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Deterministic parallel execution

One of the bottlenecks in blockchain execution is that runtime and transactions can only be executed sequencially. In this article, we explore some setups of deterministic parallel execution.

The goal of deterministic parallel execution is to allow block runtime to execute some of its subparts at the same time, while maintain the deterministic nature of block execution.


We follow the deterministic parallel execution model as outlined in this paperAviram, Amittai, et al. "Efficient system-enforced deterministic parallelism." Communications of the ACM 55.5 (2012): 111-119., and adopt it in a blockchain environment.

The system environment consists of a root process, and various child processes. A parent process can dispatch execution to multiple child processes at the same time, and those child processes can execute things in parallel. Child processes can only communicate with the parent process at specific return points, thus enforcing determinism.

The whole runtime is long-standing across block boundary. A special system call is available for the root process to "snapshot" the current runtime and commit to create a new block.


Processes are the unit of execution. Processes can have child processess, and processes can control their direct childs. Processes can only intercept child processes at specific return points. This is what allows deterministic parallelism.

Three specific system calls are available for processes to manipulate child processes and control parallelism:

  • PUT: Copy specific values into child.

  • GET: Get specific values from child since last child process snapshot.

  • RET: Stop and wait for parent to issue a PUT or GET.

Note that if a child process is executing, then a PUT or GET will block the parent process' execution until the child process execution returns.

As a general rule of thumb, parent process should only execute child processes that it trusts, as a child process can block the parent process indefinitely. If the parent process wants to invoke user-defined code, it should annotate the code with specific metering data to ensure that the child process always returns.

Root process I/O

The root process is the only process that is allowed to access I/O. In our case, this means block and extrinsic information.

One special system call is available for the root process — SNAPSHOT. As its name stands, it will snapshot the state and return a value representing the current block data. It will also designate a specific memory region. When the root process is resumed again, the runtime caller will put the next block’s metadata into this memory region.

In-advance processing

The full deterministic parallel runtime model can be understood as a dependency snapshotting graph (via the PUT, GET and RET system calls). One thing to note about this is that each process has its own snapshotting lifecycle, and may not need to participate in the root process snapshotting in regards of the current block.

For example, a process A may invoke a child process B but return early in current block, and only inspect the status of B till the next block. It makes no difference if B is actually executed in the current block or the next block, and based on the runtime executor’s business, it can determine that itself.

Most runtimes require generation of state root — a value pinning the current runtime execution state. The root process should be responsible for this. It inspects all child processes' states and calculate needed hashes for them. The act of inspection will ensure that all those processes that root process cares about as for the current block finished execution before the current block is finalized.


Persistant storage

Readers may notice that the design does not have delibrate storage semantics (like Substrate’s get_storage and set_storage). Instead, the memory is the persistent storage structure.

The runtime execution environment must handle process snapshotting correctly, and allow revertion when needed. Block reorg may happen. In addition, a child process may fail its execution, and in that case, its state must be reverted back to the last snapshot point. The reason for this is that this allows the parent process to retry the child process execution later if it is a recoverable issue (for example, an out-of-gas error).

Not having separate concept of persistant storage but solely using memory heap encourages the users to design small and single-purpose processes. It also simplifies the implementation of snapshotting and avoid the complication of another storage system snapshotting.

Snapshotting instead of bootstrapping

The whole runtime is long-running across block processings. Runtime state does not bootstrap again across block boundary. This removes the cost of bootstrapping the runtime.