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I2P Project Targets

I2P Project Targets

Below is a more detailed (yet still incomplete) discussion of the major areas of future development on the core I2P network, spanning the plausibly planned releases. This does not include stego transports, porting to wireless devices, or tools to secure the local machine, nor does it include client applications that will be essential in I2P's success. There are probably other things that will come up, especially as I2P gets more peer review, but these are the main 'big things'. See also the roadmap. Want to help? Get involved!

Core functionality [link]

Security / anonymity [link]

Performance [link]

Core functionality

  • NAT/Firewall bridging via 1-hop restricted routes

  • Implemented in I2P

    The functionality of allowing routers to fully participate within the network while behind firewalls and NATs that they do not control requires some basic restricted route operation (since those peers will not be able to receive inbound connections). To do this successfully, you consider peers one of two ways:

  • Peers who have reachable interfaces - these peers do not need to do anything special
  • Peers who do not have reachable interfaces - these peers must build a tunnel pointing at them where the gateway is one of the peers they have established a connection with who has both a publicly reachable interface and who has agreed to serve as their 'introducer'.

To do this, peers who have no IP address simply connect to a few peers, build a tunnel through them, and publish a reference to those tunnels within their RouterInfo structure in the network database.

When someone wants to contact any particular router, they first must get its RouterInfo from the network database, which will tell them whether they can connect directly (e.g. the peer has a publicly reachable interface) or whether they need to contact them indirectly. Direct connections occur as normal, while indirect connections are done through one of the published tunnels.

When a router just wants to get a message or two to a specific hidden peer, they can just use the indirect tunnel for sending the payload. However, if the router wants to talk to the hidden peer often (for instance, as part of a tunnel), they will send a garlic routed message through the indirect tunnel to that hidden peer which unwraps to contain a message which should be sent to the originating router. That hidden peer then establishes an outbound connection to the originating router and from then on, those two routers can talk to each other directly over that newly established direct connection.

Of course, that only works if the originating peer can receive connections (they aren't also hidden). However, if the originating peer is hidden, they can simply direct the garlic routed message to come back to the originating peer's inbound tunnel.

This is not meant to provide a way for a peer's IP address to be concealed, merely as a way to let people behind firewalls and NATs fully operate within the network. Concealing the peer's IP address adds a little more work, as described below.

With this technique, any router can participate as any part of a tunnel. For efficiency purposes, a hidden peer would be a bad choice for an inbound gateway, and within any given tunnel, two neighboring peers wouldn't want to be hidden. But that is not technically necessary.

  • High degree transport layer with UDP, NBIO, or NIO

    Both UDP and NIO have been Implemented in I2P

    Standard TCP communication in Java generally requires blocking socket calls, and to keep a blocked socket from hanging the entire system, those blocking calls are done on their own threads. Our current TCP transport is implemented in a naive fashion - for each peer we are talking to, we have one thread reading and one thread writing. The reader thread simply loops a bunch of read() calls, building I2NP messages and adding them to our internal inbound message queue, and the writer thread pulls messages off a per-connection outbound message queue and shoves the data through write() calls.

    We do this fairly efficiently, from a CPU perspective - at any time, almost all of these threads are sitting idle, blocked waiting for something to do. However, each thread consumes real resources (on older Linux kernels, for instance, each thread would often be implemented as a fork()'ed process). As the network grows, the number of peers each router will want to talk with will increase (remember, I2P is fully connected, meaning that any given peer should know how to get a message to any other peer, and restricted route support will probably not significantly reduce the number of connections necessary). This means that with a 100,000 router network, each router will have up to 199,998 threads just to deal with the TCP connections!

    Obviously, that just won't work. We need to use a transport layer that can scale. In Java, we have two main camps:


    Implemented in I2P 0.6 ("SSU") as documented elsewhere

    Sending and receiving UDP datagrams is a connectionless operation - if we are communicating with 100,000 peers, we simply stick the UDP packets in a queue and have a single thread pulling them off the queue and shoving them out the pipe (and to receive, have a single thread pulling in any UDP packets received and adding them to an inbound queue).

    However, moving to UDP means losing the benefits of TCP's ordering, congestion control, MTU discovery, etc. Implementing that code will take significant work, however I2P doesn't need it to be as strong as TCP. Specifically, a while ago I was taking some measurements in the simulator and on the live net, and the vast majority of messages transferred would fit easily within a single unfragmented UDP packet, and the largest of the messages would fit within 20-30 packets. As mule pointed out, TCP adds a significant overhead when dealing with so many small packets, as the ACKs are within an order of magnitude in size. With UDP, we can optimize the transport for both efficiency and resilience by taking into account I2P's particular needs.

    It will be a lot of work though.

    NIO or NBIO

    NIO Implemented in I2P ("NTCP")

    In Java 1.4, a set of "New I/O" packages was introduced, allowing Java developers to take advantage of the operating system's nonblocking IO capabilities - allowing you to maintain a large number of concurrent IO operations without requiring a separate thread for each. There is much promise with this approach, as we can scalable handle a large number of concurrent connections and we don't have to write a mini-TCP stack with UDP. However, the NIO packages have not proven themselves to be battle-ready, as the Freenet developer's found. In addition, requiring NIO support would mean we can't run on any of the open source JVMs like Kaffe, as GNU/Classpath has only limited support for NIO. (note: this may not be the case anymore, as there has been some progress on Classpath's NIO, but it is an unknown quantity)

    Another alternative along the same lines is the Non Blocking I/O package - essentially a cleanroom NIO implementation (written before NIO was around). It works by using some native OS code to do the nonblocking IO, passing off events through Java. It seems to be working with Kaffe, though there doesn't seem to be much development activity on it lately (likely due to 1.4's NIO deployment).

  • NetworkDB and profile tuning and ejection policy for large nets

    Within the current network database and profile management implementation, we have taken the liberty of some practical shortcuts. For instance, we don't have the code to drop peer references from the K-buckets, as we don't have enough peers to even plausibly fill any of them, so instead, we just keep the peers in whatever bucket is appropriate. Another example deals with the peer profiles - the memory required to maintain each peer's profile is small enough that we can keep thousands of full blown profiles in memory without problems. While we have the capacity to use trimmed down profiles (which we can maintain 100s of thousands in memory), we don't have any code to deal with moving a profile from a "minimal profile" to a "full profile", a "full profile" to a "minimal profile", or to simply eject a profile altogether. It just wouldn't be practical to write that code yet, since we aren't going to need it for a while.

    That said, as the network grows we are going to want to keep these considerations in mind. We will have some work to do, but we can put it off for later.

Security / anonymity

  • Per-hop tunnel id & new permuted TunnelVerificationStructure encryption

    Addressed in I2P 0.5 as documented elsewhere

    Right now, if Alice builds a four hop inbound tunnel starting at Elvis, going to Dave, then to Charlie, then Bob, and finally Alice (A<--B<--C<--D<--E), all five of them will know they are participating in tunnel "123", as the messages are tagged as such. What we want to do is give each hop their own unique tunnel hop ID - Charlie will receive messages on tunnel 234 and forward them to tunnel 876 on Bob. The intent is to prevent Bob or Charlie from knowing that they are in Alice's tunnel, as if each hop in the tunnel had the same tunnel ID, collusion attacks aren't much work.

    Adding a unique tunnel ID per hop isn't hard, but by itself, insufficient. If Dave and Bob are under the control of the same attacker, they wouldn't be able to tell they are in the same tunnel due to the tunnel ID, but would be able to tell by the message bodies and verification structures by simply comparing them. To prevent that, the tunnel must use layered encryption along the path, both on the payload of the tunneled message and on the verification structure (used to prevent simple tagging attacks). This requires some simple modifications to the TunnelMessage, as well as the inclusion of per-hop secret keys delivered during tunnel creation and given to the tunnel's gateway. We must fix a maximum tunnel length (e.g. 16 hops) and instruct the gateway to encrypt the message to each of the 16 delivered secret keys, in reverse order, and to encrypt the signature of the hash of the (encrypted) payload at each step. The gateway then sends that 16-step encrypted message, along with a 16-step and 16-wide encrypted mapping to the first hop, which then decrypts the mapping and the payload with their secret key, looking in the 16-wide mapping for the entry associated with their own hop (keyed by the per-hop tunnel ID) and verifying the payload by checking it against the associated signed hash.

    The tunnel gateway does still have more information than the other peers in the tunnel, and compromising both the gateway and a tunnel participant would allow those peers to collude, exposing the fact that they are both in the same tunnel. In addition, neighboring peers know that they are in the same tunnel anyway, as they know who they send the message to (and with IP-based transports without restricted routes, they know who they got it from). However, the above two techniques significantly increase the cost of gaining meaningful samples when dealing with longer tunnels.

  • Strict ordering of participants within tunnels

    Implemented in release 0.6.2

As Connelly proposed to deal with the predecessor attack (2008 update), keeping the order of peers within our tunnels consistent (aka whenever Alice creates a tunnel with both Bob and Charlie in it, Bob's next hop is always Charlie), we address the issue as Bob doesn't get to substantially sample Alice's peer selection group. We may even want to explicitly allow Bob to participate in Alice's tunnels in only one way - receiving a message from Dave and sending it to Charlie - and if any of those peers are not available to participate in the tunnel (due to overload, network disconnection, etc), avoid asking Bob to participate in any tunnels until they are back online.

More analysis is necessary for revising the tunnel creation - at the moment, we simply select and order randomly within the peer's top tier of peers (ones with fast + high capacity).

Adding a strict ordering to peers in a tunnel also improves the anonymity of peers with 0-hop tunnels, as otherwise the fact that a peer's gateway is always the same would be particularly damning. However, peers with 0-hop tunnels may want to periodically use a 1-hop tunnel to simulate the failure of a normally reliable gateway peer (so every MTBF*(tunnel duration) minutes, use a 1-hop tunnel).

  • Randomly permuted tunnel lengths

    Addressed in I2P 0.5 as documented elsewhere

    Without tunnel length permutation, if someone were to somehow detect that a destination had a particular number of hops, it might be able to use that information to identify the router the destination is located on, per the predecessor attack. For instance, if everyone has 2-hop tunnels, if Bob receives a tunnel message from Charlie and forwards it to Alice, Bob knows Alice is the final router in the tunnel. If Bob were to identify what destination that tunnel served (by means of colluding with the gateway and harvesting the network database for all of the LeaseSets), he would know the router on which that destination is located (and without restricted routes, that would mean what IP address the destination is on).

    It is to counter user behavior that tunnel lengths should be permuted, using algorithms based on the length requested (for example, the 1/MTBF length change for 0-hop tunnels outlined above).

  • Full blown n-hop restricted routes with optional trusted links

    The restricted route functionality described before was simply a functional issue - how to let peers who would not otherwise be able to communicate do so. However, the concept of allowing restricted routes includes additional capabilities. For instance, if a router absolutely cannot risk communicating directly with any untrusted peers, they can set up trusted links through those peers, using them to both send and receive all of its messages. Those hidden peers who want to be completely isolated would also refuse to connect to peers who attempt to get them to (as demonstrated by the garlic routing technique outlined before) - they can simply take the garlic clove that has a request for delivery to a particular peer and tunnel route that message out one of the hidden peer's trusted links with instructions to forward it as requested.

  • Hashcash for routerIdentity, destination, and tunnel request

    Within the network, we will want some way to deter people from consuming too many resources or from creating so many peers to mount a Sybil attack. Traditional techniques such as having a peer see who is requesting a resource or running a peer aren't appropriate for use within I2P, as doing so would compromise the anonymity of the system. Instead, we want to make certain requests "expensive".

    Hashcash is one technique that we can use to anonymously increase the "cost" of doing certain activities, such as creating a new router identity (done only once on installation), creating a new destination (done only once when creating a service), or requesting that a peer participate in a tunnel (done often, perhaps 2-300 times per hour). We don't know the "correct" cost of each type of certificate yet, but with some research and experimentation, we could set a base level that is sufficiently expensive while not an excessive burden for people with few resources.

    There are a few other algorithms that we can explore for making those requests for resources "nonfree", and further research on that front is appropriate.

  • Advanced tunnel operation (batching/mixing/throttling/padding)

    To powerful passive external observers as well as large colluding internal observers, standard tunnel routing is vulnerable to traffic analysis attacks - simply watching the size and frequency of messages being passed between routers. To defend against these, we will want to essentially turn some of the tunnels into its own mix cascade - delaying messages received at the gateway and passing them in batches, reordering them as necessary, and injecting dummy messages (indistinguishable from other "real" tunnel messages by peers in the path). There has been a significant amount of research on these algorithms that we can lean on prior to implementing the various tunnel mixing strategies.

    In addition to the anonymity aspects of more varied tunnel operation, there is a functional dimension as well. Each peer only has a certain amount of data they can route for the network, and to keep any particular tunnel from consuming an unreasonable portion of that bandwidth, they will want to include some throttles on the tunnel. For instance, a tunnel may be configured to throttle itself after passing 600 messages (1 per second), 2.4MB (4KBps), or exceeding some moving average (8KBps for the last minute). Excess messages may be delayed or summarily dropped. With this sort of throttling, peers can provide ATM-like QoS support for their tunnels, refusing to agree to allocate more bandwidth than the peer has available.

    In addition, we may want to implement code to dynamically reroute tunnels to avoid failed peers or to inject additional hops into the path. This can be done by garlic routing a message to any particular peer in a tunnel with instructions to redefine the next-hop in the tunnel.

  • Stop & go mix w/ garlics & tunnels

    Beyond the per-tunnel batching and mixing strategy, there are further capabilities for protecting against powerful attackers, such as allowing each step in a garlic routed path to define a delay or window in which it should be forwarded on. This would enable protections against the long term intersection attack, as a peer could send a message that looks perfectly standard to most peers that pass it along, except at any peers where the clove exposed includes delay instructions.


Performance related improvements are listed on the Performance page.