Tahoe URIs

  1. File URIs
    1. CHK URIs
    2. LIT URIs
    3. Mutable File URIs
  2. Directory URIs
  3. Internal Usage of URIs

Each file and directory in a Tahoe filesystem is described by a “URI”. There are different kinds of URIs for different kinds of objects, and there are different kinds of URIs to provide different kinds of access to those objects. Each URI is a string representation of a “capability” or “cap”, and there are read-caps, write-caps, verify-caps, and others.

Each URI provides both location and identification properties. location means that holding the URI is sufficient to locate the data it represents (this means it contains a storage index or a lookup key, whatever is necessary to find the place or places where the data is being kept). identification means that the URI also serves to validate the data: an attacker who wants to trick you into into using the wrong data will be limited in their abilities by the identification properties of the URI.

Some URIs are subsets of others. In particular, if you know a URI which allows you to modify some object, you can produce a weaker read-only URI and give it to someone else, and they will be able to read that object but not modify it. Directories, for example, have a read-cap which is derived from the write-cap: anyone with read/write access to the directory can produce a limited URI that grants read-only access, but not the other way around.

src/allmydata/uri.py is the main place where URIs are processed. It is the authoritative definition point for all the the URI types described herein.

File URIs

The lowest layer of the Tahoe architecture (the “grid”) is reponsible for mapping URIs to data. This is basically a distributed hash table, in which the URI is the key, and some sequence of bytes is the value.

There are two kinds of entries in this table: immutable and mutable. For immutable entries, the URI represents a fixed chunk of data. The URI itself is derived from the data when it is uploaded into the grid, and can be used to locate and download that data from the grid at some time in the future.

For mutable entries, the URI identifies a “slot” or “container”, which can be filled with different pieces of data at different times.

It is important to note that the “files” described by these URIs are just a bunch of bytes, and that no filenames or other metadata is retained at this layer. The vdrive layer (which sits above the grid layer) is entirely responsible for directories and filenames and the like.


CHK (Content Hash Keyed) files are immutable sequences of bytes. They are uploaded in a distributed fashion using a “storage index” (for the “location” property), and encrypted using a “read key”. A secure hash of the data is computed to help validate the data afterwards (providing the “identification” property). All of these pieces, plus information about the file’s size and the number of shares into which it has been distributed, are put into the “CHK” uri. The storage index is derived by hashing the read key (using a tagged SHA-256d hash, then truncated to 128 bits), so it does not need to be physically present in the URI.

The current format for CHK URIs is the concatenation of the following strings:


Where (key) is the base32 encoding of the 16-byte AES read key, (hash) is the base32 encoding of the SHA-256 hash of the URI Extension Block, (needed-shares) is an ascii decimal representation of the number of shares required to reconstruct this file, (total-shares) is the same representation of the total number of shares created, and (size) is an ascii decimal representation of the size of the data represented by this URI. All base32 encodings are expressed in lower-case, with the trailing ‘=’ signs removed.

For example, the following is a CHK URI, generated from a previous version of the contents of architecture.rst:


Historical note: The name “CHK” is somewhat inaccurate and continues to be used for historical reasons. “Content Hash Key” means that the encryption key is derived by hashing the contents, which gives the useful property that encoding the same file twice will result in the same URI. However, this is an optional step: by passing a different flag to the appropriate API call, Tahoe will generate a random encryption key instead of hashing the file: this gives the useful property that the URI or storage index does not reveal anything about the file’s contents (except filesize), which improves privacy. The URI:CHK: prefix really indicates that an immutable file is in use, without saying anything about how the key was derived.


LITeral files are also an immutable sequence of bytes, but they are so short that the data is stored inside the URI itself. These are used for files of 55 bytes or shorter, which is the point at which the LIT URI is the same length as a CHK URI would be.

LIT URIs do not require an upload or download phase, as their data is stored directly in the URI.

The format of a LIT URI is simply a fixed prefix concatenated with the base32 encoding of the file’s data:


The LIT URI for an empty file is “URI:LIT:”, and the LIT URI for a 5-byte file that contains the string “hello” is “URI:LIT:nbswy3dp”.

Mutable File URIs

The other kind of DHT entry is the “mutable slot”, in which the URI names a container to which data can be placed and retrieved without changing the identity of the container.

These slots have write-caps (which allow read/write access), read-caps (which only allow read-access), and verify-caps (which allow a file checker/repairer to confirm that the contents exist, but does not let it decrypt the contents).

Mutable slots use public key technology to provide data integrity, and put a hash of the public key in the URI. As a result, the data validation is limited to confirming that the data retrieved matches some data that was uploaded in the past, but not _which_ version of that data.

The format of the write-cap for mutable files is:


Where (writekey) is the base32 encoding of the 16-byte AES encryption key that is used to encrypt the RSA private key, and (fingerprint) is the base32 encoded 32-byte SHA-256 hash of the RSA public key. For more details about the way these keys are used, please see Mutable Files.

The format for mutable read-caps is:


The read-cap is just like the write-cap except it contains the other AES encryption key: the one used for encrypting the mutable file’s contents. This second key is derived by hashing the writekey, which allows the holder of a write-cap to produce a read-cap, but not the other way around. The fingerprint is the same in both caps.

Historical note: the “SSK” prefix is a perhaps-inaccurate reference to “Sub-Space Keys” from the Freenet project, which uses a vaguely similar structure to provide mutable file access.

Directory URIs

The grid layer provides a mapping from URI to data. To turn this into a graph of directories and files, the “vdrive” layer (which sits on top of the grid layer) needs to keep track of “directory nodes”, or “dirnodes” for short. Tahoe-LAFS Directory Nodes describes how these work.

Dirnodes are contained inside mutable files, and are thus simply a particular way to interpret the contents of these files. As a result, a directory write-cap looks a lot like a mutable-file write-cap:


Likewise directory read-caps (which provide read-only access to the directory) look much like mutable-file read-caps:


Historical note: the “DIR2” prefix is used because the non-distributed dirnodes in earlier Tahoe releases had already claimed the “DIR” prefix.

Internal Usage of URIs

The classes in source:src/allmydata/uri.py are used to pack and unpack these various kinds of URIs. Three Interfaces are defined (IURI, IFileURI, and IDirnodeURI) which are implemented by these classes, and string-to-URI-class conversion routines have been registered as adapters, so that code which wants to extract e.g. the size of a CHK or LIT uri can do:

print IFileURI(uri).get_size()

If the URI does not represent a CHK or LIT uri (for example, if it was for a directory instead), the adaptation will fail, raising a TypeError inside the IFileURI() call.

Several utility methods are provided on these objects. The most important is to_string(), which returns the string form of the URI. Therefore IURI(uri).to_string == uri is true for any valid URI. See the IURI class in source:src/allmydata/interfaces.py for more details.