Blockchain

Bitcoin script 101

Introduction

In this tutorial we will be looking into the scripting language used by bitcoin. Bitcoin script is a simple forth-like stack based language, which in simple terms means that it operates using a first-in-last-out principle (FILO) stack based data structure.

Background

Bitcoin is a mammoth project consisting of various concepts. By breaking these down into smaller chunks, or a separation of concerns approach, we get a better understanding of how the internals work without getting too overwhelmed.

Let’s get started

For the purpose of simplicity, we will be evaluating our scripts puzzles using a tool called btcdeb, or the Bitcoin Script Debugger as the git author kallewoof refers to it. We are currently working on adding btcdeb to our online command line interface sandboxing environment, so in the meantime, you will have to install this yourself.

By using btcdeb, we are able to separate ourselves from having to think about all the other components related to bitcoin and focus directly on the fundamental concepts behind learning bitcoin script. We will cover a more advanced version of using btcdeb for debugging more complicated examples in a future tutorial.

So let’s execute our first bitcoin script!

gr0kchain:~ $ btcdeb [‘OP_2 OP_1 OP_ADD’] btcdeb – type `btcdeb -h` for start up options valid script 3 op script loaded. type `help` for usage information script | stack -+- 2 | 1 | OP_ADD | #0000 2 btcdeb> step <> PUSH stack 02 script | stack -+- 1 | 02 OP_ADD | #0001 1 btcdeb> step <> PUSH stack 01 script | stack -+- OP_ADD | 01 | 02 #0002 OP_ADD btcdeb> step <> POP stack <> POP stack <> PUSH stack 03 script | stack -+- | 03 btcdeb>

In this example, we are invoking the btcdeb command from the command line interface, then using the exec command to execute the following script.

OP_2 OP_1 OP_ADD

This is a fairly straight forward arithmetic operation which adds 1 and 2 together which evaluates to 3. The first thing to notice might be the strange sequence in which this is performed, this should become more clear once we dive into the internals of how bitcoin script is interpreted. Let’s visualise what this means.

Imagine a stack of books, one placed on top of another as follows.

Bitcoin script 101

As we can see here, stacking these on top of one another follows what we call a first-in-last-out stack, meaning, the sequence in which books are removed from the stack is in the reverse order compared to how they were added. This operation for adding a book is typically referred to as pushing items onto the stack. Removing a book from the stack would result in the top book (last one added) to be removed first, and therefore the last item to be removed will be the book at the bottom of the stack, a process we call popping items from the stack.

Another thing to observe when looking at our original script are the values prefixed with the term OP_. These are what we refer to as opcodes, or operation codes in bitcoin script. Operation codes in context of our stack of books can be described by associating various definitions for each colour of the books in our stack. Let’s imagine we assign values to our books as follows:

Green = 1

Blue = 2

Purple = addition (+)

We now have a simple vocabulary for doing some simple addition using a stack! When we stack our books in the following order we end up with something resembling the following.

Green Blue Purple

When we translate this using our vocabulary we have the following stack.

1 2 +

For us to evaluate this however, we’ll need an additional stack (another stack of books) which can be used to execute this expression step by step. We’ll call these our script stack and execution stack respectively.

Script Stack Execution Stack 1 2 + <Empty>

We can now start moving items from one stack to the other.

First we pop an item from the Script Stack and then push it onto our Execution Stack. So as the first step, we pop the value 1 from our script stack and push it onto the execution stack as follows.

Script Stack Execution Stack 2 + 1

We then pop the value 2 from our script stack and push this onto the execution stack.

Script Stack Execution Stack 2 + 1

And finally we pop the value + from our script stack to our execution stack.

Script Stack Execution Stack + 2 1

Neat! We now have an inverse of our original stack! This is the basic principle when we refer to stacks, or stack based data structures. Let’s take this one step further however and separate our vocabulary into operational and numerals types.

Green = 1 – (numeral) When encountered pop from script stack, and push onto the execution stack

Blue = 2 – (numeral) When encountered pop from script stack, and push onto the execution stack

Purple = addition (+ operational) – When encountered pop two items from the execution stack add them together, then push the result back onto the execution stack.

As before, we can now repeat the previous process as follows.

First we pop an item from the script stack and then push it onto our Execution Stack. So as the first item, we pop the value 1 from our script stack and push it onto the execution stack as follows.

Script Stack Execution Stack 1 2 + <Empty>

We then pop the value 2 from our script stack and push this onto the execution stack.

Script Stack Execution Stack 2 + 1

Based on the new rules we added to our vocabulary, whenever we encounter the + or Red book, we now need to pop two items from the execution stack, add them together, and push the result back onto the execution stack. This would result in the following.

First we pop the + from the script stack, our rules then indicate that we pop the top 2 elements from the execution stack, add them together, and push the result back onto the execution stack.

Script Stack Execution Stack <EMPTY> 3

It’s that simple 😀

Now let’s go back to our original bitcoin script.

OP_2 OP_1 OP_ADD

Here our vocabulary of operations are OP_2, OP_1 and OP_ADD, which can be translated to our previous book example as follows.

Green = OP_2

Blue = OP_1

Purple = addition OP_ADD

Using the same stack based operations we covered before, we can use this to do some simple arithmetic. Bitcoin script defines a list of opcodes for more advanced operations categorised into constants, flow control, stack, splice, bitwise logic, arithmetic, crypto, locktime, pseudo-words and reserved words respectively, each with their own rules. For a list of these checkout the bitcoin wiki.

Back to btcdeb

In the introduction of this tutorial we said that “Bitcoin script is a simple forth-like stack based language, basically meaning that it operates using a first in last out principle (FILO).”, which hopefully makes sense now based on our previous examples.

Now that we have the basics covered, let’s use btcdeb to explore some more examples.

OP_6 OP_2 OP_SUB OP_4 OP_EQUAL

Here we will be subtracting 2 from 6, then testing our result to see if it equals 4. To execute this using btcdeb, we execute the following and pass in the script we would like to execute as the first argument.

gr0kchain:~ $ btcdeb [‘OP_6 OP_2 OP_SUB OP_4 OP_EQUAL’]

Note:

You should be presented with the following output.

btcdeb – type `btcdeb -h` for start up options valid script 5 op script loaded. type `help` for usage information script | stack -+- 6 | 2 | OP_SUB | 4 | OP_EQUAL | #0000 6 btcdeb>

Here we can see that two stacks have been created for us nl. our script and stack (execution). Our bitcoin script was pushed onto the script stack in the reverse sequence as it was presented, where OP_EQUAL is added first, followed by OP_4 and OP_SUB, OP_2 and finally OP_6.

To start evaluating our stack, we use the step command in btcdeb.

“`console btcdeb> step <> PUSH stack 06 script | stack -+- 2 | 06 OP_SUB | 4 | OP_EQUAL | #0001 2 btcdeb> “`

Hint:

Here we see the rules of our opcodes kicking in, where the top element of our script column is being popped, and then pushed onto the stack column. Let’s continue by executing the next step in the process.

“`console btcdeb> step <> PUSH stack 02 script | stack -+- OP_SUB | 02 4 | 06 OP_EQUAL | #0002 OP_SUB btcdeb> “`

As before OP_2 was popped from the script stack and pushed onto the stack.

btcdeb> step <> POP stack <> POP stack <> PUSH stack 04 script | stack -+- 4 | 04 OP_EQUAL | #0003 4 btcdeb>

Here OP_SUB was popped from the script stack, and OP_2 and OP_6 where popped from the stack, subtracted as 6 – 2, and the result pushed back onto our stack as 04 or OP_4.

The next operation we pop the value 4 from the script stack, and push it onto the stack.

btcdeb> step <> PUSH stack 04 script | stack -+- OP_EQUAL | 04 | 04 #0004 OP_EQUAL btcdeb>

And finally, we check wether or not our aritmatic was correct by comparing the last two items on our stack using the OP_EQUAL opcode. Bitcoin transactions are considered valid if the last element on the stack is true. We will look into this in future tutorials, but for now, consider this as having met the conditions for a valid transaction!

btcdeb> step <> POP stack <> POP stack <> PUSH stack 01 script | stack -+- | 01 btcdeb>

Now that you have the basics, try playing around with some additional opcodes to familiarise yourself with the concepts behind them. Also take a look at some of the interesting script puzzles out there, like those bitcoin core developer Peter Todd has published.

For more information on using btcdeb, checkout the github repo, or execute help from the command line.

gr0kchain:~ $ btcdeb -help syntax: btcdeb [-q|-quiet] [-tx=[amount1,amount2,..:]<hex> [-txin=<hex>] [-modify-flags=<flags>|-f<flags>] [-select=<index>|-s<index>] [<script> [<stack bottom item> [… [<stack top item>]]]]] if executed with no arguments, an empty script and empty stack is provided to debug transaction signatures, you need to provide the transaction hex (the WHOLE hex, not just the txid) as well as (SegWit only) every amount for the inputs e.g. if a SegWit transaction abc123… has 2 inputs of 0.1 btc and 0.002 btc, you would do tx=0.1,0.002:abc123… you do not need the amounts for non-SegWit transactions by providing a txin as well as a tx and no script or stack, btcdeb will attempt to set up a debug session for the verification of the given input by pulling the appropriate values out of the respective transactions. you do not need amounts for -tx in this case you can modify verification flags using the -modify-flags command. separate flags using comma (,). prefix with + to enable, – to disable. e.g. -modify-flags=”-NULLDUMMY,-MINIMALIF” the standard (enabled by default) flags are: ・ P2SH ・ STRICTENC ・ DERSIG ・ LOW_S ・ NULLDUMMY ・ MINIMALDATA ・ DISCOURAGE_UPGRADABLE_NOPS ・ CLEANSTACK ・ CHECKLOCKTIMEVERIFY ・ CHECKSEQUENCEVERIFY ・ WITNESS ・ DISCOURAGE_UPGRADABLE_WITNESS_PROGRAM ・ MINIMALIF ・ NULLFAIL ・ WITNESS_PUBKEYTYPE“`

Help from within the interactive btcdeb command line interface (cli).

gr0kchain:~ $ btcdeb btcdeb – type `btcdeb -h` for start up options 0 op script loaded. type `help` for usage information script | stack -+- btcdeb> help step Execute one instruction and iterate in the script. rewind Go back in time one instruction. stack Print stack content. altstack Print altstack content. vfexec Print vfexec content. exec Execute command. tf Transform a value using a given function. print Print script. help Show help information. btcdeb>

And some other useful utility functions!

gr0kchain:~ $ btcdeb btcdeb – type `btcdeb -h` for start up options 0 op script loaded. type `help` for usage information script | stack -+- btcdeb> tf -h echo [*] show as-is serialized value hex [*] convert into a hex string int [arg] convert into an integer reverse [arg] reverse the value according to the type sha256 [message] perform SHA256 ripemd160 [message] perform RIPEMD160 hash256 [message] perform HASH256 (SHA256(SHA256(message)) hash160 [message] perform HASH160 (RIPEMD160(SHA256(message)) base58chk-encode [pubkey] encode [pubkey] using base58 encoding (with checksum) base58chk-decode [string] decode [string] into a pubkey using base58 encoding (with checksum) bech32-encode [pubkey] encode [pubkey] using bech32 encoding bech32-decode [string] decode [string] into a pubkey using bech32 encoding verify-sig [sighash] [pubkey] [signature] verify the given signature for the given sighash and pubkey combine-pubkeys [pubkey1] [pubkey2] combine the two pubkeys into one pubkey tweak-pubkey [value] [pubkey] multiply the pubkey with the given 32 byte value addr-to-scriptpubkey [address] convert a base58 encoded address into its corresponding scriptPubKey scriptpubkey-to-addr [script] convert a scriptPubKey into its corresponding base58 encoded address add [value1] [value2] add two values together sub [value1] [value2] subtract value2 from value1 btcdeb>

For convenience, I’ve also put together a reference sheet of opcodes. Note that not all of these are enabled or supported in btcdeb.

Dec Hex Opcode – 0 0x0 OP_0 76 0x4c OP_PUSHDATA1 77 0x4d OP_PUSHDATA2 78 0x4e OP_PUSHDATA4 79 0x4f OP_1NEGATE 80 0x50 OP_RESERVED 81 0x51 OP_1 82 0x52 OP_2 83 0x53 OP_3 84 0x54 OP_4 85 0x55 OP_5 86 0x56 OP_6 87 0x57 OP_7 88 0x58 OP_8 89 0x59 OP_9 90 0x5a OP_10 91 0x5b OP_11 92 0x5c OP_12 93 0x5d OP_13 94 0x5e OP_14 95 0x5f OP_15 96 0x60 OP_16 97 0x61 OP_NOP 98 0x62 OP_VER 99 0x63 OP_IF 100 0x64 OP_NOTIF 101 0x65 OP_VERIF 102 0x66 OP_VERNOTIF 103 0x67 OP_ELSE 104 0x68 OP_ENDIF 105 0x69 OP_VERIFY 106 0x6a OP_RETURN 107 0x6b OP_TOALTSTACK 108 0x6c OP_FROMALTSTACK 109 0x6d OP_2DROP 110 0x6e OP_2DUP 111 0x6f OP_3DUP 112 0x70 OP_2OVER 113 0x71 OP_2ROT 114 0x72 OP_2SWAP 115 0x73 OP_IFDUP 116 0x74 OP_DEPTH 117 0x75 OP_DROP 118 0x76 OP_DUP 119 0x77 OP_NIP 120 0x78 OP_OVER 121 0x79 OP_PICK 122 0x7a OP_ROLL 123 0x7b OP_ROT 124 0x7c OP_SWAP 125 0x7d OP_TUCK 126 0x7e OP_CAT – Disabled 127 0x7f OP_SUBSTR – Disabled 128 0x80 OP_LEFT – Disabled 129 0x81 OP_RIGHT – Disabled 130 0x82 OP_SIZE 131 0x83 OP_INVERT – Disabled 132 0x84 OP_AND – Disabled 133 0x85 OP_OR – Disabled 134 0x86 OP_XOR – Disabled 135 0x87 OP_EQUAL 136 0x88 OP_EQUALVERIFY 137 0x89 OP_RESERVED1 138 0x8a OP_RESERVED2 139 0x8b OP_1ADD 140 0x8c OP_1SUB 141 0x8d OP_2MUL – Disabled 142 0x8e OP_2DIV – Disabled 143 0x8f OP_NEGATE 144 0x90 OP_ABS 145 0x91 OP_NOT 146 0x92 OP_0NOTEQUAL 147 0x93 OP_ADD 148 0x94 OP_SUB 149 0x95 OP_MUL – Disabled 150 0x96 OP_DIV – Disabled 151 0x97 OP_MOD – Disabled 152 0x98 OP_LSHIFT – Disabled 153 0x99 OP_RSHIFT – Disabled 154 0x9a OP_BOOLAND 155 0x9b OP_BOOLOR 156 0x9c OP_NUMEQUAL 157 0x9d OP_NUMEQUALVERIFY 158 0x9e OP_NUMNOTEQUAL 159 0x9f OP_LESSTHAN 160 0xa0 OP_GREATERTHAN 161 0xa1 OP_LESSTHANOREQUAL 162 0xa2 OP_GREATERTHANOREQUAL 163 0xa3 OP_MIN 164 0xa4 OP_MAX 165 0xa5 OP_WITHIN 166 0xa6 OP_RIPEMD160 167 0xa7 OP_SHA1 168 0xa8 OP_SHA256 169 0xa9 OP_HASH160 170 0xaa OP_HASH256 171 0xab OP_CODESEPARATOR 172 0xac OP_CHECKSIG 173 0xad OP_CHECKSIGVERIFY 174 0xae OP_CHECKMULTISIG 175 0xaf OP_CHECKMULTISIGVERIFY 176 0xb0 OP_NOP1 177 0xb1 OP_CHECKLOCKTIMEVERIFY 178 0xb2 OP_CHECKSEQUENCEVERIFY 179 0xb3 OP_NOP4 180 0xb4 OP_NOP5 181 0xb5 OP_NOP6 182 0xb6 OP_NOP7 183 0xb7 OP_NOP8 184 0xb8 OP_NOP9 185 0xb9 OP_NOP10 255 0xff OP_INVALIDOPCODE

Happy hacking fellow bitcoiner!

Conclusion

In this tutorial we had a look at the fundamental concepts underpinning bitcoins scripting language. We defined a process of operational codes (opcodes) and how they are evaluated using a stack based data structure.

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