Work In Progress
BIP: 15 Title: BIP Alias Author: Amir Taaki <firstname.lastname@example.org> Status: Draft Type: Standards Track Created: 10-12-2011
Using vanilla bitcoin, to send funds to a destination, an address in the form 1Hd44nkJfNAcPJeZyrGC5sKJS1TzgmCTjjZ is needed. The problem with using addresses is they are not easy to remember. An analogy can be thought if one were required to enter the IP address of their favourite websites if domain names did not exist.
This document aims to layout through careful argument, a bitcoin alias system. This is a big modification to the protocol that is not easily changed in the future and has big ramifications. There is impetus in getting it correct the first time. Aliases have to be robust and secure.
Here are a few different proposals and the properties of each system.
FirstBits is a proposal for using the blockchain as an address book.
When bitcoins are sent to an address, that address becomes recorded in the blockchain. It is therefore known that this address exists or did exist by simply seeing that there was a payment to that address. FirstBits is a method to have a memorable alias. One first converts the address to lower-case, then takes the first few unique characters. This is your FirstBits alias.
As an example, brmlab hackerspace in Prague has an address for purchasing food or drink, or making donations:
Their FirstBits alias becomes:
It is enough information to be given the FirstBits alias 1brmlab. When someone wishes to make a purchase, without FirstBits, they either have to type out their address laboriously by hand, scan their QR code (which requires a mobile handset that this author does not own) or find their address on the internet to copy and paste into the client to send bitcoins. FirstBits alleviates this impracticality by providing an easy method to make payments.
Together with Vanitygen (vanity generator), it becomes possible to create memorable unique named addresses. Addresses that are meaningful, rather than an odd assemblage of letters and numbers but add context to the destination.
However FirstBits has its own problems. One is that the possible aliases one is able to generate is limited by the available computing power available. It may not be feasible to generate a complete or precise alias that is wanted- only approximates may be possible. It is also computationally resource intensive which means a large expenditure of power for generating unique aliases in the future, and may not scale up to the level of individuals at home or participants with hand-held devices in an environment of ubiquitous computing.
FirstBits scales extremely poorly as the network grows. Each indexer or lookup node needs to keep track of every bitcoin address ever in existence and provide a fast lookup from the aliases to those addresses. As the network grows linearly, the number of addresses should grow exponentially (assuming a networked effect of n!) rapidly making this scheme unfeasible.
Light clients of the partial merkle root types become dependent on a trusted third party for their alias lookups. The cost of storing every bitcoin address is too high considering their typical use-case on low-resource devices. This factor more than the others, means this scheme is sub-optimal and must be rejected.
DNS TXT Records
DNS allows TXT records to be created containing arbitrary data. In a bitcoin alias system, a custom format mutually agreed upon by a BIP standard would be used to store mappings to bitcoin addresses from domain names. How such a format would look is out of the scope of this document.
An issue is that it requires people who wish to create such mappings to be familiar with configuring DNS records, and be able to run the necessary toolsets to insert the correct data. Although not a huge concern, it is a usability issue.
Security wise, DNS is unsafe and insecure by design. It is possible to spoof records by being on the same network as another host. A number of revisions to mitigate the issue under the guise of DNSSEC have been in the works since the 1990s and are still being rolled out.
As of Dec 2011, DNSSEC is still not yet a defacto standard on the internet. Should a participant in the bitcoin network wish to use DNS TXT records, they would in addition to having to configure DNS, be able to setup DNSSEC. This may not be feasible, especially where some registrars provide access to DNS through a web interface only.
Aside from using DNS TXT records, another possibility is using the domain name system to lookup hosts and then contact a service running on a predefined port to get the bitcoin address.
- User wishes to send to email@example.com
- Client uses DNS to find the IP address of bar.net: 22.214.171.124
- Client connects to port 126.96.36.199:4567 and requests the bitcoin address for the user foo
- Server responds with the address or error code and terminates the connection.
- Client sends the funds to the address
The service would be responsible for providing the mechanisms for changing and storing the mappings on their service. A front-end web interface could be provided to users wishing to use the service and customise their accounts on the server.
This approach has the positive aspect of providing the best flexibility for the implementer to store the records however they wish in a database or plaintext file, and then serve them up quickly using a small server side daemon typically written in C. This approach is highly scalable.
However this approach also suffers the problem of being reliant on DNS and hence also being vulnerable to spoofing. Hence DNSSEC is also required. This approach is slightly better than the DNS TXT records though since it makes inserting new users and modifying aliases very easy which allows people to run this server services more cheaply.