The Magic-Wormhole API

This library provides a mechanism to securely transfer small amounts of data between two computers. Both machines must be connected to the internet, but they do not need to have public IP addresses or know how to contact each other ahead of time.

Security and connectivity is provided by means of an "wormhole code": a short string that is transcribed from one machine to the other by the users at the keyboard. This works in conjunction with a baked-in "rendezvous server" that relays information from one machine to the other.

The "Wormhole" object provides a secure record pipe between any two programs that use the same wormhole code (and are configured with the same application ID and rendezvous server). Each side can send multiple messages to the other, but the encrypted data for all messages must pass through (and be temporarily stored on) the rendezvous server, which is a shared resource. For this reason, larger data (including bulk file transfers) should use the Transit class instead. The Wormhole can be used to create a Transit object for this purpose. In the future, Transit will be deprecated, and this functionality will be incorporated directly as a "dilated wormhole".

A quick example:

import wormhole
from twisted.internet.defer import inlineCallbacks

@inlineCallbacks
def go():
    w = wormhole.create(appid, relay_url, reactor)
    w.allocate_code()
    code = yield w.get_code()
    print "code:", code
    w.send_message(b"outbound data")
    inbound = yield w.get_message()
    yield w.close()

Modes

The API comes in two flavors: Delegated and Deferred. Controlling the Wormhole and sending data is identical in both, but they differ in how inbound data and events are delivered to the application.

In Delegated mode, the Wormhole is given a "delegate" object, on which certain methods will be called when information is available (e.g. when the code is established, or when data messages are received). In Deferred mode, the Wormhole object has methods which return Deferreds that will fire at these same times.

Delegated mode:

class MyDelegate:
    def wormhole_got_code(self, code):
        print("code: %s" % code)
    def wormhole_got_message(self, msg): # called for each message
        print("got data, %d bytes" % len(msg))

w = wormhole.create(appid, relay_url, reactor, delegate=MyDelegate())
w.allocate_code()

Deferred mode:

w = wormhole.create(appid, relay_url, reactor)
w.allocate_code()
def print_code(code):
    print("code: %s" % code)
w.get_code().addCallback(print_code)
def received(msg):
    print("got data, %d bytes" % len(msg))
w.get_message().addCallback(received) # gets exactly one message

Application Identifier

Applications using this library must provide an "application identifier", a simple string that distinguishes one application from another. To ensure uniqueness, use a domain name. To use multiple apps for a single domain, append a URL-like slash and path, like example.com/app1. This string must be the same on both clients, otherwise they will not see each other. The invitation codes are scoped to the app-id. Note that the app-id must be unicode, not bytes, so on python2 use u"appid".

Distinct app-ids reduce the size of the connection-id numbers. If fewer than ten Wormholes are active for a given app-id, the connection-id will only need to contain a single digit, even if some other app-id is currently using thousands of concurrent sessions.

Rendezvous Servers

The library depends upon a "rendezvous server", which is a service (on a public IP address) that delivers small encrypted messages from one client to the other. This must be the same for both clients, and is generally baked-in to the application source code or default config.

This library includes the URL of a public rendezvous server run by the author. Application developers can use this one, or they can run their own (see the https://github.com/warner/magic-wormhole-mailbox-server repository) and configure their clients to use it instead. The URL of the public rendevouz server is passed as a unicode string. Note that because the server actually speaks WebSockets, the URL starts with ws: instead of http:.

Wormhole Parameters

All wormholes must be created with at least three parameters:

  • appid: a (unicode) string
  • relay_url: a (unicode) string
  • reactor: the Twisted reactor object

In addition to these three, the wormhole.create() function takes several optional arguments:

  • delegate: provide a Delegate object to enable "delegated mode", or pass None (the default) to get "deferred mode"
  • journal: provide a Journal object to enable journaled mode. See journal.md for details. Note that journals only work with delegated mode, not with deferred mode.
  • tor_manager: to enable Tor support, create a wormhole.TorManager instance and pass it here. This will hide the client's IP address by proxying all connections (rendezvous and transit) through Tor. It also enables connecting to Onion-service transit hints, and (in the future) will enable the creation of Onion-services for transit purposes.
  • timing: this accepts a DebugTiming instance, mostly for internal diagnostic purposes, to record the transmit/receive timestamps for all messages. The wormhole --dump-timing= feature uses this to build a JSON-format data bundle, and the misc/dump-timing.py tool can build a scrollable timing diagram from these bundles.
  • welcome_handler: this is a function that will be called when the Rendezvous Server's "welcome" message is received. It is used to display important server messages in an application-specific way.
  • versions: this can accept a dictionary (JSON-encodable) of data that will be made available to the peer via the got_version event. This data is delivered before any data messages, and can be used to indicate peer capabilities.

Code Management

Each wormhole connection is defined by a shared secret "wormhole code". These codes can be generated offline (by picking a unique number and some secret words), but are more commonly generated by whoever creates the first wormhole. In the "bin/wormhole" file-transfer tool, the default behavior is for the sender to create the code, and for the receiver to type it in.

The code is a (unicode) string in the form NNN-code-words. The numeric "NNN" prefix is the "channel id" or "nameplate", and is a short integer allocated by talking to the rendezvous server. The rest is a randomly-generated selection from the PGP wordlist, providing a default of 16 bits of entropy. The initiating program should display this code to the user, who should transcribe it to the receiving user, who gives it to their local Wormhole object by calling set_code(). The receiving program can also use input_code() to use a readline-based input function: this offers tab completion of allocated channel-ids and known codewords.

The Wormhole object has three APIs for generating or accepting a code:

  • w.allocate_code(length=2): this contacts the Rendezvous Server, allocates a short numeric nameplate, chooses a configurable number of random words, then assembles them into the code
  • w.set_code(code): this accepts the code as an argument
  • helper = w.input_code(): this facilitates interactive entry of the code, with tab-completion. The helper object has methods to return a list of viable completions for whatever portion of the code has been entered so far. A convenience wrapper is provided to attach this to the rlcompleter function of libreadline.

No matter which mode is used, the w.get_code() Deferred (or delegate.wormhole_got_code(code) callback) will fire when the code is known. get_code is clearly necessary for allocate_code, since there's no other way to learn what code was created, but it may be useful in other modes for consistency.

The code-entry Helper object has the following API:

  • refresh_nameplates(): requests an updated list of nameplates from the Rendezvous Server. These form the first portion of the wormhole code (e.g. "4" in "4-purple-sausages"). Note that they are unicode strings (so "4", not 4). The Helper will get the response in the background, and calls to get_nameplate_completions() after the response will use the new list. Calling this after h.choose_nameplate will raise AlreadyChoseNameplateError.
  • matches = h.get_nameplate_completions(prefix): returns (synchronously) a set of completions for the given nameplate prefix, along with the hyphen that always follows the nameplate (and separates the nameplate from the rest of the code). For example, if the server reports nameplates 1, 12, 13, 24, and 170 are in use, get_nameplate_completions("1") will return {"1-", "12-", "13-", "170-"}. You may want to sort these before displaying them to the user. Raises AlreadyChoseNameplateError if called after h.choose_nameplate.
  • h.choose_nameplate(nameplate): accepts a string with the chosen nameplate. May only be called once, after which AlreadyChoseNameplateError is raised. (in this future, this might return a Deferred that fires (with None) when the nameplate's wordlist is known (which happens after the nameplate is claimed, requiring a roundtrip to the server)).
  • d = h.when_wordlist_is_available(): return a Deferred that fires (with None) when the wordlist is known. This can be used to block a readline frontend which has just called h.choose_nameplate() until the resulting wordlist is known, which can improve the tab-completion behavior.
  • matches = h.get_word_completions(prefix): return (synchronously) a set of completions for the given words prefix. This will include a trailing hyphen if more words are expected. The possible completions depend upon the wordlist in use for the previously-claimed nameplate, so calling this before choose_nameplate will raise MustChooseNameplateFirstError. Calling this after h.choose_words() will raise AlreadyChoseWordsError. Given a prefix like "su", this returns a set of strings which are potential matches (e.g. {"supportive-", "surrender-", "suspicious-"}. The prefix should not include the nameplate, but should include whatever words and hyphens have been typed so far (the default wordlist uses alternate lists, where even numbered words have three syllables, and odd numbered words have two, so the completions depend upon how many words are present, not just the partial last word). E.g. get_word_completions("pr") will return {"processor-", "provincial-", "proximate-"}, while get_word_completions("opulent-pr") will return {"opulent-preclude", "opulent-prefer", "opulent-preshrunk", "opulent-printer", "opulent-prowler"} (note the lack of a trailing hyphen, because the wordlist is expecting a code of length two). If the wordlist is not yet known, this returns an empty set. All return values will .startwith(prefix). The frontend is responsible for sorting the results before display.
  • h.choose_words(words): call this when the user is finished typing in the code. It does not return anything, but will cause the Wormhole's w.get_code() (or corresponding delegate) to fire, and triggers the wormhole connection process. This accepts a string like "purple-sausages", without the nameplate. It must be called after h.choose_nameplate() or MustChooseNameplateFirstError will be raised. May only be called once, after which AlreadyChoseWordsError is raised.

The input_with_completion wrapper is a function that knows how to use the code-entry helper to do tab completion of wormhole codes:

from wormhole import create, input_with_completion
w = create(appid, relay_url, reactor)
input_with_completion("Wormhole code:", w.input_code(), reactor)
d = w.get_code()

This helper runs python's (raw) input() function inside a thread, since input() normally blocks.

The two machines participating in the wormhole setup are not distinguished: it doesn't matter which one goes first, and both use the same Wormhole constructor function. However if w.allocate_code() is used, only one side should use it.

Providing an invalid nameplate (which is easily caused by cut-and-paste errors that include an extra space at the beginning, or which copy the words but not the number) will raise a KeyFormatError, either in w.set_code(code) or in h.choose_nameplate().

Offline Codes

In most situations, the "sending" or "initiating" side will call w.allocate_code() and display the resulting code. The sending human reads it and speaks, types, performs charades, or otherwise transmits the code to the receiving human. The receiving human then types it into the receiving computer, where it either calls w.set_code() (if the code is passed in via argv) or w.input_code() (for interactive entry).

Usually one machine generates the code, and a pair of humans transcribes it to the second machine (so w.allocate_code() on one side, and w.set_code() or w.input_code() on the other). But it is also possible for the humans to generate the code offline, perhaps at a face-to-face meeting, and then take the code back to their computers. In this case, w.set_code() will be used on both sides. It is unlikely that the humans will restrict themselves to a pre-established wordlist when manually generating codes, so the completion feature of w.input_code() is not helpful.

When the humans create an invitation code out-of-band, they are responsible for choosing an unused channel-ID (simply picking a random 3-or-more digit number is probably enough), and some random words. Dice, coin flips, shuffled cards, or repeated sampling of a high-resolution stopwatch are all useful techniques. The invitation code uses the same format either way: channel-ID, a hyphen, and an arbitrary string. There is no need to encode the sampled random values (e.g. by using the Diceware wordlist) unless that makes it easier to transcribe: e.g. rolling 6 dice could result in a code like "913-166532", and flipping 16 coins could result in "123-HTTHHHTTHTTHHTHH".

Welcome Messages

The first message sent by the rendezvous server is a "welcome" message (a dictionary). This is sent as soon as the client connects to the server, generally before the code is established. Clients should use d=get_welcome() to get and process the motd key (and maybe current_cli_version) inside the welcome message.

The welcome message serves three main purposes:

  • notify users about important server changes, such as CAPTCHA requirements driven by overload, or donation requests
  • enable future protocol negotiation between clients and the server
  • advise users of the CLI tools (wormhole send) to upgrade to a new version

There are three keys currently defined for the welcome message, all of which are optional (the welcome message omits "error" and "motd" unless the server operator needs to signal a problem).

  • motd: if this key is present, it will be a string with embedded newlines. The client should display this string to the user, including a note that it comes from the magic-wormhole Rendezvous Server and that server's URL.
  • error: if present, the server has decided it cannot service this client. The string will be wrapped in a WelcomeError (which is a subclass of WormholeError), and all API calls will signal errors (pending Deferreds will errback). The rendezvous connection will be closed.
  • current_cli_version: if present, the server is advising instances of the CLI tools (the wormhole command included in the python distribution) that there is a newer release available, thus users should upgrade if they can, because more features will be available if both clients are running the same version. The CLI tools compare this string against their __version__ and can print a short message to stderr if an upgrade is warranted.

There is currently no facility in the server to actually send motd, but a static error string can be included by running the server with --signal-error=MESSAGE.

The main idea of error is to allow the server to cleanly inform the client about some necessary action it didn't take. The server currently sends the welcome message as soon as the client connects (even before it receives the "claim" request), but a future server could wait for a required client message and signal an error (via the Welcome message) if it didn't see this extra message before the CLAIM arrived.

This could enable changes to the protocol, e.g. requiring a CAPTCHA or proof-of-work token when the server is under DoS attack. The new server would send the current requirements in an initial message (which old clients would ignore). New clients would be required to send the token before their "claim" message. If the server sees "claim" before "token", it knows that the client is too old to know about this protocol, and it could send a "welcome" with an error field containing instructions (explaining to the user that the server is under attack, and they must either upgrade to a client that can speak the new protocol, or wait until the attack has passed). Either case is better than an opaque exception later when the required message fails to arrive.

(Note that the server can also send an explicit ERROR message at any time, and the client should react with a ServerError. Versions 0.9.2 and earlier of the library did not pay attention to the ERROR message, hence the server should deliver errors in a WELCOME message if at all possible)

The error field is handled internally by the Wormhole object. The other fields can be processed by application, by using d=w.get_welcome(). The Deferred will fire with the full welcome dictionary, so any other keys that a future server might send will be available to it.

Applications which need to display motd or an upgrade message, and wish to do so before using stdin/stdout for interactive code entry (w.input_code()) should wait for get_welcome() before starting the entry process:

@inlineCallbacks
def go():
    w = wormhole.create(appid, relay_url, reactor)
    welcome = yield w.get_welcome()
    if "motd" in welcome: print welcome["motd"]
    input_with_completion("Wormhole code:", w.input_code(), reactor)
    ...

Verifier

For extra protection against guessing attacks, Wormhole can provide a "Verifier". This is a moderate-length series of bytes (a SHA256 hash) that is derived from the supposedly-shared session key. If desired, both sides can display this value, and the humans can manually compare them before allowing the rest of the protocol to proceed. If they do not match, then the two programs are not talking to each other (they may both be talking to a man-in-the-middle attacker), and the protocol should be abandoned.

Deferred-mode applications can wait for d=w.get_verifier(): the Deferred it returns will fire with the verifier. You can turn this into hex or Base64 to print it, or render it as ASCII-art, etc.

Asking the wormhole object for the verifier does not affect the flow of the protocol. To benefit from verification, applications must refrain from sending any data (with w.send_message(data)) until after the verifiers are approved by the user. In addition, applications must queue or otherwise ignore incoming (received) messages until that point. However once the verifiers are confirmed, previously-received messages can be considered valid and processed as usual.

Events

As the wormhole connection is established, several events may be dispatched to the application. In Delegated mode, these are dispatched by calling functions on the delegate object. In Deferred mode, the application retrieves Deferred objects from the wormhole, and event dispatch is performed by firing those Deferreds.

Most applications will only use code, received, and close.

  • code (code = yield w.get_code() / dg.wormhole_got_code(code)): fired when the wormhole code is established, either after w.allocate_code() finishes the generation process, or when the Input Helper returned by w.input_code() has been told h.set_words(), or immediately after w.set_code(code) is called. This is most useful after calling w.allocate_code(), to show the generated code to the user so they can transcribe it to their peer.
  • key (yield w.get_unverified_key() / dg.wormhole_got_unverified_key(key)): fired (with the raw master SPAKE2 key) when the key-exchange process has completed and a purported shared key is established. At this point we do not know that anyone else actually shares this key: the peer may have used the wrong code, or may have disappeared altogether. To wait for proof that the key is shared, wait for get_verifier instead. This event is really only useful for detecting that the initiating peer has disconnected after leaving the initial PAKE message, to display a pacifying message to the user.
  • verifier (verifier = yield w.get_verifier() / dg.wormhole_got_verifier(verifier): fired when the key-exchange process has completed and a valid VERSION message has arrived. The "verifier" is a byte string with a hash of the shared session key; clients can compare them (probably as hex) to ensure that they're really talking to each other, and not to a man-in-the-middle. When get_verifier happens, this side knows that someone has used the correct wormhole code; if someone used the wrong code, the VERSION message cannot be decrypted, and the wormhole will be closed instead.
  • versions (versions = yield w.get_versions() / dg.wormhole_got_versions(versions): fired when the VERSION message arrives from the peer. This fires just after verified, but delivers the "app_versions" data (as passed into wormhole.create(versions=)) instead of the verifier string. This is mostly a hack to make room for forwards-compatible changes to the CLI file-transfer protocol, which sends a request in the first message (rather than merely sending the abilities of each side).
  • received (yield w.get_message() / dg.wormhole_got_message(msg): fired each time a data message arrives from the peer, with the bytestring that the peer passed into w.send_message(msg). This is the primary data-transfer API.
  • closed (yield w.close() / dg.wormhole_closed(result): fired when w.close() has finished shutting down the wormhole, which means all nameplates and mailboxes have been deallocated, and the WebSocket connection has been closed. This also fires if an internal error occurs (specifically WrongPasswordError, which indicates that an invalid encrypted message was received), which also shuts everything down. The result value is an exception (or Failure) object if the wormhole closed badly, or a string like "happy" if it had no problems before shutdown.

Sending Data

The main purpose of a Wormhole is to send data. At any point after construction, callers can invoke w.send_message(msg). This will queue the message if necessary, but (if all goes well) will eventually result in the peer getting a received event and the data being delivered to the application.

Since Wormhole provides an ordered record pipe, each call to w.send_message will result in exactly one received event on the far side. Records are not split, merged, dropped, or reordered.

Each side can do an arbitrary number of send_message() calls. The Wormhole is not meant as a long-term communication channel, but some protocols work better if they can exchange an initial pair of messages (perhaps offering some set of negotiable capabilities), and then follow up with a second pair (to reveal the results of the negotiation). The Rendezvous Server does not currently enforce any particular limits on number of messages, size of messages, or rate of transmission, but in general clients are expected to send fewer than a dozen messages, of no more than perhaps 20kB in size (remember that all these messages are temporarily stored in a SQLite database on the server). A future version of the protocol may make these limits more explicit, and will allow clients to ask for greater capacity when they connect (probably by passing additional "mailbox attribute" parameters with the allocate/claim/open messages).

For bulk data transfer, see "transit.md", or the "Dilation" section below.

Closing

When the application is done with the wormhole, it should call w.close(), and wait for a closed event. This ensures that all server-side resources are released (allowing the nameplate to be re-used by some other client), and all network sockets are shut down.

In Deferred mode, this just means waiting for the Deferred returned by w.close() to fire. In Delegated mode, this means calling w.close() (which doesn't return anything) and waiting for the delegate's wormhole_closed() method to be called.

w.close() will errback (with some form of WormholeError) if anything went wrong with the process, such as:

  • WelcomeError: the server told us to signal an error, probably because the client is too old understand some new protocol feature
  • ServerError: the server rejected something we did
  • LonelyError: we didn't hear from the other side, so no key was established
  • WrongPasswordError: we received at least one incorrectly-encrypted message. This probably indicates that the other side used a different wormhole code than we did, perhaps because of a typo, or maybe an attacker tried to guess your code and failed.

If the wormhole was happy at the time it was closed, the w.close() Deferred will callback (probably with the string "happy", but this may change in the future).

Serialization

(NOTE: this section is speculative: this code has not yet been written)

Wormhole objects can be serialized. This can be useful for apps which save their own state before shutdown, and restore it when they next start up again.

The w.serialize() method returns a dictionary which can be JSON encoded into a unicode string (most applications will probably want to UTF-8 -encode this into a bytestring before saving on disk somewhere).

To restore a Wormhole, call wormhole.from_serialized(data, reactor, delegate). This will return a wormhole in roughly the same state as was serialized (of course all the network connections will be disconnected).

Serialization only works for delegated-mode wormholes (since Deferreds point at functions, which cannot be serialized easily). It also only works for "non-dilated" wormholes (see below).

To ensure correct behavior, serialization should probably only be done in "journaled mode". See journal.md for details.

If you use serialization, be careful to never use the same partial wormhole object twice.

Dilation

(NOTE: this section is speculative: this code has not yet been written)

In the longer term, the Wormhole object will incorporate the "Transit" functionality (see transit.md) directly, removing the need to instantiate a second object. A Wormhole can be "dilated" into a form that is suitable for bulk data transfer.

All wormholes start out "undilated". In this state, all messages are queued on the Rendezvous Server for the lifetime of the wormhole, and server-imposed number/size/rate limits apply. Calling w.dilate() initiates the dilation process, and success is signalled via either d=w.when_dilated() firing, or dg.wormhole_dilated() being called. Once dilated, the Wormhole can be used as an IConsumer/IProducer, and messages will be sent on a direct connection (if possible) or through the transit relay (if not).

What's good about a non-dilated wormhole?:

  • setup is faster: no delay while it tries to make a direct connection
  • survives temporary network outages, since messages are queued
  • works with "journaled mode", allowing progress to be made even when both sides are never online at the same time, by serializing the wormhole

What's good about dilated wormholes?:

  • they support bulk data transfer
  • you get flow control (backpressure), and IProducer/IConsumer
  • throughput is faster: no store-and-forward step

Use non-dilated wormholes when your application only needs to exchange a couple of messages, for example to set up public keys or provision access tokens. Use a dilated wormhole to move files.

Dilated wormholes can provide multiple "channels": these are multiplexed through the single (encrypted) TCP connection. Each channel is a separate stream (offering IProducer/IConsumer)

To create a channel, call c = w.create_channel() on a dilated wormhole. The "channel ID" can be obtained with c.get_id(). This ID will be a short (unicode) string, which can be sent to the other side via a normal w.send(), or any other means. On the other side, use c = w.open_channel(channel_id) to get a matching channel object.

Then use c.send(data) and d=c.when_received() to exchange data, or wire them up with c.registerProducer(). Note that channels do not close until the wormhole connection is closed, so they do not have separate close() methods or events. Therefore if you plan to send files through them, you'll need to inform the recipient ahead of time about how many bytes to expect.

Bytes, Strings, Unicode, and Python 3

All cryptographically-sensitive parameters are passed as bytes ("str" in python2, "bytes" in python3):

  • verifier string
  • data in/out
  • transit records in/out

Other (human-facing) values are always unicode ("unicode" in python2, "str" in python3):

  • wormhole code
  • relay URL
  • transit URLs
  • transit connection hints (e.g. "host:port")
  • application identifier
  • derived-key "purpose" string: w.derive_key(PURPOSE, LENGTH)

Full API list

action | Deferred-Mode | Delegated-Mode ------------------ | ------------------ | -------------- . | d=w.get_welcome() | dg.wormhole_got_welcome(welcome) w.allocate_code() | | h=w.input_code() | | w.set_code(code) | | . | d=w.get_code() | dg.wormhole_got_code(code) . | d=w.get_unverified_key() | dg.wormhole_got_unverified_key(key) . | d=w.get_verifier() | dg.wormhole_got_verifier(verifier) . | d=w.get_versions() | dg.wormhole_got_versions(versions) key=w.derive_key(purpose, length) | | w.send_message(msg) | | . | d=w.get_message() | dg.wormhole_got_message(msg) w.close() | | dg.wormhole_closed(result) . | d=w.close() |