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Solidity Best Practices for Smart Contract Security

From monitoring to timestamp considerations, here are some pro tips to ensure your Ethereum smart contracts are fortified.
by ConsenSysAugust 21, 2020
solidity best practices featured

By ConsenSys Diligence, our team of blockchain security experts.

If you’ve taken the smart contract security mindset to heart and are getting a handle on the EVM’s idiosyncrasies, it’s time to consider some security patterns that are specific to the Solidity programming language. In this roundup, we’ll focus on secure development recommendations for Solidity that may also be instructive for developing smart contracts in other languages. 

Okay, let’s jump in.

Use assert()require()revert() properly

The convenience functions assert and require can be used to check for conditions and throw an exception if the condition is not met.

The assert function should only be used to test for internal errors, and to check invariants.

The require function should be used to ensure valid conditions, such as inputs, or contract state variables are met, or to validate return values from calls to external contracts. 

Following this paradigm allows formal analysis tools to verify that the invalid opcode can never be reached: meaning no invariants in the code are violated and that the code is formally verified.

pragma solidity ^0.5.0; contract Sharer { function sendHalf(address payable addr) public payable returns (uint balance) { require(msg.value % 2 == 0, "Even value required."); //Require() can have an optional message string uint balanceBeforeTransfer = address(this).balance; (bool success, ) = addr.call.value(msg.value / 2)(""); require(success); // Since we reverted if the transfer failed, there should be // no way for us to still have half of the money. assert(address(this).balance == balanceBeforeTransfer - msg.value / 2); // used for internal error checking return address(this).balance; } }
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

See SWC-110 & SWC-123

Use modifiers only for checks

The code inside a modifier is usually executed before the function body, so any state changes or external calls will violate the Checks-Effects-Interactions pattern. Moreover, these statements may also remain unnoticed by the developer, as the code for modifier may be far from the function declaration. For example, an external call in modifier can lead to the reentrancy attack:

contract Registry { address owner; function isVoter(address _addr) external returns(bool) { // Code } } contract Election { Registry registry; modifier isEligible(address _addr) { require(registry.isVoter(_addr)); _; } function vote() isEligible(msg.sender) public { // Code } }
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

In this case, the Registry contract can make a reentracy attack by calling Election.vote() inside isVoter().

Note: Use modifiers to replace duplicate condition checks in multiple functions, such as isOwner(), otherwise use require or revert inside the function. This makes your smart contract code more readable and easier to audit.

Beware rounding with integer division

All integer division rounds down to the nearest integer. If you need more precision, consider using a multiplier, or store both the numerator and denominator.

(In the future, Solidity will have a fixed-point type, which will make this easier.)

// bad uint x = 5 / 2; // Result is 2, all integer divison rounds DOWN to the nearest integer
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

Using a multiplier prevents rounding down, this multiplier needs to be accounted for when working with x in the future:

// good uint multiplier = 10; uint x = (5 * multiplier) / 2;
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

Storing the numerator and denominator means you can calculate the result of numerator/denominator off-chain:

// good uint numerator = 5; uint denominator = 2;
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

Be aware of the tradeoffs between abstract contracts and interfaces

Both interfaces and abstract contracts provide one with a customizable and re-usable approach for smart contracts. Interfaces, which were introduced in Solidity 0.4.11, are similar to abstract contracts but cannot have any functions implemented. Interfaces also have limitations such as not being able to access storage or inherit from other interfaces which generally makes abstract contracts more practical. Although, interfaces are certainly useful for designing contracts prior to implementation. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that if a contract inherits from an abstract contract it must implement all non-implemented functions via overriding or it will be abstract as well.

Fallback functions

Keep fallback functions simple

Fallback functions are called when a contract is sent a message with no arguments (or when no function matches), and only has access to 2,300 gas when called from a .send() or .transfer(). If you wish to be able to receive Ether from a .send() or .transfer(), the most you can do in a fallback function is log an event. Use a proper function if a computation of more gas is required.

// bad function() payable { balances[msg.sender] += msg.value; } // good function deposit() payable external { balances[msg.sender] += msg.value; } function() payable { require(msg.data.length == 0); emit LogDepositReceived(msg.sender); }
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)
Check data length in fallback functions

Since the fallback functions is not only called for plain ether transfers (without data) but also when no other function matches, you should check that the data is empty if the fallback function is intended to be used only for the purpose of logging received Ether. Otherwise, callers will not notice if your contract is used incorrectly and functions that do not exist are called.

// bad function() payable { emit LogDepositReceived(msg.sender); } // good function() payable { require(msg.data.length == 0); emit LogDepositReceived(msg.sender); }
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

Explicitly mark payable functions and state variables

Starting from Solidity 0.4.0, every function that is receiving ether must use payable modifier, otherwise if the transaction has msg.value > 0 will revert (except when forced).

Note: Something that might not be obvious: The payable modifier only applies to calls from external contracts. If I call a non-payable function in the payable function in the same contract, the non-payable function won’t fail, though msg.value is still set.

Explicitly mark visibility in functions and state variables

Explicitly label the visibility of functions and state variables. Functions can be specified as being externalpublicinternal or private. Please understand the differences between them, for example, external may be sufficient instead of public. For state variables, external is not possible. Labeling the visibility explicitly will make it easier to catch incorrect assumptions about who can call the function or access the variable.

  • External functions are part of the contract interface. An external function f cannot be called internally (i.e. f() does not work, but this.f() works). External functions are sometimes more efficient when they receive large arrays of data.
  • Public functions are part of the contract interface and can be either called internally or via messages. For public state variables, an automatic getter function (see below) is generated.
  • Internal functions and state variables can only be accessed internally, without using this.
  • Private functions and state variables are only visible for the contract they are defined in and not in derived contracts. Note: Everything that is inside a contract is visible to all observers external to the blockchain, even Private variables.
// bad uint x; // the default is internal for state variables, but it should be made explicit function buy() { // the default is public // public code } // good uint private y; function buy() external { // only callable externally or using this.buy() } function utility() public { // callable externally, as well as internally: changing this code requires thinking about both cases. } function internalAction() internal { // internal code }
Code language: PHP (php)

See SWC-100 and SWC-108

Lock pragmas to specific compiler version

Contracts should be deployed with the same compiler version and flags that they have been tested the most with. Locking the pragma helps ensure that contracts do not accidentally get deployed using, for example, the latest compiler which may have higher risks of undiscovered bugs. Contracts may also be deployed by others and the pragma indicates the compiler version intended by the original authors.

// bad pragma solidity ^0.4.4; // good pragma solidity 0.4.4;
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

Note: a floating pragma version (ie. ^0.4.25) will compile fine with 0.4.26-nightly.2018.9.25, however nightly builds should never be used to compile code for production.

Warning: Pragma statements can be allowed to float when a contract is intended for consumption by other developers, as in the case with contracts in a library or EthPM package. Otherwise, the developer would need to manually update the pragma in order to compile locally.

See SWC-103

Use events to monitor contract activity

It can be useful to have a way to monitor the contract’s activity after it was deployed. One way to accomplish this is to look at all transactions of the contract, however that may be insufficient, as message calls between contracts are not recorded in the blockchain. Moreover, it shows only the input parameters, not the actual changes being made to the state. Also events could be used to trigger functions in the user interface.

contract Charity { mapping(address => uint) balances; function donate() payable public { balances[msg.sender] += msg.value; } } contract Game { function buyCoins() payable public { // 5% goes to charity charity.donate.value(msg.value / 20)(); } }
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

Here, Game contract will make an internal call to Charity.donate(). This transaction won’t appear in the external transaction list of Charity, but only visible in the internal transactions.

An event is a convenient way to log something that happened in the contract. Events that were emitted stay in the blockchain along with the other contract data and they are available for future audit. Here is an improvement to the example above, using events to provide a history of the Charity’s donations.

contract Charity { // define event event LogDonate(uint _amount); mapping(address => uint) balances; function donate() payable public { balances[msg.sender] += msg.value; // emit event emit LogDonate(msg.value); } } contract Game { function buyCoins() payable public { // 5% goes to charity charity.donate.value(msg.value / 20)(); } }
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

Here, all transactions that go through the Charity contract, either directly or not, will show up in the event list of that contract along with the amount of donated money.

Note: Prefer newer Solidity constructs. Prefer constructs/aliases such as selfdestruct (over suicide) and keccak256 (over sha3). Patterns like require(msg.sender.send(1 ether)) can also be simplified to using transfer(), as in msg.sender.transfer(1 ether). Check out Solidity Change log for more similar changes.

Be aware that ‘Built-ins’ can be shadowed

It is currently possible to shadow built-in globals in Solidity. This allows contracts to override the functionality of built-ins such as msg and revert(). Although this is intended, it can mislead users of a contract as to the contract’s true behavior.

contract PretendingToRevert {
    function revert() internal constant {}

contract ExampleContract is PretendingToRevert {
    function somethingBad() public {

Contract users (and auditors) should be aware of the full smart contract source code of any application they intend to use.

Avoid using tx.origin

Never use tx.origin for authorization, another contract can have a method which will call your contract (where the user has some funds for instance) and your contract will authorize that transaction as your address is in tx.origin.

contract MyContract { address owner; function MyContract() public { owner = msg.sender; } function sendTo(address receiver, uint amount) public { require(tx.origin == owner); (bool success, ) = receiver.call.value(amount)(""); require(success); } } contract AttackingContract { MyContract myContract; address attacker; function AttackingContract(address myContractAddress) public { myContract = MyContract(myContractAddress); attacker = msg.sender; } function() public { myContract.sendTo(attacker, msg.sender.balance); } }
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

You should use msg.sender for authorization (if another contract calls your contract msg.sender will be the address of the contract and not the address of the user who called the contract).

You can read more about it here: Solidity docs

Warning: Besides the issue with authorization, there is a chance that tx.origin will be removed from the Ethereum protocol in the future, so code that uses tx.origin won’t be compatible with future releases Vitalik: ‘Do NOT assume that tx.origin will continue to be usable or meaningful.’

It’s also worth mentioning that by using tx.origin you’re limiting interoperability between contracts because the contract that uses tx.origin cannot be used by another contract as a contract can’t be the tx.origin.

See SWC-115

Timestamp dependence

There are three main considerations when using a timestamp to execute a critical function in a contract, especially when actions involve fund transfer.

Timestamp manipulation

Be aware that the timestamp of the block can be manipulated by a miner. Consider this contract:

uint256 constant private salt = block.timestamp; function random(uint Max) constant private returns (uint256 result){ //get the best seed for randomness uint256 x = salt * 100/Max; uint256 y = salt * block.number/(salt % 5) ; uint256 seed = block.number/3 + (salt % 300) + Last_Payout + y; uint256 h = uint256(block.blockhash(seed)); return uint256((h / x)) % Max + 1; //random number between 1 and Max }
Code language: PHP (php)

When the contract uses the timestamp to seed a random number, the miner can actually post a timestamp within 15 seconds of the block being validated, effectively allowing the miner to precompute an option more favorable to their chances in the lottery. Timestamps are not random and should not be used in that context.

The 15-second Rule

The Yellow Paper (Ethereum’s reference specification) does not specify a constraint on how much blocks can drift in time, but it does specify that each timestamp should be bigger than the timestamp of its parent. Popular Ethereum protocol implementations Geth and Parity both reject blocks with timestamp more than 15 seconds in future. Therefore, a good rule of thumb in evaluating timestamp usage is: if the scale of your time-dependent event can vary by 15 seconds and maintain integrity, it is safe to use a block.timestamp.

Avoid using block.number as a timestamp

It is possible to estimate a time delta using the block.number property and average block time, however this is not future proof as block times may change (such as fork reorganisations and the difficulty bomb). In a sale spanning days, the 15-second rule allows one to achieve a more reliable estimate of time.

See SWC-116

Multiple inheritance caution

When utilizing multiple inheritance in Solidity, it is important to understand how the compiler composes the inheritance graph.

contract Final { uint public a; function Final(uint f) public { a = f; } } contract B is Final { int public fee; function B(uint f) Final(f) public { } function setFee() public { fee = 3; } } contract C is Final { int public fee; function C(uint f) Final(f) public { } function setFee() public { fee = 5; } } contract A is B, C { function A() public B(3) C(5) { setFee(); } }
Code language: PHP (php)

When a contract is deployed, the compiler will linearize the inheritance from right to left (after the keyword is the parents are listed from the most base-like to the most derived). Here is contract A’s linearization:

Final <- B <- C <- A

The consequence of the linearization will yield a fee value of 5, since C is the most derived contract. This may seem obvious, but imagine scenarios where C is able to shadow crucial functions, reorder boolean clauses, and cause the developer to write exploitable contracts. Static analysis currently does not raise issue with overshadowed functions, so it must be manually inspected.

To help contribute, Solidity’s Github has a project with all inheritance-related issues.

See SWC-125

Use interface type instead of the address for type safety

When a function takes a contract address as an argument, it is better to pass an interface or contract type rather than raw address. If the function is called elsewhere within the source code, the compiler it will provide additional type safety guarantees.

Here we see two alternatives:

contract Validator { function validate(uint) external returns(bool); } contract TypeSafeAuction { // good function validateBet(Validator _validator, uint _value) internal returns(bool) { bool valid = _validator.validate(_value); return valid; } } contract TypeUnsafeAuction { // bad function validateBet(address _addr, uint _value) internal returns(bool) { Validator validator = Validator(_addr); bool valid = validator.validate(_value); return valid; } }
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

The benefits of using the TypeSafeAuction contract above can then be seen from the following example. If validateBet() is called with an address argument, or a contract type other than Validator, the compiler will throw this error:

contract NonValidator{} contract Auction is TypeSafeAuction { NonValidator nonValidator; function bet(uint _value) { bool valid = validateBet(nonValidator, _value); // TypeError: Invalid type for argument in function call. // Invalid implicit conversion from contract NonValidator // to contract Validator requested. } }
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

Avoid using extcodesize to check for externally owned accounts

The following modifier (or a similar check) is often used to verify whether a call was made from an externally owned account (EOA) or a contract account:

// bad modifier isNotContract(address _a) { uint size; assembly { size := extcodesize(_a) } require(size == 0); _; }
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

The idea is straight forward: if an address contains code, it’s not an EOA but a contract account. However, a contract does not have source code available during construction. This means that while the constructor is running, it can make calls to other contracts, but extcodesize for its address returns zero. Below is a minimal example that shows how this check can be circumvented:

contract OnlyForEOA { uint public flag; // bad modifier isNotContract(address _a){ uint len; assembly { len := extcodesize(_a) } require(len == 0); _; } function setFlag(uint i) public isNotContract(msg.sender){ flag = i; } } contract FakeEOA { constructor(address _a) public { OnlyForEOA c = OnlyForEOA(_a); c.setFlag(1); } }
Code language: JavaScript (javascript)

Because contract addresses can be pre-computed, this check could also fail if it checks an address which is empty at block n, but which has a contract deployed to it at some block greater than n.

Warning: This issue is nuanced. If your goal is to prevent other contracts from being able to call your contract, the extcodesize check is probably sufficient. An alternative approach is to check the value of (tx.origin == msg.sender), though this also has drawbacks.

There may be other situations in which the extcodesize check serves your purpose. Describing all of them here is out of scope. Understand the underlying behaviors of the EVM and use your judgement.

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