A First Look on Integrating With Rosetta, Launched by Coinbase

A First Look on Integrating With Rosetta, Launched by Coinbase
Linda Ortega

Linda Ortega

June 17, 2020

Kadena is a live, full-service smart contract platform and the world’s first scalable, sharded, layer-1 Proof of Work public blockchain.

Here at Kadena, we’ve finished the initial cut of our integration with Rosetta, a new open-source technical framework that has just been launched by Coinbase. As one of the first projects to work on Rosetta, we’re taking this opportunity to share what we learned from the experience. The Rosetta project is quite new, and our team wanted to leave some bread crumbs for those who may follow us in looking to make a similar integration happen with one of the world’s most popular and respected exchanges. You can find Kadena’s Haskell-based implementation of Rosetta here.

Rosetta is a standardized API for interacting with financial data on blockchains. The goal of Rosetta is to allow blockchain projects to complete the lion’s share of the integration work necessary to connect to an exchange, allowing a smoother exchange listing process for both issuers and exchanges.

Similar to the way that the Stratum Mining Protocol allowed for standardization of pooled mining, Rosetta is aimed at creating a common set of well-understood calls and responses from blockchain nodes that can be used by anyone adhering to the API standard.

Choose Your Own Integration Adventure

One of the most appealing facets of how Coinbase has developed Rosetta is that we could choose our own path for figuring out how to satisfy the spec. Kadena’s software for the Chainweb protocol is written in Haskell, and we decided that rather than make a new and separate package for Rosetta, we would expand our existing node package (Chainweb Node) to fully support Rosetta. This way, an exchange that expects information from our blockchain in the shape of Rosetta calls can run a regular Chainweb full node and know they will receive data to spec. In the future, Rosetta may graduate to being a separate process from the node, but for now, this approach simplifies deployment tremendously.

The Rosetta spec has a rigid, standardized JSON structure as part of its API definitions, so using a strongly-typed language like Haskell made it simple for us to natively represent the data and ensure that we would always return the correct format of payload.

Lost in Translation

One of the more challenging opportunities we faced with Rosetta was the interpretation of the documentation, rather than implementation. Because Rosetta is aimed at being blockchain-agnostic, we often had to translate between varying styles of terminology, which either didn’t seem to apply to Kadena or used different labels than we expected.

Kadena uses an account-based model for tracking tokens rather than a UTXO-based model like Bitcoin. Also, unlike Ethereum for example, Kadena has abstraction between the name of an account and the keys associated with an account. Functionally, this feature allows users on Kadena to protect their accounts with what we call “guards.” Guards can be everything from a function to a “keyset” (a list of multiple keys) or even a single key. Guards can represent multiple signatures required, or may have time expirations and conditions. For more information on Kadena’s guard system, see this article.

Naturally, Rosetta doesn’t have specific provisions in the spec for Kadena’s account-keyset-guard paradigm, so sometimes we had to get creative in turning the words in the documentation into what we thought the intent was before determining how we would integrate with Rosetta given our unique architecture.

For example, Rosetta uses the AccountIdentifier model in order to associate the account of a user on an exchange to the equivalent account on the blockchain. It has three properties, “address”, “sub_account”, and “metadata.”

For Kadena, “address” is a username, which we call an account name. The instructions for “metadata” therefore suggest that, since we’re using a username model, we would provide in metadata an Object blob that contains all public keys associated with the address field. (Note that the spec presumes that the address “owns” a public key, but Kadena doesn’t have a paradigm in which an address has exclusive control of a key. For Kadena, a user can sign many different accounts with the same key, keysets, key guards, etc.)

This “metadata” field caused us a bit of a conundrum. Not only is it possible to have multiple keysets associated with an address and many addresses associated with the same keysets, but under the “guard” paradigm, you can also have multiple different time locks or other functions protecting an account.

In the end, we solved this issue in the most verbose way possible — in the AccountIdentifier metadata object, we return a blob of all keysets and guards associated with the account and assume that the requestor knows enough about the Kadena guard paradigm to know what they’re getting.

Exposing Hidden Operations

The heaviest lifting we had to do in implementing Rosetta was fleshing out the Block request. The expectation with the Block request is that it will return every single balance-changing operation in a block. At first glance that expectation seems trivial, but for a blockchain transaction, the number of balance-changing operations start to explode quite quickly.

Consider a smart contract in which you want to execute a simple operation, like adding the numbers 1 and 2. There is only one transaction here: the smart contract containing “(+ 1 2)”. No transfer of tokens occurs, but because of gas fees, the response to the Block request gets represented as three separate operations: 1) The sender’s account is debited tokens to execute the transaction, 2) The miner is credited the gas fee, and 3) The sender is credited for any unused gas fee since gas is estimated on the front end and reconciled on the back end of every transaction.

Now imagine the complexity involved in a “transfer-create” transaction, in which the sender is creating a new account and transferring funds to that new account all in one transaction — the level of complexity is quite high. The interface also needs to account for not only the operations made using the pre-made smart contracts included in Kadena’s Coin Contract, but also any arbitrary smart contracts written by users with the Pact smart contract language.

One Key for Many Doors

For our team, implementing Rosetta was a useful way to examine our existing data endpoints from the perspective of an exchange — the Rosetta spec is a proxy for knowing what exchanges care about when they ask for data from a blockchain. We discovered that data that we had thought would be useful wasn’t being requested at all and saw that we were limited in several areas that we hadn’t anticipated. Implementing Rosetta felt like a health check for our API, and our Chainweb Node endpoints definitely came out tighter with the work completed.

It will be interesting to see which other projects and exchanges adopt Rosetta over time, how their experiences mirror and differ from ours, and how the spec will evolve. As an industry, we’ve generally placed a premium on innovation and divergence, but Rosetta seems like an opportunity for all of us to benefit from some standardization that may result in greater adoption.