Consensus in the Age of Blockchains


The blockchain initially gained traction in 2008 as the technology underlying Bitcoin [105], but now has been employed in a diverse range of applications and created a global market worth over $150B as of 2017. What distinguishes blockchains from traditional distributed databases is the ability to operate in a decentralized setting without relying on a trusted third party. As such their core technical component is consensus: how to reach agreement among a group of nodes. This has been extensively studied already in the distributed systems community for closed systems, but its application to open blockchains has revitalized the field and led to a plethora of new designs. The inherent complexity of consensus protocols and their rapid and dramatic evolution makes it hard to contextualize the design landscape. We address this challenge by conducting a systematic and comprehensive study of blockchain consensus protocols. After first discussing key themes in classical consensus protocols, we describe: (i) protocols based on proof-of-work (PoW), (ii) proof-of-X (PoX) protocols that replace PoW with more energy-efficient alternatives, and (iii) hybrid protocols that are compositions or variations of classical consensus protocols. We develop a framework to evaluate their performance, security and design properties, and use it to systematize key themes in the protocol categories described above. This evaluation leads us to identify research gaps and challenges for the community to consider in future research endeavours. 

Citation information

Bano, S., Sonnino, A., Al-Bassam, M., Azouvi, S., McCorry, P., Meiklejohn, S., & Danezis, G. (2017). SoK : Consensus in the Age of Blockchains.

Additional information

Shehar Bano, Alberto Sonnino, Mustafa Al-Bassam, Sarah Azouvi, Patrick McCorry, Sarah Meiklejohn, George Danezis

Research areas