Specification: Light mode for cardano-wallet

11th Feb 2022

Status: DRAFT


This document specifies a light-mode for cardano-wallet. This mode aims to make synchronisation to the blockchain faster by trusting an off-chain source of aggregated blockchain data.

Light wallets often employ this strategy of using a less trusted data source; for example the Nami wallet uses Blockfrost as data source. The purpose of the light-mode of cardano-wallet is to make this “trust vs speed” trade-off readily available to downstream software such as Daedalus with minimal changes to its downstream API.

In addition, the “trust versus speed” trade-off will be partially obsoleted by Mithril technology, which aims to give us “trust and speed” by providing verified ledger state data as opposed to block data. The act of implementing light-mode in cardano-wallet does not only offer immediate benefits, but will, in fact, partially prepare the codebase for Mithril technology.



As the Cardano blockchain grows in size, retrieving and verifying blocks from the consensus network becomes increasingly time consuming. By making a “trust versus speed” trade-off, we can significantly decrease synchronization times.

User-visible benefits

  • Allow users to operate their wallet without needing to wait for the node to download and validate the entire blockchain.
  • Allow users to run cardano-wallet and Daedalus on systems with significantly less than 8GB of memory and less than 10GB of disk space.
  • Allow users to control where they sit on the trust vs convenience spectrum, depending upon their current circumstances.

Technical benefits

  • Speed. With light-mode, we expect synchronisation times of < 1 minute for a wallet with 1’000 transactions. In contrast, synchronisation of an empty wallet currently takes ~ 50 minutes by connecting to a node — assuming that the node has already synced to the chain tip and built its ledger state, which itself takes hours.
  • Compatibility. Light-mode is intended to preserve the API presented to downstream software such as Daedalus, only minimal changes are expected.
  • Optionality. A wallet that was started in light-mode can be restarted in full mode without resynchronization, and vice versa. (MVP: no support yet for changing the mode dynamically while the wallet is running.)


  • Trust. The external data source does not provide the same level of protection against omission of transactions as the Proof-of-Stake consensus protocol.
  • Privacy. In addition to the reduction of trust in the blockchain data, we now also reveal private information about addresses belonging to a single wallet.
  • Address schemes. Only Shelley wallets with sequential address discovery can be supported.

However, these limitations are shared by all existing light wallets. In fact, some light wallets only provide single-address wallets, which is an additional reduction of privacy.



The implementation of light-mode is based on an efficient query Address -> Transactions which the blockchain data source provides. This query is useful to wallets that use sequential address discovery (Shelley wallets). These wallets work with a sequence of potential addresses addr_0, addr_1, addr_2, …. For each integer n, there is a deterministic procedure for generating the corresponding address addr_n. The wallet generates the first few addresses in this sequence and uses the above query to retrieve the corresponding transactions. When no transactions are found for g (“address gap”) many consecutive addresses, the procedure stops — as the wallet never puts addresses with higher indices on the chain. In other words, this iterative loop yields all transactions that belong to the wallet.

This procedure can be visualized in a flow chart:

flowchart TB
  start([begin]) --> init[j := 0\ng := 0\ngap := 20]
  init --> query[query addr_j]
  query --> tx{transactions?}
  tx -- no --> gapAdd[g := g+1] 
  gapAdd --> g{g > gap?}
  tx -- yes --> gapReset[g := 0]
  gapReset --> add[j := j+1]
  g -- yes ----> e([end])
  g -- no --> add
  add --> query

This procedure is implemented and demonstrated in the light-mode-test prototype.


Network topology

In full-node mode, cardano-wallet connects to a local cardano-node:

flowchart TB
  subgraph local system
    cardano-launcher -. spawns .-> cardano-wallet
    cardano-launcher -. spawns .-> cardano-node
    cardano-wallet -- ChainSync --> cardano-node
    cardano-wallet -- LocalTxSubmission --> cardano-node
    cardano-wallet -- LocalStateQuery --> cardano-node
  cardano-node -- syncs --> blockchain
  subgraph internet

In light-mode, cardano-wallet instead connects to the data source (e.g. cardano-graphql or Blockfrost) and a transaction submission service through the internet

flowchart TB
  cardano-launcher -. spawns .-> cardano-wallet
  cardano-wallet -- query\nAddressTransactions --> cardano-graphql
  cardano-wallet -- TxSubmission --> cardano-submit-api
  subgraph local system

  subgraph internet
    cardano-graphql --> n1[cardano-node]
    cardano-submit-api --> n2[cardano-node]
    n1 -- syncs --> blockchain
    n2 -- syncs --> blockchain

Command line

The cardano-wallet executable will feature a new flag --light which indicates that the executable is to be started in light-mode:

$ cardano-wallet serve --light CRED
  • CRED specifies how to connect to the less trusted blockchain data source. (MVP: Use Blockfrost; CRED is a filepath to the secret token.)
  • The --light argument and the --node-socket arguments are mutually exclusive with each other.


When the executable was started in light-mode:

  • The endpoints in the hierarchy /v2/byron-wallets/* MUST return an error. Because byron wallets use random derivation indices to generate addresses, they are significantly more challenging to make a light wallet for.
  • (MVP: The endpoints in the hierarchy /v2/shared-wallets/* MAY return an error.)
  • The GET /v2/network/information endpoint MAY not return sync_progress as a percentage quantity from [0..100].


See also the light-mode-test prototype!

  • Collect required queries on data source in a data type LightLayer. In this way, we can replace the data source with a mock data source and run property tests on the chain following logic. (MVP: Use Blockfrost for demonstration purposes.)

  • Provide second implementation of NetworkLayer using a LightLayer.

    • See prototype for details! Important changes:
    • watchTip requires polling (2 seconds interval)
    • currentNodeEra may require hard-coding known eras.
    • performanceEstimate requires copying from ledger code.
    • syncProgress should be ignored for MVP.
    • The node-mode NetworkLayer does a lot of caching, we should avoid that for now and instead add a more uniform caching system later through a function addCaches :: NetworkLayer -> IO NetworkLayer.
    • postTx submits a transaction to a web service instead of using the LocalTxSubmission protocol with cardano-node. This web service can be different from the blockchain data source. An example of such a service is cardano-submit-api.
  • New data type

    data BlockSummary m = BlockSummary
        { from  :: ChainPoint
        , to    :: ChainPoint
        , query :: Address -> m [Transaction]
    • consumed by applyBlocks. Adapt discoverTransactions from the prototype.

    • produced by NetworkLayer. Adapt lightSync from the prototype.

    • Idea: Use an additional GADT wrapper to specialize applyBlocks to sequential address states:

          data BlockData m s where
                  :: NonEmpty Block
                  -> BlockData m s
                  :: BlockSummary m
                  -> BlockData m (SeqState n k)

      By using this type as argument to applyBlocks, we are guaranteed that BlockSummary is only used in conjunction with sequential state. Caveat: It would be better if we could avoid parametrizing the NetworkLayer type with the address discovery state s.

Quality assurance


  • Compare restoration times for an empty wallet in node-mode and in light-mode. The existing nightly wallet restoration benchmark can be updated for this purpose.
  • Number of requests that we make to the data source needs to be monitored / kept in check. The number of requests should scale linearly with the number of transactions and the number of addresses belonging to the wallet. If the data source supports aggregated queries, we can make a single request with a larger body.


  • Mock implementation of LightLayer.
    • We probably won’t get good value / work out of implementing a LightLayer that interacts with the local cluster. One could look into implementing the light-mode NetworkLayer in terms of the node-mode NetworkLayer, though.
  • Property tests for applyBlocks using BlockSummary
    • Implement a conversion function summarize :: NonEmpty Block -> BlockSummary Identity
    • Create a list of blocks, apply applyBlocks to both the list directly, and to the result of summarize — the results should be equal.


  • Cardano-launcher will have to be modified to not launch the cardano-node process when the cardano-wallet is launched in light-mode.

  • Provision of the data source and of the transaction submission service is outside the scope of light-mode; we assume these services will be operated and paid for by someone. (Any light wallet assumes this.) In the MVP, we use Blockfrost for demonstration purposes.

Design alternatives

Byron wallets

Byron wallets cannot be supported by the light-mode as described above, as it is based on an efficient query Address -> Transactions which Byron wallets cannot take advantage of. For these wallets, alternative designs would have to be explored. Possibilities include:

  • A third-party byron address discovery service which takes a byron root XPub and sends back a list of addresses belonging to that wallet. However, that involve an additional reduction in trust.
  • Existing Byron wallets can be partially supported in light-mode as long as the database of addresses generated/discovered so far is intact, as we can still retrieve the balance and all transactions. However, in light-mode, these wallets cannot be restored and cannot receive funds from newly generated addresses. Conversion to Shelly wallets is recommended.