░░twurst.com / geth-1.5-api (2016-07-27)

A Stable Go Ethereum API

It’s about time for a stable Go API to the Ethereum blockchain. While go-ethereum is highly modular and has offered documented APIs for a long time, we have not paid much attention to keeping those Go APIs stable. The impending merge of the light client presents another challenge: how can Go libraries and applications interact with Ethereum irrespective of the protocol that is used to fetch and send the data?

The 1.4 release had a first stab at an app developer focused API for contracts. The accounts/abi/bind package works on top of an abstract backend with multiple supported implementations: the RPC client, an in-process full node and the unit test blockchain generator.

For the 1.5 release, I would like to expand the Go API to include blockchain access and real time events. My vision is a transport-agnostic, stable API that we can support for several releases.

The Ethereum Method Set

In Go, an interface type defines a method set containing abstract operations. The interfaces presented below capture almost all primitive operations that go-ethereum can perform. Consumers of the Go API are expected to define their own subset of these operations or commit to a concrete implementation of the API (e.g. eth.Ethereum).

Let’s have a tour of the available operations.

Accessing The Blockchain

First up, access to the blockchain. The methods in this interface access raw data from either the canonical-chain (when requesting by block number) or any blockchain fork that was previously downloaded and processed by the node. The block number argument can be nil to select the latest canonical block. Reading block headers should be preferred over full blocks whenever possible.

type ChainReader interface {
    BlockByHash(ctx context.Context, hash common.Hash) (*types.Block, error)
    BlockByNumber(ctx context.Context, number *big.Int) (*types.Block, error)
    HeaderByHash(ctx context.Context, hash common.Hash) (*types.Header, error)
    HeaderByNumber(ctx context.Context, number *big.Int) (*types.Header, error)
    TransactionCount(ctx context.Context, blockHash common.Hash) (uint, error)
    TransactionInBlock(ctx context.Context, blockHash common.Hash, index uint) (*types.Transaction, error)
    TransactionByHash(ctx context.Context, txHash common.Hash) (*types.Transaction, error)
    TransactionReceipt(ctx context.Context, txHash common.Hash) (*types.Receipt, error)

Ethereum state in the canonical blockchain can be accessed as well. Note that implementations of the interface may be unable to return state values for old blocks. In many cases, calling a contract can be preferable to reading its storage directly.

type ChainStateReader interface {
    BalanceAt(ctx context.Context, account common.Address, blockNumber *big.Int) (*big.Int, error)
    StorageAt(ctx context.Context, account common.Address, key common.Hash, blockNumber *big.Int) ([]byte, error)
    CodeAt(ctx context.Context, account common.Address, blockNumber *big.Int) ([]byte, error)
    NonceAt(ctx context.Context, account common.Address, blockNumber *big.Int) (uint64, error)

You can subscribe for notifications whenever the canonical head block is updated.

type ChainHeadEventer interface {
    SubscribeNewHead(ctx context.Context, ch chan<- *types.Header) (event.Subscription, error)

Reading Contract Data

The preferred way to read from the blockchain is through contract calls, essentially transactions that are executed by the EVM but not mined into the blockchain. ContractCall is a low-level method to execute such calls. For applications which are structured around specific contracts, the go-ethereum abigen tool provides a nicer, properly typed way to perform calls.

type CallMsg struct {
    From     common.Address // the sender of the 'transaction'
    To       *common.Address // the destination contract (nil for contract creation)
    Gas      *big.Int       // if nil, the call executes with near-infinite gas
    GasPrice *big.Int       // wei <-> gas exchange ratio
    Value    *big.Int       // amount of wei sent along with the call
    Data     []byte         // input data, usually an ABI-encoded contract method invocation

type ContractCaller interface {
    CallContract(ctx context.Context, call CallMsg, blockNumber *big.Int) ([]byte, error)

Just like in web3.js, contract-generated log events can be accessed using a one-off query or continuously using an event subscription. Polling filters are not part of the interface, but implementations of the interface can use them under the hood to provide the subscription.

type FilterQuery struct {
    FromBlock *big.Int         // beginning of the queried range, nil means genesis block
    ToBlock   *big.Int         // end of the range, nil means latest block
    Addresses []common.Address // restricts match to events created by specific contracts
    Topics    [][]common.Hash  // restricts match to particular event topics

type LogFilterer interface {
    FilterLogs(ctx context.Context, q FilterQuery) ([]vm.Log, error)
    SubscribeFilterLogs(ctx context.Context, q FilterQuery, ch chan<- vm.Log) (event.Subscription, error)

Sending Transactions

The only way to change on-chain data is by sending a signed transaction. In contrast to the web3.js, the Go API does not support remote accounts or automatic nonce assignment. Consumers of the API can use package accounts to maintain local private keys and need to assign the nonce using PendingNonceAt.

SendTransaction injects a signed transaction into the pending pool for execution. If the transaction was a contract creation, the TransactionReceipt method can be used to retrieve the contract address after the transaction has been mined.

type TransactionSender interface {
    SendTransaction(ctx context.Context, tx *types.Transaction) error

The time until a sent transaction is included in the blockchain depends on the gas price. go-ethereum provides a built-in oracle that monitors the blockchain to determine an optimal gas price. The GasPricer interface wraps this functionality.

type GasPricer interface {
    SuggestGasPrice(ctx context.Context) (*big.Int, error)

The Pending State

The pending state is the result of all known executable transactions which have not yet been included in the blockchain. It is commonly used to display the result of ’unconfirmed’ actions (e.g. wallet value transfers) initiated by the user. The PendingNonceAt operation is a good way to retrieve the next available transaction nonce for a specific account.

type PendingStateReader interface {
    PendingBalanceAt(ctx context.Context, account common.Address) (uint64, error)
    PendingStorageAt(ctx context.Context, account common.Address, key common.Hash) ([]byte, error)
    PendingCodeAt(ctx context.Context, account common.Address) ([]byte, error)
    PendingNonceAt(ctx context.Context, account common.Address) (uint64, error)
    PendingTransactionCount(ctx context.Context) (uint, error)

type PendingContractCaller interface {
    PendingCallContract(ctx context.Context, call CallMsg) ([]byte, error)

EstimateGas tries to estimate the gas needed to execute a specific transaction based on the current pending state of the backend blockchain. There is no guarantee that this is the true gas limit requirement as other transactions may be added or removed by miners, but it should provide a basis for setting a reasonable default.

type GasEstimator interface {
    EstimateGas(ctx context.Context, call CallMsg) (usedGas *big.Int, err error)

Nodes continuously update the pending state with transactions received from the network or through the API. If information from the pending state is cached or displayed on the screen, it can be useful to subscribe to changes.

type PendingStateEventer interface {
    SubscribePendingTransactions(ctx context.Context, ch chan<- *types.Transaction) (event.Subscription, error)

Three Implementations Of The Method Set

Note that this section talks about code which is not written or merged yet.

go-ethereum provides three independent implementations of the API method set. Implementations may omit certain methods as there is no defined interface capturing all of them. If a certain method is implemented by, say, eth.Ethereum but not les.LightEthereum, user packages which need those methods can simply not be used with the light client.

In-process Full Node: eth.Ethereum

The Ethereum object implements an Ethereum full node. It sets up the eth protocol and go-ethereum core. Even though this type has been around for a long time, it’s purpose beyond holding references to these pieces has been somewhat unclear. Long-term, certain components (e.g. urlhint HTTP client, PoW miner) which are instantiated by eth.Ethereum can be moved out and instantiated on top of the API.

In the eth.Ethereum implementation of the API, the context parameter can be ignored because the underlying database operations are fast and cannot be cancelled.

Usage Example:

// Configure the node and an ethereum full node.
stackConf := &node.Config{DataDir: datadir, ...}
ethConf := &eth.Config{FastSync: true, ...}
stack, err := node.New(stackConf)
if err != nil {
    return nil, fmt.Errorf("protocol stack: %v", err)

// Start the node. This is a bit ugly at the moment. 
newEth := func(ctx *node.ServiceContext) (node.Service, error) {
    return eth.New(ctx, ethConf)
if err := stack.Register(newEth); err != nil {
    log.Fatal("can't register eth:", err)
if err := stack.Start(); err != nil {
    log.Fatal("can't start node:", err)
var eth *eth.Ethereum

// Use Ethereum.
latestBlock, err := eth.BlockByNumber(context.Background(), nil)
if err != nil {
    log.Fatal("oops:", err)
log.Println("latest block:", latestBlock.Number())

In-process Light Client: les.LightEthereum

LightEthereum mirrors the Ethereum object and is the entry point for the light client. The context parameter cancels les protocol requests. Since the light client does not keep a pending state, methods accessing the pending state will be unavailable. Retrieving non-local transactions by hash is not supported either.

Remote Node: ethclient.Client

package ethclient is a lightweight wrapper around the web3 RPC API. The method set offered by ethclient.Client is the complete API as described above. The context parameter is used to control deadline and cancelation of RPC calls.

Usage Example:

c, _ := ethclient.Dial("ws://")
ctx, cancel := context.WithTimeout(context.Background(), 3 * time.Second)
latestBlock, err := c.BlockByNumber(ctx, nil)
if err != nil {
    log.Fatal("oops:", err)
log.Println("latest block:", latestBlock.Number())

Due to issue #2508, types.Header values returned by ethclient may be missing the MixDigest. This makes it impossible to derive the correct block hash. I’ll solve this by adding the field to the RPC response and checking for it in ethclient.

Development Roadmap

My ambitious target for landing the new API is the geth 1.5 release. The work required can be included step-by-step (list roughly in dependency order):

  • rpc.Client implementation that can handle subscriptions
  • ethclient.Client implementation (WIP)
  • Viability test of ethclient in the swarm codebase
    • The code is already structured using a caller-defined interface with very similar methods.
  • The ’simulated’ contract backend needs a place and BalanceAt, CodeAt methods.
  • remote and nil backends can be removed from accounts/abi/bind/backends
  • eth/filters needs support for channel subscriptions (WIP)
  • Add API methods to eth.Ethereum
    • This will require some reorganising to move code from internal/ethapi into ’eth’.
    • The native contract backend can be removed when done.

Updated: 2016-09-22

Aside: Import Hygiene And Vendoring Issues

Argument and result types used in the API method set force consumers to link the packages in which those types are defined. In order to minimize the amount of go-ethereum code that consumers must link, use of imported types in the API is limited to a blessed set of ’leaf’ packages.

Built-in types and types from the standard library (e.g. big.Int, ecdsa.PublicKey) are always acceptable. go-ethereum leaf packages and types used are listed below. The listed packages were chosen because they have few dependencies and enjoy widespread use in the go-ethereum code base.

  • golang.org/x/net/context (Context)
  • github.com/ethereum/go-ethereum/common (Hash, Address)
  • github.com/ethereum/go-ethereum/core/types (Block, Header, Transaction, Receipt)
  • github.com/ethereum/go-ethereum/event (Subscription)
  • github.com/ethereum/go-ethereum/core/vm (Log)1

Vendored dependencies places more restrictions on the argument and result types. Since go-ethereum contains both commands and library code, it is affected by the vendoring edge case. Almost all API methods reference the Context type, imported from golang.org/x/net/context. In Go 1.7, package context has moved to the standard library but it’ll take a while before go-ethereum can import it from there.

Until then, the solution for this issue will be to vendor certain packages in a separate tree under build/. The ci.go build script can add the additional vendor tree to GOPATH during compilation, ensuring a deterministic build. Go projects importing our API can import and vendor their own version of the respective dependencies. This works for packages which have a reasonably stable interface (i.e. it works for context).

Here’s what the resulting directory tree will look like:

           ...dependencies exposed by the go-ethereum library API...
        ...other dependencies not exposed by the API...



We could avoid the dependency from ethclient on core/vm by moving the Log type to core/types.