Understanding Masternodes

Masternodes, once unique to the Dash network, are now becoming popular as the technology is forked into other blockchains. This section of the documentation describes the principles and mechanisms of masternodes and the services they provide to the Dash network specifically.

Simply put, a masternode is a server with a full copy of the Dash blockchain, which guarantees a certain minimum level of performance and functionality to perform certain tasks related to block validation, as well as PrivateSend and InstantSend, as the anonymity and instant transaction features in Dash are called. The masternodes are paid for this service, using a concept known as Proof of Service. This is in addition to the Proof of Work done by miners to secure the blockchain. Masternodes are also allowed to vote on governance and funding proposals, with each masternode receiving one vote (yes/no/abstain) on each proposal submitted to the system.

Anyone can run a masternode. The objective is to have enough decentralization to ensure that no single person controls a significant fraction of the masternodes. However, to avoid bloating the network with unnecessary masternodes or encouraging reckless operators, there is one condition that needs to be fulfilled: proof of ownership of 1000 Dash. The coins don’t need to be in the masternode, but they need to be kept in a certain way that is transparent to the entire network. If the owner moves or spends those coins, the masternode stops working and payment ceases.

Masternodes are paid by the network for the PrivateSend, InstantSend and governance services they provide. 45% of the block reward is paid out to the masternodes, 45% to miners and 10% to the budget. In practice, half of the reward from a normal block goes to the miner and half to the masternode. Then, every 16,616 blocks (approximately 30.29 days), a superblock is created that contains the entire 10% payout to the budget proposal winners. Masternodes are selected for payment in each block (approximately every 2.6 minutes) from a deterministic masternode list, and moved to the back of the list after payment. As more masternodes are created, the duration between payments increases. If the collateral behind a masternode is spent, or if a masternode stops providing services to the network for more than one hour, it is removed from the list until normal service resumes. In this way, masternodes are given incentive to provide efficient and reliable services to the network.

Having so many servers holding a full copy of the blockchain and working for the coin can be extremely useful. Thanks to the reward system, there is no risk of not having enough masternodes, and the developers can rely on them quickly deploying any new decentralized feature they want to implement. This is where the true strength of Dash lies - an incentivized system of thousands of distributed servers working 24x7 means that Dash can scale more efficiently and deploy services more quickly than a blockchain run entirely by unpaid volunteers. The more masternodes, the better and safer the Dash network.

As of November 2018, the Dash network has over 5000 masternodes located in over 45 countries and hosted on over 140 ISPs. The block reward is approximately 3.34 Dash, so the selected masternode receives 1.67 Dash per payment or approximately 6 Dash per month. The block reward decreases by 7.14% approximately once per year, so the annual earnings for a masternode owner is approximately 7% of the collateral, and will decrease over time as calculated here. See this tool to calculate real-time payment rates, and this site for various real-time statistics on the masternode network.

DIP003 Masternode Changes

Dash 0.13.0 implements DIP003, which introduces several changes to how a Dash masternode is set up and operated. A list of available documentation appears below:

Important concepts and changes:

  • It is possible to upgrade an existing masternode in-place without starting a new server and without moving your 1000 DASH collateral.
  • A masternode was previously “started” using the masternode start-alias command based on a masternode.conf file. Under DIP003, this file is no longer used, and masternodes are “registered” instead of “started”. Masternodes begin offering services when a ProRegTx special transaction containing a particular key is written to the blockchain.
  • As before in masternode.conf, the ProRegTx references the transaction id (txid) and index holding the collateral. The IP address and port of the masternode are also defined in this transaction.
  • The ProRegTx contains 2 Dash addresses (also called public keys) and one BLS public key, which represent 3 different roles in the masternode and define update and voting rights. The keys are:
    1. ownerKeyAddr: This is a Dash address (public key) controlled by the masternode owner. It is different from the address used for the collateral. Because the owner uses the private key associated with this address to issue ProUpRegTx transactions, it must be unique for each masternode.
    2. operatorPubKey: This is the BLS public key of the masternode operator. Only the operator is allowed to issue ProUpServTx transactions. Because the operator key is used during live masternode operation to sign masternode-related P2P messages, quorum-related messages and governance trigger votes, the BLS key must be unique for each masternode.
    3. votingKeyAddr: This is a Dash address (public key) used for proposal voting. Votes signed with the corresponding private key are valid while the masternode is in the registered set.
  • Masternode payments were previously sent to the address holding the collateral. Under DIP003, the owner should specify a different address to receive payments in the ProRegTx. The owner may optionally specify a non-zero percentage as payment to a separate masternode operator, if applicable.
  • The masternode configuration can later be updated using ProUpServTx, ProUpRegTx and ProUpRevTx transactions. See Updating Masternode Information in DIP003 and Updating Masternode Information in this documentation for more details.
  • All functions related to DIP003 will only take effect once Spork 15 is enabled on the network. Until then, it is necessary to set up the masternode following the old process and then work through the upgrade procedure. In this state, the masternode will continue to function in compatibility mode, and all DIP003 related functions, such as payments to a separate address or percentage payments to operators, will not yet have any effect. The ownerKeyAddr and votingKeyAddr must also be identical until Spork 15 is enabled.

The process of setting up or upgrading a masternode is as follows:

  1. Set up your server and operating system
  2. Install the Dash software and synchronize the blockchain
  3. Generate a BLS key pair and enter the private key on the masternode
  4. Prepare a ProRegTx transaction
  5. Sign the ProRegTx transaction
  6. Submit the signed ProRegTx transaction

Step 1 can be omitted if you have an existing server. Steps 2 and 3 require direct access to the masternode. Steps 3 and 4 require access to a Dash Wallet (or DMT). Step 5 requires access to the wallet actually holding the collateral. Step 6 requires a Dash balance to pay the transaction fee.

Masternodes vs. mining

Dash, like Bitcoin and most other cryptocurrencies, is based on a decentralized ledger of all transactions, known as a blockchain. This blockchain is secured through a consensus mechanism; in the case of both Dash and Bitcoin, the consensus mechanism is Proof of Work (PoW). Miners attempt to solve difficult problems with specialized computers, and when they solve the problem, they receive the right to add a new block to the blockchain. If all the other people running the software agree that the problem was solved correctly, the block is added to the blockchain and the miner is rewarded.

Dash works a little differently from Bitcoin, however, because it has a two-tier network. The second tier is powered by masternodes (Full Nodes), which enable financial privacy (PrivateSend), instant transactions (InstantSend), and the decentralized governance and budget system. Because this second tier is so important, masternodes are also rewarded when miners discover new blocks. The breakdown is as follows: 45% of the block reward goes to the miner, 45% goes to masternodes, and 10% is reserved for the budget system (created by superblocks every month).

The masternode system is referred to as Proof of Service (PoSe), since the masternodes provide crucial services to the network. In fact, the entire network is overseen by the masternodes, which have the power to reject improperly formed blocks from miners. If a miner tried to take the entire block reward for themselves or tried to run an old version of the Dash software, the masternode network would orphan that block, and it would not be added to the blockchain.

In short, miners power the first tier, which is the basic sending and receiving of funds and prevention of doublespending. Masternodes power the second tier, which provide the added features that make Dash different from other cryptocurrencies. Masternodes do not mine, and mining computers cannot serve as masternodes. Additionally, each masternode is “secured” by 1000 DASH. Those DASH remain under the sole control of their owner at all times, and can still be freely spent. The funds are not locked in any way. However, if the funds are moved or spent, the associated masternode will go offline and stop receiving rewards.

Payment logic

Masternode payments in Dash version 0.13.0 are entirely deterministic and based on a simple list sort algorithm. For documentation of version 0.12.0 payment logic, see the legacy masternode payment documentation. Dash version 0.13.0 implements DIP003 and defines two sets of masternodes.

  1. The full set, which contains all registered masternodes that have not spent their collateral funding transactions.
  2. The valid set, a subset of the full set which contains all masternodes which are not marked as Proof of Service (PoSe) banned.

Each masternode in the set of valid masternodes, identified by its registration transaction ID, is associated with the block at which it was last paid. If it has never received payment or was banned for failing to meet the PoSe requirements, then the block at which it was first registered or at which service was restored is used instead. The list is sorted in ascending order by this block height and ProRegTx hash (as a tie breaker in case two masternodes were registered in the same block), and the first entry is selected for payment.

Proof of Service

PoSe is a scoring system used to determine if a masternode is providing network services in good faith. A number of metrics are involved in the calculation, so it is not possible to game the system by causing masternodes to be PoSe banned for failing to respond to ping requests by e.g. a DDoS attack just prior to payment. Each failure to provide service results in an increase in the PoSe score relative to the maximum score, which is equal to the number of masternodes in the valid set. If the score reaches the number of masternodes in the valid set, a PoSe ban is enacted and the masternode must be repaired to ensure it provides reliable service and registered in the list again using a ProUpServTx. The current scoring rules as of Dash 0.14 are:

  • Failure to participate in DKG= 66% punishment
  • Each subsequent block reduces PoSe score by 1

Quorum selection

InstantSend transactions in Dash version 0.13.0 are secured using a consensus of deterministically selected masternodes. This set of masternodes is informally termed a quorum and must be in a majority agreement, at least six out of ten, for a successful lock of the transaction inputs. Multiple quorums are self-selected for each input in an InstantSend transaction using the mathematical distance between the hash of each input and of the set of masternode funding transactions.

Each masternode receiving the InstantSend transaction lock request compares the hash of the masternode’s funding transaction to the hash of the input requesting the lock. After validating the inputs are not spent, the ten masternodes furthest from this hash broadcast their acceptance of the lock.

All InstantSend inputs must be at least six blocks old or the transaction will be rejected.

Masternode requirements

  • 1000 Dash: Arguably the hardest part. Dash can be obtained from exchanges such as Poloniex, Bittrex, Kraken and LiveCoin. Shapeshift’s service is also an excellent way.
  • A server or VPS running Linux: Most recent guides use Ubuntu 18.04 LTS. We recommend VPS services such as Vultr and DigitalOcean, although any decent provider will do. Generally an instance with low to average specifications will do, although performance requirements will increase according to this roadmap.
  • A dedicated IP address: These usually come with the VPS/server.
  • A little time and (heart): Masternodes used to require complex setup, but tools such as dashman now greatly simplify the process.

In addition to the 1000 Dash held in collateral, masternodes also have minimum hardware requirements. As of version 12.1, these requirements are as follows:

  Minimum Recommended
CPU 1x 1 GHz 1x 2 GHz
Disk 20 GB 40 GB
Network 400 GB/mth 1 TB/mth

Masternode bandwidth use ranges between 300-500 GB per month and will grow as the network does.

Dash Evolution

The exact hardware requirements for Dash Evolution masternodes have yet to be determined, although some pointers can be taken from the roadmap and this blog post. It should be possible to run Dash masternodes on normal VPS servers until the block size reaches approximately 20 MB, after which custom hardware such as GPUs and eventually ASICs may be required.