StatePointer

Background

Occasionally there is a need to create a link from one ContractState to another. This has the effect of creating a uni-directional “one-to-one” relationship between a pair of ContractStates.

There are two ways to do this.

By StateRef

Link one ContractState to another by including a StateRef or a StateAndRef<T> as a property inside another ContractState:

// StateRef.
data class FooState(val ref: StateRef) : ContractState
// StateAndRef.
data class FooState(val ref: StateAndRef<BarState>) : ContractState

Linking to a StateRef or StateAndRef<T> is only recommended if a specific version of a state is required in perpetuity. Clearly, adding a StateAndRef embeds the data directly. This type of pointer is compatible with any ContractState type.

But what if the linked state is updated? The StateRef will be pointing to an older version of the data and this could be a problem for the ContractState which contains the pointer.

By linearId

To create a link to the most up-to-date version of a state, instead of linking to a specific StateRef, a linearId which references a LinearState can be used. This is because all LinearStates contain a linearId which refers to a particular lineage of LinearState. The vault can be used to look-up the most recent state with the specified linearId.

// Link by LinearId.
data class FooState(val ref: UniqueIdentifier) : ContractState

This type of pointer only works with LinearStates.

Resolving pointers

The trade-off with pointing to data in another state is that the data being pointed to cannot be immediately seen. To see the data contained within the pointed-to state, it must be “resolved”.

Design

Introduce a StatePointer interface and two implementations of it; the StaticPointer and the LinearPointer. The StatePointer is defined as follows:

interface StatePointer {
    val pointer: Any
    fun resolve(services: ServiceHub): StateAndRef<ContractState>
}

The resolve method facilitates the resolution of the pointer to a StateAndRef.

The StaticPointer type requires developers to provide a StateRef which points to a specific state.

class StaticPointer(override val pointer: StateRef) : StatePointer {
    override fun resolve(services: ServiceHub): StateAndRef<ContractState> {
        val transactionState = services.loadState(pointer)
        return StateAndRef(transactionState, pointer)
    }
}

The LinearPointer type contains the linearId of the LinearState being pointed to and a resolve method. Resolving a LinearPointer returns a StateAndRef<T> containing the latest version of the LinearState that the node calling resolve is aware of.

class LinearPointer(override val pointer: UniqueIdentifier) : StatePointer {
    override fun resolve(services: ServiceHub): StateAndRef<LinearState> {
        val query = QueryCriteria.LinearStateQueryCriteria(linearId = listOf(pointer))
        val result = services.vaultService.queryBy<LinearState>(query).states
        check(result.isNotEmpty()) { "LinearPointer $pointer cannot be resolved." }
        return result.single()
    }
}

Use-cases

It is important to note that this design only standardises a pattern which is currently possible with the platform. In other words, this design does not enable anything new.

Tokens

Uncoupling token type definitions from the notion of ownership. Using the LinearPointer, Token states can include an Amount of some pointed-to type. The pointed-to type can evolve independently from the Token state which should just be concerned with the question of ownership.

Issues and resolutions

Some issue to be aware of and their resolutions:

Problem Resolution
If the node calling resolve has not seen the specified StateRef, then resolve will return null. Here, the node calling resolve might be missing some crucial data. Use data distribution groups. Assuming the creator of the ContractState publishes it to a data distribution group, subscribing to that group ensures that the node calling resolve will eventually have the required data.
The node calling resolve has seen and stored transactions containing a LinearState with the specified linearId. However, there is no guarantee the StateAndRef<T> returned by resolve is the most recent version of the LinearState. Embed the pointed-to LinearState in transactions containing the LinearPointer as a reference state. The reference states feature will ensure the pointed-to state is the latest version.
The creator of the pointed-to ContractState exits the state from the ledger. If the pointed-to state is included a reference state then notaries will reject transactions containing it. Contract code can be used to make a state un-exitable.

All of the noted resolutions rely on additional paltform features:

  • Reference states which will be available in V4
  • Data distribution groups which are not currently available. However, there is an early prototype
  • Additional state interface

Additional concerns and responses

Embedding reference states in transactions

Concern: Embedding reference states for pointed-to states in transactions could cause transactions to increase by some unbounded size.

Response: The introduction of this feature doesn’t create a new platform capability. It merely formalises a pattern which is currently possible. Futhermore, there is a possibility that any type of state can cause a transaction to increase by some un-bounded size. It is also worth remembering that the maximum transaction size is 10MB.

StatePointers are not human readable

Concern: Users won’t know what sits behind the pointer.

Response: When the state containing the pointer is used in a flow, the pointer can be easily resolved. When the state needs to be displayed on a UI, the pointer can be resolved via vault query.

This feature adds complexity to the platform

Concern: This all seems quite complicated.

Response: It’s possible anyway. Use of this feature is optional.

Coinselection will be slow.

Concern: We’ll need to join on other tables to perform coinselection, making it slower. This is when a StatePointer is used as a FungibleState or FungibleAsset type.

Response: This is probably not true in most cases. Take the existing coinselection code from CashSelectionH2Impl.kt:

SELECT vs.transaction_id, vs.output_index, ccs.pennies, SET(@t, ifnull(@t,0)+ccs.pennies) total_pennies, vs.lock_id
FROM vault_states AS vs, contract_cash_states AS ccs
WHERE vs.transaction_id = ccs.transaction_id AND vs.output_index = ccs.output_index
AND vs.state_status = 0
AND vs.relevancy_status = 0
AND ccs.ccy_code = ? and @t < ?
AND (vs.lock_id = ? OR vs.lock_id is null)

Notice that the only property required which is not accessible from the StatePointer is the ccy_code. This is not necessarily a problem though, as the pointer specified in the pointer can be used as a proxy for the ccy_code or “token type”.