LNPBP-50: Bifrost P2P

LNPBP: 0050
Vertical: Lightning network protocol
Title: Bifrost: generalized Lightning network protocol core
Author: Dr Maxim Orlovsky <[email protected]>
Status: Draft
Type: Standards Track
Created: 2021-11-01
Finalized: not yet
License: CC0-1.0




Extending existing lightning network messaging system, defined as part of multiple BOLTs, is hard. The first problem is the necessity to introduce changes to multiple independent standards for each atomic feature; making review and acceptance process very time-consuming. Next, it is hard to implement these features one by one, since they are defined in different places. Finally, there is no place to put feature-specific test vectors in the existing BOLT structure.
The second problem is separation of new and not yet well tested/experimental functionality from the well-tested existing lightning network core. The separation of experimental protocols and existing tested core functionality is good from the security point of view.
The third reason is the fact that Lightning network was designed as a payment network and for payment purposes. At the same time, it is possible to create much more advanced forms of non-payment state channels basing on bitcoin transactions (useful for storage and different forms of financial smart contracts), or use lightning network for non-payment data communication (like messaging or DEX). These extensions when put into existing LN spec framework, not suited for such extensibility, will require constant introduction of multiple hacks or complete refactoring of the BOLT specifications.
Finally, some of lightning network design decisions were proven to be non-efficient in context of more broad applications, for instance use of BigInt encoding is not advised for client-side-validated data […]. It will be impossible to fix such issues without introducing new network communication protocol.
Bifrost is a proposed new set of standards, defined as a part of LNPBP standards suite, that includes extensible core networking protocol (LNPBP-50, this specification), and specific extensions for different forms of state channel management and network data communications. Current standard is built on top of other LNPBP standards (like strict encoding), BIPs (partially signed bitcoin transactions), parts of BOLT standards (Noise_XK protocol), extracted as a separate LNPBP standards, and puts them into a single well-abstracted protocol suite.


Design goals:
  1. 1.
    Extensibility, including
    • support for non-payment / custom lightning channels
    • support for non-payment network messaging & communications
    • support for arbitrary extension of channel transaction structure (combining different types of channels)
    • support for custom / new route discovery mechanisms
  2. 2.
    Maximal use of existing LNPBP standards, in particular
    • LNPBP-7 strict encoding […]
    • LNPBP-9 client-side-validation […]
    • LNPBP-15 Noise_XK handshake & network encryption (BOLT-8 extract) […]
    • LNPBP-18 Native message framing (BOLT-8 extract) […]
    • LNPBP-16 handshake over WebSockets […]
  3. 3.
    Privacy: improved re-use of onion messaging from Lightning network


Bifrost operates using TCP connection, on top of LNPBP-15 (session & encryption layer) and LNPBP-18 (message framing layer) as application protocol. Default port for Bifrost connection is 9913 (see rationale).
All message fields are encoded with LNPBP-7 strict encoding instead of other types of encoding used in BOLTs / legacy Lightning network.

Announcing Bifrost connectivity

Support for Bifrost protocol can be announced as a part of local features flag (see why not global) in legacy lightning network init message, inside node_announcement, channel_announcement and channel_update messages (INC context in terms of BOLT-9). Bifrost feature flags should not be used with BOLT-11 invoices; instead, all Bifrost channels MUST use LNPBP-38 invoicing.
Since BOLT-9 provides no ability to add arbitrary feature flags from outside of the BOLT-defined protocol scope, this feature will be a non-standard. We reserve flag number 255/256 for it (see rationale).

Bifrost URLs

Bifrost URLs are designed to be compliant with RFC 3986 [1] and consists of bifrost as scheme name, authority in form of node public key, combined with optional network address details, channel id as a path and feature parameters and route suggestion as query, where both path and query parts are optional (emphasized words stand for RFC 3986-defined terms):
<schema>://<authority>[/<path>][?<query>] => bifrost://<host>[/<channel-id>][?<feature-params> | <route-suggestion>]
Host part MUST always include node public key, optionally followed by either IPv4, IPv6 or ONION v3 Tor address. IPv4 and IPv6 addresses may include optional port number, which becomes mandatory if a non-standard Bifrost port is used. The address, if present, MUST be separated from the public key by + symbol (see rationale).
bifrost://<key>[+ <IPv4 | IPv6>[:<port>] | <ONIONv3>]/[<channel-id>][?<feature-params> | <route-suggestion>]
  • Node with a known IPv4 address operating non-standard port: bifrost://02b39e7040cd9233e1cf86823ea321c1c799534c622c9e8b563a689409962657c7+
  • Node with Onion v3 address and path suggestion: bifrost://02b39e7040cd9233e1cf86823ea321c1c799534c622c9e8b563a689409962657c7+worldehc62cgugrgj7oc76tcna45fme47oqjrei4d4aa7xorw7fyvcyd/?

Bifrost initiation from legacy Lightning messaging

Two nodes connected via Lightning network may send each other specific message indicating intent to open Bifrost connection. The message uses onion routing, enabling NAT bypassing, such that a party without NAT may “hole punch” NAT of another party by asking to establish Bifrost connection to its explicit IP address.

Establishing connection



Bifrost may be used to operate channels created using legacy Lightning network protocols – until there are changes into the channel structure which make them incompatible with existing BOLT specifications. Also, channels created with Bifrost can be accessed via legacy lightning network until they become incompatible (in their structure) with BOLT specifications.
Thus, to prevent undefined behavior, it is advised that nodes will maintain each channel either under legacy LN or under Bifrost using the following rules:
  1. 1.
    If the channel was created in legacy LN it can be moved into Bifrost once and only once – and a dedicated gossip channel_update message must be published to the legacy LN with Bifrost even flag set.
  2. 2.
    If the channel was created in Bifrost network, it MAY be announced in the legacy LN only with odd (required) Bifrost flag set.
  3. 3.
    Bifrost channels can’t be operated using legacy LN messaging; a node receiving message referencing to a Bifrost server over the legacy LN MUST respond with error message.
  4. 4.
    Legacy LN channels MUST not be operated from Bifrost network before their movement according to the pt. 1. A node receiving Bifrost message for legacy LN channel MUST respond with error message.
    In order to enable fallback for Bifrost-managed channels in case of bugs discovered in Bifrost, the following rules SHOULD be supported by Lightning node implementations, but SHOULD not be used until a fallback scenario:
  5. 5.
    Bifrost channels which maintain BOLT compatibility can be moved back into legacy Lightning network by properly announcing removal of the channel in Bifrost network – and publishing channel_announcement (for previously non-announced channels) or channel_update gossip messages with all Bifrost feature flags removed


All bifrost-operated channels MUST use LNPBP-38 invoices. BOLT-11 invoices MUST NOT be created for any channel which was moved into Bifrost network.


Use of dedicated port

Bifrost requires use of a non-LN port to enable simultaneous and independent operations of lightning nodes using both legacy LN messages and Bifrost messages.

Why URL uses plus instead of at symbol

While at* symbol (@) is broadly used in legacy Lightning node addresses (<pubkey>@<host>[:<port>] form), it can’t be used as a proper part of Bifrost URL since in RFC 3986 it is reserved as a separator for optional username prefix before mandatory host name part – while pubkey is not optional in Bifrost and host is optional. Thus, we replace @ usage with +, since + is allowed in RFC 3986 as a separator in host name part of authority field and it semantically defines “additional information”, which is a network address of the node for a given public key.

Using local features

Bifrost support is specified in the local features field of the init message since it is against BOLT-9 to use feature bits greater than 13 in the global features field.

Feature bit selection

Bits 255/256 are the largest bit numbers which may be stored by a 32-byte value. It is still far enough from the current used feature bits in BOLT-9 (26/27), allowing another 5 to 10 years without the risk of the conflict (until Bifrost will be recognized) and at the same time does not over-enlarges the size of the feature flag field in init and other messages.

Reference implementation

The current Bifrost reference implementation is provided by LNP Core Library and LNP Node


The authors are thankful to Giacomo Zucco, Christian Decker and Martin Habovštiak for multiple discussions and ideas which led to the creation and shaping of this specification.


  1. 1.
    RFC 3986. Uniform Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax.
This document is licensed under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal license.

Test vectors