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Naveen Sahu

Ethereum Yellow Paper Mathematics Deciphered | Part 3: Block

/ 12 min read

This part of the series dives into section 4.3 of the Yellow Paper, that elaborates the structure of blocks.

If you haven’t yet, go through Part 0, to get conventions right.


Each block of the chain comprises three pieces of relevant information:

  • Block Header, $H$
  • List of transactions, $\mathbf{T}$
  • Set of other block headers, $\mathbf{U}$

Hence, a block $B$ can be represented as: $$ B \equiv (B_H, B_{\mathbf{T}}, B_{\mathbf{U}}) \tag{21} $$

The header contains several pieces of information:

  • $\mathbf{parentHash}$ ($H_{\mathrm{p}}$): Hash of parent block’s header.
  • $\mathbf{ommersHash}$ ($H_{\mathrm{o}}$):
  • $\mathbf{beneficiary}$ ($H_{\mathrm{c}}$): Address of miner of block to which all the fees went to.
  • $\mathbf{stateRoot}$ ($H_{\mathrm{r}}$): Hash of root of state trie after all transaction in block are finalized.
  • $\mathbf{transactionRoot}$ ($H_{\mathrm{t}}$): Hash of root of trie containing all transactions in this block.
  • $\mathbf{receiptsRoot}$ ($H_{\mathrm{e}}$): Hash of root of trie containing all receipts corresponding to each transaction in this block.
  • $\mathbf{logsBloom}$ ($H_{\mathrm{b}}$):
  • $\mathbf{difficulty}$ ($H_{\mathrm{d}}$): A scalar value representing difficulty of this block.
  • $\mathbf{number}$ ($H_{\mathrm{i}}$): A scalar value equal to number of all ancestor blocks of this block.
  • $\mathbf{gasLimit}$ ($H_{\mathrm{l}}$): A scalar value equal to the current limit of gas expenditure per block.
  • $\mathbf{gasUsed}$ ($H_{\mathrm{g}}$): A scalar value equal to the total gas used in transactions in this block.
  • $\mathbf{timestamp}$ ($H_{\mathrm{s}}$): A scalar value equal to the reasonable output of Unix’s time() at this block’s inception.
  • $\mathbf{extraData}$ ($H_{\mathrm{x}}$): An arbitrary byte array containing data relevant to this block. This must be 32 bytes or fewer.
  • $\mathbf{mixHash}$ ($H_{\mathrm{m}}$): A 256-bit hash which, combined with the nonce, proves that a sufficient amount of computation has been carried out on this block.
  • $\mathbf{nonce}$ ($H_{\mathrm{n}}$): A 64-bit value which, combined with the mixhash, proves that a sufficient amount of computation has been carried out on this block

Transaction Receipts

The transaction receipts correspond to each transaction in a block and contains information related to execution of the transaction. Given a block $B$ having a list of receipts $\mathbf{R}$, the $i$th receipt is indexed/denoted by $B_\mathbf{R}[i]$. A single receipt $R$ is tuple of five items:

  • $R_\mathrm{x}$ - Type of transaction.
  • $R_\mathrm{z}$ - Status code of transaction.
  • $R_\mathrm{u}$ - Cumulative gas used in the block immediately after this transaction happened.
  • $R_\mathbf{l}$ - Set of logs created (aka events emitted) through execution of this transaction.
  • $R_\mathrm{b}$ - The bloom-filter composed of the logs.

Hence it can be denoted as: $$ R \equiv (R_\mathrm{x}, R_\mathrm{z}, R_\mathrm{u}, R_\mathrm{b}, R_\mathbf{l}) \tag{22} $$

And, like other entities, corresponding collapse function for a receipt, $R$ is defined as: $$ L_R(R) \equiv (R_\mathrm{z}, R_\mathrm{u}, R_\mathrm{b}, R_\mathbf{l}) \tag{23} $$

The values are restricted/belong to their respective sets: $$ R_{\mathrm{z}} \in \mathbb{N} \land R_{\mathrm{u}} \in \mathbb{N} \land R_{\mathrm{b}} \in \mathbb{B}_{256} $$

Notice that $R_{\mathbf{l}}$ is list/series of log entries - $(O_0, O_1, O_2, …)$ where each log entry $O$ is tuple comprising:

  • $O_\mathrm{a}$ - Logger’s address (transaction sender)
  • $O_{\mathbf{t}}$ - Series of log 32-byte topics, $(O_{\mathbf{t}0}, O_{\mathbf{t}1}, … )$. You might know these as indexed parameters in an event. This could possibly be empty.
  • $O_{\mathbf{d}}$ - Some number of bytes of data. The un-indexed parameters of an event go into these.

This is saying same as: $$ O \equiv (O_\mathrm{a}, (O_{\mathbf{t}0}, O_{\mathbf{t}1}, … ), O_{\mathbf{d}}) \tag{26} $$

where $O_\mathrm{a}$ is 20-bytes (an address), each entry in $O_\mathbf{t}$ list is 32-byte and $O_{\mathbf{d}}$ is arbitrary length bytes. In mathematical words it is same as conveying: $$ O_\mathrm{a} \in \mathbb{B}{20} \ \land \forall x \in O\mathbf{t}:x \in \mathbb{B}{32} \ \land O{\mathbf{d}} \in \mathbb{B} \tag{27} $$

Bloom Filter

The $\mathbf{logsBloom}$ bloom filter is derived from a Bloom filter function, $M$. A bloom filter is a probabilistic data structure that allows to ascertain whether an element in a set efficiently & rapidly.

I highly recommend you to read up more about Bloom filters here before proceeding this section.

$M$ operates on logger’s address $O_\mathrm{a}$ and all each of the indexed log entries, $O_{\mathbf{t}} = (O_{\mathbf{t}0}, O_{\mathbf{t}1}, …)$ and produces a bloom filter which is 256 byte (2048 bits) hash.

Notice that only event logs marked “indexed” (in Solidity) are included in bloom filter. This is why you can only filter events data by these “indexed” event parameters.

The paper formally defines the Bloom filter function, $M$ as,

$$ M(O) \equiv {\bigvee}{x \in {O{\mathrm{a}}} \cup O_{\mathbf{t}}} \big( M_{3:2048}(x) \big) \tag{28} $$

Let’s decode it.

$M_{3:2048}$ is a specialized bloom filter that takes an arbitrary byte sequence $\mathbf{x}$ and outputs a 2048 bits (256-bytes) filter. This has 3 bits set out of 2048 bits.

The $\bigvee$ symbol above represents the bitwise $\mathtt{OR}$ operation over a series of byte sequences i.e. multiple 2048-bits sequences. In this context, to be precise, the equivalence $(28)$ can be written as: $$ M(O) \equiv M_{3:2048}(O_{\mathrm{a}}) | M_{3:2048}(O_{\mathbf{t}0}) | M_{3:2048}(O_{\mathbf{t}1}) | … $$

where $|$ is the bitwise $\mathtt{OR}$ operation.

Now onto the working of $M_{3:2048}$ function.

$M_{3:2048}$ takes an arbitrary length byte sequence, $\mathbf{x}$, and outputs a 2048-bits or 256-bytes length sequence $\mathbf{y}$, i.e.

$$ M_{3:2048}(\mathbf{x}: \mathbf{x} \in \mathbb{B}) \equiv \mathbf{y}: \mathbf{y} \in \mathbb{B}_{256} \tag{29} $$

This 2048 bits length output $\mathbf{y}$ has all bits set to 0, except 3 bits.

$$ \mathbf{y} = (0, 0, 0, …, 0) \quad (\text{except 3 bits}) \tag{30} $$

Which of the 3 bits to set is defined by $M_{3:2048}$ function’s algorithm:

  • First it keccak-256 hashes the byte sequence $\mathbf{x}$ i.e. $\mathtt{KECC}(\mathbf{x})$.
  • Then takes the first three pairs of bytes (byte pairs at indices $(0, 1), (2, 3), (4, 5)$) from the hash, $\mathtt{KECC}(\mathbf{x})$.
  • And then from each pair of bytes at indices $(i, i+1)$ ($\forall i \in {0, 2, 3}$), it takes the low-order 11 bits out of 16 bits (each byte pair is 16 bits).
  • Each of these 11-bit value (corresponding to each of 3 byte pairs) is subtracted from 2047 (highest 11-bit value in decimal) to output a set of 3 indices ranging from 0 to 2047.
  • These are the obtained indices at which bit is set to 1 in $\mathbf{y}$ byte sequence from $(30)$.

Mathematically, the paper defines a helper function $m$ which extracts the required 11-bits: $$ m(\mathbf{x}, i) \equiv \mathtt{KEC}(\mathbf{x})[i, i+1] \bmod 2048 \tag{32} $$

As described earlier, it extracts 11 bits from two bytes ($i$ & $i+1$) of hash of $\mathbf{x}$. The sequence formed by bytes at $i$ and $i+1$ are 16-bits and by taking its $\bmod$ with 2048 reduces it to 11 bits. This is because 2048 is base for 11 bit i.e. $2048 = 2^{11}$ (11 bits).

Paper also defined a rather simple $\mathcal{B}_j$, bit-reference function which simply references bit at index $j$ in a given byte sequence.

$\mathcal{B}$ is utilized to set bits at calculated indices to 1 in $\mathbf{y}$ as: $$ \forall i \in {0, 2, 4} \quad \colon \quad \mathcal{B}_{2047 - m(\mathbf{x, i})}(\mathbf{y}) = 1 \tag{31} $$

And this is how bloom-filters are calculated for logs.

Block Validity

A block’s validity is satisfied if and only if certain conditions are met:

  • The new root of state trie, must be equal to root of the trie derived from new state after transactions of this block, $B$ are finalized at state, $\boldsymbol{\sigma}$. $$ H_{\mathrm{r}} \equiv \mathtt{TRIE}(L_S(\Pi(\boldsymbol{\sigma}, B))) $$ where $L_S$ is state collapse function.

Recall from $(2)$ that if $\boldsymbol{\sigma}$ is current world state then $\Pi(\boldsymbol{\sigma}, B)$ defined the next state.

  • $\mathbf{ommersHash}$, $H_\mathrm{o}$ is the keccak hash of RLP encoded ommer block headers. $$ H_{\mathrm{o}} \equiv \mathtt{KECC}(\mathtt{RLP}(L^*{\mathrm{H}}(B\mathbf{U}))) $$

  • The block header $\mathbf{transactionRoot}$, $H_{\mathrm{t}}$ must be equal to root of trie which is derived from RLP-encoding of all transactions, $B_\mathbf{T}$ in the block. The transaction, at index $i$, $B_{\mathbf{T}[i]}$ (= $T$) is RLP-encoded based on transaction its type, $T_\mathrm{x}$. $$ H_{\mathrm{t}} \equiv \mathtt{TRIE}( { \forall i \lt \lVert B_{\mathbf{T}} \rVert, i \in \mathbb{N} : p_{\mathrm{T}}(i, B_{\mathbf{T}[i]}) }) $$

where function $p_{\mathrm{T}}$ RLP-encodes a transaction, $T$ depending on type: $$ p_{\mathrm{T}}(k, T) \equiv \left( \mathtt{RLP}(k), \begin{cases} \mathtt{RLP}({L_{\mathrm{T}}}(T)) & \text{if} \quad T_{\mathrm{x}} = 0 \ (T_{\mathrm{x}}) \cdot \mathtt{RLP}(L_{\mathrm{T}}(T)) & \text{otherwise} \end{cases} \right) \tag{34} $$

Note that index $i$ ($k$ in above) of transaction in block is also encoded.

  • Likewise the $\mathbf{receiptRoot}$, $H_{\mathrm{e}}$ is derived from RLP-encoding of receipts which depends of receipt transaction type, $R_{\mathrm{x}}$: $$ H_{\mathrm{e}} \equiv \mathtt{TRIE}( { \forall i \lt \lVert B_{\mathbf{R}} \rVert, i \in \mathbb{N} : p_{\mathrm{R}}(i, B_{\mathbf{T}[i]}) }) $$

where function $p_{\mathrm{R}}$ RLP-encodes a transaction, $R$ depending on type: $$ p_{\mathrm{R}}(k, R) \equiv \left( \mathtt{RLP}(k), \begin{cases} \mathtt{RLP}({L_{\mathrm{R}}}(R)) & \text{if} \quad R_{\mathrm{x}} = 0 \ (R_{\mathrm{x}}) \cdot \mathtt{RLP}(L_{\mathrm{R}}(R)) & \text{otherwise} \end{cases} \right) \tag{35} $$

  • $\mathbf{logsBloom}$ must bitwise $\mathtt{OR}$ of all bloom filters, $\mathbf{r}{\mathrm{b}}$ derived from each receipt. $$ H{\mathrm{b}} \equiv \bigvee_{\mathbf{r} \in B_{\mathbf{R}}}(\mathbf{r}_{\mathrm{b}}) $$

Combining all of the above, a block’s validity is constrained by: $$ H_{\mathrm{r}} \equiv \mathtt{TRIE}(L_S(\Pi(\boldsymbol{\sigma}, B))) \land \\ H_{\mathrm{o}} \equiv \mathtt{KECC}(\mathtt{RLP}(L^*{\mathrm{H}}(B\mathbf{U}))) \land \\ H_{\mathrm{t}} \equiv \mathtt{TRIE}( { \forall i \lt \lVert B_{\mathbf{T}} \rVert, i \in \mathbb{N} : p_{\mathrm{T}}(i, B_{\mathbf{T}[i]}) }) \land \\ H_{\mathrm{e}} \equiv \mathtt{TRIE}( { \forall i \lt \lVert B_{\mathbf{R}} \rVert, i \in \mathbb{N} : p_{\mathrm{R}}(i, B_{\mathbf{T}[i]}) }) \land \\ H_{\mathrm{b}} \equiv \bigvee_{\mathbf{r} \in B_{\mathbf{R}}}(\mathbf{r}_{\mathrm{b}}) \tag{33} $$

Futhermore, paper defines the equation, $$ \mathtt{TRIE}(L_\mathrm{S}(\boldsymbol{\sigma})) = P(B_H){H{\mathrm{r}}} \tag{36} $$

If $B$ is current block then its parent block is $P(B_H)$. Then, this parent’s header’s state trie root component is denoted as $P(B_H){H{\mathrm{r}}}$. The equation above says that $P(B_H){H{\mathrm{r}}}$ is equal to the state trie root at world state $\boldsymbol{\sigma}$ which is when the block, $P(B_H)$ was finalized.


The paper lays out functions $L_\mathrm{H}$ and $L_\mathrm{B}$ for defining serialization and types for block header and block.

$$ L_\mathrm{H}(H) \equiv (H_{\mathrm{p}}, H_{\mathrm{o}}, H_{\mathrm{c}}, H_{\mathrm{r}}, H_{\mathrm{t}}, H_{\mathrm{e}}, H_{\mathrm{b}}, H_{\mathrm{d}},\ H_{\mathrm{i}}, H_{\mathrm{l}}, H_{\mathrm{g}}, H_{\mathrm{s}}, H_{\mathrm{x}}, H_{\mathrm{m}}, H_{\mathrm{n}}) \tag{37} $$

$$ L_\mathrm{B}(B) \equiv (L_{\mathrm{H}}(B_{\mathrm{H}}), \widetilde{L}{\mathrm{T}}^*(B{\mathbf{T}}), L_{\mathrm{H}}^*(B_{\mathbf{U}})) \tag{38} $$

where $\widetilde{L}_{\mathrm{T}}$ takes a special care of EIP-2718 transactions:

$$ \widetilde{L}{\mathrm{T}}(T) = \begin{cases} L{\mathrm{T}}(T) & \text{if} \quad T_{\mathrm{x}} = 0 \ (T_{\mathrm{x}}) \cdot \mathtt{RLP}(L_{\mathrm{T}}(T)) & \text{otherwise} \end{cases} \tag{39} $$

with $\widetilde{L}{\mathrm{T}}^*(B{\mathbf{T}})$ and $L_{\mathrm{H}}^*(B_{\mathbf{U}})$ are element-wise version of respective functions.

The types of header components are: $$ H_{\mathrm{p}} \in \mathbb{B}{32} \land H{\mathrm{o}} \in \mathbb{B}{32} \land H{\mathrm{c}} \in \mathbb{B}{20} \land \\ H{\mathrm{r}} \in \mathbb{B}{32} \land H{\mathrm{t}} \in \mathbb{B}{32} \land H{\mathrm{e}} \in \mathbb{B}{32} \land \\ H{\mathrm{b}} \in \mathbb{B}{256} \land H{\mathrm{d}} \in \mathbb{N} \land H_{\mathrm{i}} \in \mathbb{N} \land \\ H_{\mathrm{l}} \in \mathbb{N} \land H_{\mathrm{g}} \in \mathbb{N} \land H_{\mathrm{s}} \in \mathbb{N}{256} \land \\ H{\mathrm{x}} \in \mathbb{B} \land H_{\mathrm{m}} \in \mathbb{B}{32} \land H{\mathrm{n}} \in \mathbb{B}_{8} \tag{41} $$

where, as already defined in convention, $B_{\mathrm{n}}$ is a bytes sequence and exactly equal to $\mathrm{n}$ bytes in size. Saying same as: $$ \mathbb{B}_{\mathrm{n}} = { B: B \in \mathbb{B} \land \lVert B \rVert = n } \tag{42} $$

Block Header Validity

The parent block of block, $B$ is denoted as $P(B_{\mathrm{H}})$ ($\equiv P(H)$) which is formally defined as: $$ P(H) \equiv B’: \mathtt{KEC}(\mathtt{RLP}(B’{\mathrm{H}})) = {H{\mathrm{p}}} \tag{43} $$

i.e. the parent of $B$ is $B’$ such that $\mathbf{parentHash}$, $H_\mathrm{p}$ of of $B$‘s header is equal to keccak hash of (RLP encoded) header of $B’$. That is basically definition of $H_\mathrm{p}$ holding true.

The block number, $H_\mathrm{i}$ is simply parent’s block number, $P(H){H\mathrm{i}}$ incremented by 1: $$ H_{\mathrm{i}} \equiv {{P(H){\mathrm{H}}}{\mathrm{i}}} + 1 \tag{44} $$

The canonical difficulty of block with header, $H$ is defined as $D(H)$: $$ D(H) \equiv \begin{dcases} 2^{34} & \text{if} \quad H_{\mathrm{i}} = 0\ \text{max}!\left(D_{\mathrm{min}}, {P(H){\mathrm{H}}}{\mathrm{d}} + x \times \varsigma_2 + \epsilon \right) & \text{otherwise}\ \tag{45} \end{dcases} $$

As evident, difficulty for genesis block is $2^{34}$. For any subsequent block, it depends on multiple parameters given above. Let’s make sense of it.

The block difficulty is max of $D_{\mathrm{min}}$ and the quantity ${P(H){\mathrm{H}}}{\mathrm{d}} + x \times \varsigma_2$, where $$ D_{\mathrm{min}} \equiv 2^{17} \tag{46} $$

Hence, difficulty can’t get any lower than $D_{\mathrm{min}}$.

Keeping aside above fixed cases, the difficulty is determined by expression: $$ {P(H){\mathrm{H}}}{\mathrm{d}} + x \times \varsigma_2 + \epsilon $$

which is difficulty of parent block adjusted with quantity $(x \times \varsigma_2 + \epsilon)$.

The main thing to focus is $\varsigma_2$, the Homestead difficulty parameter: $$ \varsigma_2 \equiv \text{max}\left( y - \left\lfloor\frac{H_{\mathrm{s}} - {P(H){\mathrm{H}}}{\mathrm{s}}}{9}\right\rfloor, -99 \right) \tag{48} $$

where, $$ y \equiv \begin{cases} 1 & \text{if} \quad \lVert P(H)_{\mathbf{U}}\rVert = 0 \ 2 & \text{otherwise} \end{cases} \tag{49} $$

In words of paper, it maintains a “dynamic homeostasis” of time between blocks - meaning it maintains an equilibrium such that time between two blocks remain roughly same. Let’s see how.

$H_\mathrm{s}$, the $\mathbf{timestamp}$ of block with header $H$ must be greater than its parent block’s timestamp: $$ H_\mathrm{s} > P(H){H\mathrm{s}} \tag{54} $$

Therefore the difference, $H_\mathrm{s} - P(H){H\mathrm{s}}$ must be a positive number which is time (in seconds) between the current block and it’s parent. The greater this difference is, the lower $\varsigma_2$ will be. The lower $\varsigma_2$ then causes the difficulty $D(H)$ to be lower.

Hence, it can be inferred that greater time between blocks causes difficulty to become lower and vice-versa. This how this “difficulty equilibrium” is achieved as a function of time between two consecutive blocks.

The $x$ is the adjustment factor that was introduced in EIP-100 in order to target mean block time including uncle blocks: $$ x \equiv \left\lfloor\frac{{P(H){\mathrm{H}}}{\mathrm{d}}}{2048}\right\rfloor \tag{47} $$

$\epsilon$ is the exponential difficulty symbol, given by: $$ \epsilon \equiv \left\lfloor 2^{ \left\lfloor H’_{\mathrm{i}} \div 100000 \right\rfloor - 2 } \right\rfloor \tag{50} $$

$\epsilon$ causes the difficulty to rise exponentially every 100,000 blocks since the exponent in $(50)$ - $\left\lfloor H’_{\mathrm{i}} \div 100000 \right\rfloor - 2$ increases by 1 every 100,000 increase in $H’_i$. $H’_i$ is given as:

$$ H’{\mathrm{i}} \equiv \max(H{\mathrm{i}} - \kappa, 0) \tag{51} $$

$$ \kappa \equiv \begin{cases} 3000000 & \text{if} \quad F_{\mathrm{Byzantium}} \leqslant H_{\mathrm{i}} < F_{\mathrm{Constantinople}} \ 5000000 & \text{if} \quad F_{\mathrm{Constantinople}} \leqslant H_{\mathrm{i}} < F_{\mathrm{Muir Glacier}} \ 9000000 & \text{if} \quad F_{\mathrm{Muir Glacier}} \leqslant H_{\mathrm{i}} < F_{\mathrm{London}} \ 9700000 & \text{if} \quad F_{\mathrm{London}} \leqslant H_{\mathrm{i}} < F_{\mathrm{Arrow Glacier}} \ 10700000 & \text{if} \quad F_{\mathrm{Arrow Glacier}} \leqslant H_{\mathrm{i}} < F_{\mathrm{Gray Glacier}} \ 11400000 & \text{if} \quad H_{\mathrm{i}} \geqslant F_{\mathrm{Gray Glacier}} \ \end{cases} \tag{52} $$

Hence, it can also be inferred from $(51)$ that difficulty rises exponentially for every 100,000 increase in block number, $H_{\mathrm{i}}$.

The gas limit $H_{\mathrm{l}}$ of block header $H$ is constrained by relation: $$ H_{\mathrm{l}} < {P(H){\mathrm{H}}}{\mathrm{l}} + \left\lfloor\frac{{P(H){\mathrm{H}}}{\mathrm{l}}}{1024}\right\rfloor \quad \wedge \ H_{\mathrm{l}} > {P(H){\mathrm{H}}}{\mathrm{l}} - \left\lfloor\frac{{P(H){\mathrm{H}}}{\mathrm{l}}}{1024}\right\rfloor \quad \wedge \ H_{\mathrm{l}} \geq 5000 $$