routine runs every block_production_tracking_delay (which is set to 100ms by default) and checks if the node should produce a block.
  • Log summary - Prints a log line that summarizes block rate, average gas used, the height of the node, etc. every 10 seconds.
  • Resend chunk requests - This routine runs every chunk_request_retry_period (which is set to 400ms). It resends the chunk part requests for those that are not yet responded to.
  • Sync - This routine runs every sync_step_period (which is set to 10ms by default) and checks whether the node needs to sync from its peers and, if needed, also starts the syncing process.
  • Catch up - This routine runs every catchup_step_period (which is set to 100ms by default) and runs the catch up process. This only applies if a node validates shard A in epoch X and is going to validate a different shard B in epoch X+1. In this case, the node would start downloading the state for shard B at the beginning of epoch X. After the state downloading is complete, it would apply all blocks in the current epoch (epoch X) for shard B to ensure that the node has the state needed to validate shard B when epoch X+1 starts.