ECHO x86-64 virtual machine

Technical specification

ECHO x86-64 virtual machine has the following structure


x86-64 virtual machine consists of main instruction decoder, instruction decoders for each type of instruction (add, mov, logical, etc), set of instructions, different type of operands and emulators of hardware (memory and CPU). Operands are CPU registers, memory location or immediate value stored in the instruction. VM emulates the bytecode received from the ECHO blockchain and return the result which is recorded back to ECHO blockchain.

Smart contract is running in a isolated environment, no system calls or system memory addresses are available, all the interactions with the outside world are performed through the VM via special instructions. For that interaction VM requires the following interfaces:

  • Contract interface is required to get the start address and different sections of the ELF executable bytecode
  • ECHO blockchain interface is required for interaction with blockchain, retrieving the contract parameters, read/write into blokchain, etc.
  • Persistent storage interface is required to store and get values that are persisted between the contract calls.

In addition to this VM provides special functions for memory allocation on the heap.

The flow of the VM executing the smart contract is as follows:

  • Loading the bytecode into memory. Set up stack and heap in the memory.
  • Starting emulation from the start address
  • For every instruction VM does the following
    • Decoding of the instruction
      • Prefixes are decoded by main decoder (unused prefixes, REX prefix, operand size prefix)
      • Instruction opcode is decoded by main decoder
      • Appropriate instruction decoder is called which reads the rest of the instruction (MODRM and SIB bytes, immediate values) and creates operands
    • Executing decoded instruction
      • Operands read from memory/CPU registers or immediate values encoded in the instruction, taking into account the size of operands specified by prefixes or instruction itself.
      • Instruction does appropriate calculations
      • Operands write back the result(s) to memory and/or CPU registers including the flag register for some of the instructions.
    • Interrupt instruction is used to communicate with the VM from running script. Based on the value provided with the interrupt instruction the following is performed:
      • access to parameters and returning result of the smart contract
      • interaction with the ECHO blockchain
      • heap memory allocation. This is required as the script is running in a isolated environment without access to system memory
      • debug output
      • set of different functions used by contract developer (cryptography functions, math functions, etc)
  • Finish the execution after the ret instruction push the null value into the RIP register
  • Return value can be retrieved from the VM as a byte array