by tendermint

tendermint / go-amino

Protobuf3 with Interface support - Designed for blockchains (deterministic, upgradeable, fast, and c...

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Amino Spec (and impl for Go)

This software implements Go bindings for the Amino encoding protocol.

Amino is an object encoding specification. It is a subset of Proto3 with an extension for interface support. See the Proto3 spec for more information on Proto3, which Amino is largely compatible with (but not with Proto2).

The goal of the Amino encoding protocol is to bring parity into logic objects and persistence objects.

DISCLAIMER: We're still building out the ecosystem, which is currently most developed in Go. But Amino is not just for Go — if you'd like to contribute by creating supporting libraries in various languages from scratch, or by adapting existing Protobuf3 libraries, please open an issue on GitHub!

Why Amino?

Amino Goals

  • Bring parity into logic objects and persistent objects by supporting interfaces.
  • Have a unique/deterministic encoding of value.
  • Binary bytes must be decodeable with a schema.
  • Schema must be upgradeable.
  • Sufficient structure must be parseable without a schema.
  • The encoder and decoder logic must be reasonably simple.
  • The serialization must be reasonably compact.
  • A sufficiently compatible JSON format must be maintained (but not general conversion to/from JSON)

Amino vs JSON

JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) is human readable, well structured and great for interoperability with Javascript, but it is inefficient. Protobuf3, BER, RLP all exist because we need a more compact and efficient binary encoding standard. Amino provides efficient binary encoding for complex objects (e.g. embedded objects) that integrate naturally with your favorite modern programming language. Additionally, Amino has a fully compatible JSON encoding.

Amino vs Protobuf3

Amino wants to be Protobuf4. The bulk of this spec will explain how Amino differs from Protobuf3. Here, we will illustrate two key selling points for Amino.

  • Protobuf3 doesn't support interfaces. It supports
    , which works as a kind of union type, but it doesn't translate well to "interfaces" and "implementations" in modern langauges such as C++ classes, Java interfaces/classes, Go interfaces/implementations, and Rust traits.

If Protobuf supported interfaces, users of externally defined schema files would be able to support caller-defined concrete types of an interface. Instead, the

feature of Protobuf3 requires the concrete types to be pre-declared in the definition of the

Protobuf would be better if it supported interfaces/implementations as in most modern object-oriented languages. Since it is not, the generated code is often not the logical objects that you really want to use in your application, so you end up duplicating the structure in the Protobuf schema file and writing translators to and from your logic objects. Amino can eliminate this extra duplication and help streamline development from inception to maturity.

Amino in the Wild

Amino Spec


Amino is an encoding library that can handle Interfaces. This is achieved by prefixing bytes before each "concrete type".

A concrete type is a non-Interface type which implements a registered Interface. Not all types need to be registered as concrete types — only when they will be stored in Interface type fields (or in a List with Interface elements) do they need to be registered. Registration of Interfaces and the implementing concrete types should happen upon initialization of the program to detect any problems (such as conflicting prefix bytes -- more on that later).

Registering types

To encode and decode an Interface, it has to be registered with

and its respective concrete type implementers should be registered with
amino.RegisterInterface((*MyInterface1)(nil), nil)
amino.RegisterInterface((*MyInterface2)(nil), nil)
amino.RegisterConcrete(MyStruct1{}, "com.tendermint/MyStruct1", nil)
amino.RegisterConcrete(MyStruct2{}, "com.tendermint/MyStruct2", nil)
amino.RegisterConcrete(&MyStruct3{}, "anythingcangoinhereifitsunique", nil)

Notice that an Interface is represented by a nil pointer of that Interface.

NOTE: Go-Amino tries to transparently deal with pointers (and pointer-pointers) when it can. When it comes to decoding a concrete type into an Interface value, Go gives the user the option to register the concrete type as a pointer or non-pointer. If and only if the value is registered as a pointer is the decoded value will be a pointer as well.

Prefix bytes to identify the concrete type

All registered concrete types are encoded with leading 4 bytes (called "prefix bytes"), even when it's not held in an Interface field/element. In this way, Amino ensures that concrete types (almost) always have the same canonical representation. The first byte of the prefix bytes must not be a zero byte, so there are

2^(8x4)-2^(8x3) = 4,278,190,080
possible values.

When there are 1024 concrete types registered that implement the same Interface, the probability of there being a conflict is ~ 0.01%.

This is assuming that all registered concrete types have unique natural names (e.g. prefixed by a unique entity name such as "com.tendermint/", and not "mined/grinded" to produce a particular sequence of "prefix bytes"). Do not mine/grind to produce a particular sequence of prefix bytes, and avoid using dependencies that do so.

The Birthday Paradox: 1024 random registered types, Wire prefix bytes

possible = 4278190080 = 4,278,190,080 registered = 1024 = 1,024 pairs = ((registered)*(registered-1)) / 2 = 523,776 no_collisions = ((possible-1) / possible)^pairs = 0.99987757816 any_collisions = 1 - no_collisions = 0.00012242184 percent_any_collisions = any_collisions * 100 = 0.01224218414

Since 4 bytes are not sufficient to ensure no conflicts, sometimes it is necessary to prepend more than the 4 prefix bytes for disambiguation. Like the prefix bytes, the disambiguation bytes are also computed from the registered name of the concrete type. There are 3 disambiguation bytes, and in binary form they always precede the prefix bytes. The first byte of the disambiguation bytes must not be a zero byte, so there are 2^(8x3)-2^(8x2) possible values.

// Sample Amino encoded binary bytes with 4 prefix bytes.
> [0xBB 0x9C 0x83 0xDD] [...]

// Sample Amino encoded binary bytes with 3 disambiguation bytes and 4 // prefix bytes. > 0x00 <0xA8 0xFC 0x54> [0xBB 0x9C 0x83 0xDD] [...]

The prefix bytes never start with a zero byte, so the disambiguation bytes are escaped with 0x00.

The 4 prefix bytes always immediately precede the binary encoding of the concrete type.

Computing the prefix and disambiguation bytes

To compute the disambiguation bytes, we take

hash := sha256(concreteTypeName)
, and drop the leading 0x00 bytes.
> hash := sha256("com.tendermint.consensus/MyConcreteName")
> hex.EncodeBytes(hash) // 0x{00 00 A8 FC 54 00 00 00 BB 9C 83 DD ...} (example)

In the example above, hash has two leading 0x00 bytes, so we drop them.

> rest = dropLeadingZeroBytes(hash) // 0x{A8 FC 54 00 00 00 BB 9C 83 DD ...}
> disamb = rest[0:3]
> rest = dropLeadingZeroBytes(rest[3:])
> prefix = rest[0:4]

The first 3 bytes are called the "disambiguation bytes" (in angle brackets). The next 4 bytes are called the "prefix bytes" (in square brackets).

> <0xA8 0xFC 0x54> [0xBB 0x9C 9x83 9xDD] //  and [Prefix Bytes]

Unsupported types

Floating points

Floating point number types are discouraged as they are generally non-deterministic. If you need to use them, use the field tag



Enum types are not supported in all languages, and they're simple enough to model as integers anyways.


Maps are not currently supported. There is an unstable experimental support for maps for the Amino:JSON codec, but it shouldn't be relied on. Ideally, each Amino library should decode maps as a List of key-value structs (in the case of langauges without generics, the library should maybe provide a custom Map implementation). TODO specify the standard for key-value items.

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