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Functional Blockchain Contracts

May/2019, Draft


Distributed cryptographic ledgers —aka blockchains —should be a functional programmer’s dream. Their aim is immutability: once a block has been added to the chain it should not be altered or removed. The seminal blockchain, Bitcoin, uses a graph-based model that is purely functional in nature. But Bitcoin has limited support for smart contracts and distributed applications. The seminal smart-contract platform, Ethereum, uses an imperative and object-oriented model of accounts. Ethereum has been subject to numerous exploits, often linked to its use of shared mutable state by way of its imperative and object-oriented features in a concurrent and distributed system. Coding a distributed application for Ethereum requires two languages: Javascript to run off-chain, which submits transaction written in Solidity to run on-chain.

This paper describes Plutus Platform, a functional blockchain smart contract system for coding distributed applications on top of the Cardano blockchain. Most blockchain programming platforms depend on a custom language, such as Ethereum’s Solidity, but Plutus is provided as a set of libraries for Haskell. Both off-chain and on-chain code are written in Haskell: off-chain code using the Plutus library, and on-chain code in a subset of Haskell using Template Haskell. On-chain code is compiled to a tiny functional language called Plutus Core, which is System Fω with iso-recursive types and suitable primitives.

Plutus and Cardano are available open source, and Plutus Playground provides a web-based IDE that enables users to try out the system and to develop simple applications.