Decentralized Clearing Network (DCN)


A protocol that provides secure, high throughput settlement on the Ethereum Blockchain for central order book exchanges. Processing every trade individually on the Blockchain is too slow and costly for modern markets. Exchanges using the DCN aggregate trades into a list of balance updates to be processed by the Blockchain. This shifts the amount of data the Blockchain must process from number of trades to number of active market participants. Trading limits are used to restrict unfavorable settlement.


Today, centralized cryptocurrency exchanges handle the entire vertical of trading. They hold deposits, process user orders, and handle settlement. Each component is a massive undertaking that is difficult to operate and secure. These difficulties are illustrated in the numerous cases of exchange failures.

Looking to the security markets, we can see a clear separation of concerns. There exists exchanges, central depositories, and clearing houses, each with distinct roles and regulations. With programmable contracts on the Blockchain, the DCN is able to fill the role of both central depository and clearing house. Because the DCN can provide these services, the exchange has a smaller attack surface and can focus on processing orders.

The DCN is an Ethereum Smart Contract that handles trade settlement for ERC-20 Tokens. While the DCN supports multiple exchanges and ERC-20 Tokens, for simplicity, this whitepaper will focus on a single exchange with a single market. A market facilitates exchange between two ERC-20 Tokens, the base asset and the quote asset. Prices on the market are provided in units of quote asset per base asset. Quantities have units of the base asset. For example, the market ETH-USD has Ethereum (ETH) as the base asset and US Dollar (US) as the quote asset. Prices in this market would be in USD per ETH and quantities in ETH. Orders are stated as “buy 1 ETH for 100USD/ETH” or “sell 1.2 ETH for 120 USD/ETH”.


Settlement is the process of applying trades to user balances. The naive approach is to apply the following for each trade

quantity := trade.quantity
cost := trade.quantity * trade.price

buyer_quote_balance -= cost
seller_quote_balance += cost
seller_base_balance -= quantity
buyer_base_balance += quantity

Using this method, a single trade requires 4 balance updates. Let’s propose a market with 2 sell orders, each for 1 Ethereum at a price of 100 USD. A single buy order for 2 Ethereum would create two trades, one for each sell order. Using the naive approach, this would require 8 balance updates. We know both trades have the same buyer; so in truth, only 6 balance updates are required. If the two sellers happen to be the same user, a total of only 4 balances updates are required. The number of balance updates required is 2x the number of distinct users in a set of trades. Using this knowledge, a batching optimization can be made.

Instead of directly updating user balances for each trade, we can update a temporary balance for each user that starts at zero. Then by using the commutative property of addition, we can add the temporary balances directly to the user balances.

temporary_balances = {}
for (trade in trades) {
  quantity := trade.quantity
  cost := trade.quantity * trade.price
  temporary_balances[trade.buyer]['quote'] -= cost
  temporary_balances[trade.buyer]['base'] += quantity
  Temporary_balances[trade.seller]['quote'] += cost
  temporary_balances[trade.seller]['base'] -= quantity

for (user in keys(temporary_balances)) {
  real_balances[user]['quote'] += temporary_balances[user]['quote']
  real_balances[user]['base'] += temporary_balances[user]['base']

In the above pseudocode, temporary_balances is what the DCN refers to as a settlement group. The settlement group is a transformation of the data in a set of trades that can be more efficiently applied to update user balances. An exchange using the DCN will periodically submit settlement groups to be applied. The DCN validates a settlement group by ensuring the net of each asset sums to zero.

Trading Limits

For settlement to be secure, the balance updates must be preauthorized by the user. In systems where each trade is applied individually, the system can require a signed message from each side of the trade. For example, the buyer may sign a message like “willing to buy 1 ETH at 90 USD”. The seller would then sign a complimentary message such as “authorize sell of 1 ETH at 90 USD with order …”. Systems such as 0x and IDEX use this method.

The DCN takes a new approach to secure settlements. Off-chain, the user signs a trading limit with the exchange. The trading limit has the following attributes:

min_quote_qty: The smallest value the quote balance can be updated to. Limits the quantity that can be purchased.

min_base_qty: The smallest value the base balance can be updated to. Limits the quantity that can be sold.

max_long_price: The maximum average price allowed to purchase the asset.

min_short_price: The minimum average price allowed to sell the asset.

quote_shift: A value used to shift the quote_quantity used in calculation to realize a loss / profit in the quote asset.

base_shift: A value used to shift the base_quantity used in calculation to realize a loss / profit in the base asset.

As an example, here are a few values with a description of the limit.

min_quote_qty: -10
min_base_qty: 0
max_long_price: 123.45
min_short_price: 99999999999

Can spend upto 10 USD on ETH at a maximum price of 123.45 USD/ETH
min_quote_qty: 0
min_base_qty: -0.3
max_long_price: 0
min_short_price: 100.0

Can sell upto 0.3 ETH at a minimum price of 100.00 USD/ETH.
min_quote_qty: -10
min_base_qty: -0.3
max_long_price: 123.45
min_short_price: 100.0

Can spend upto 10 USD on ETH at a maximum price of 123.45 USD/ETH
or sell upto 0.3 ETH at a minimum price of 100.00 USD/ETH.

The balance update can only be applied if it fits within the trading limit. The pseudocode for verifying a staged balance update is the following.

/* limit does not apply for deposits / widthdraws */
quote_qty := staged.quote_balance + total_quote_withdraws - total_quote_deposits
base_qty := staged.base_balance + total_base_withdraws - total_base_deposits

quote_qty += limit.quote_shift
base_qty += limit.base_shift

if (quote_qty < limit.min_quote_qty)
if (base_qty < limit.min_base_qty)

if (base_qty >= 0 && quote_qty >= 0)
if (base_qty <= 0 && quote_qty <= 0)

/* Long position */
if (base_qty > 0) {
  current_price := (-quote_qty * 100000000) / base_qty;
  if (current_price <= limit.max_long_price)

/* Short position */
else {
  current_price := (quote_qty * 100000000) / -base_qty;
  if (current_price >= asset_state.min_short_price)


All deposits are held and managed by the DCN. Users lock deposits for trading with an exchange using a timestamp. When locked, users are unable to directly withdraw or transfer their deposits. This ensures the exchange is able to prepare settlement groups with the confidence that when applied, the deposits will be available for settlement. When locked, withdraws can only occur with cooperation from the exchange. Once the timestamp is reached, the deposits are unlocked and are returned to the full unimpeded control of the user.


A settlement group can only be applied if it fits within the trading limit registered in the DCN. Therefore before an exchange allows an order to be placed, it should first collect a signed trading limit from the user which allows for the order. If the order creates trades, the exchange should submit the signed trading limit to the DCN, then submit a settlement group accounting for the order’s trades.

Reliance On Centralized Exchange

In settlement, the DCN verifies the settlement group sums to zero and that the resulting balance of each user fits within their trading limits. The DCN does not verify that the settlement groups represent the trading activity on the exchange. For example, if a user signs a trading limit that allows a purchase of 1 Ether at a maximum price of 100 USD, the exchange could submit a settlement group having the user trade 1 Ether for 100 USD even though the user never placed on order with the exchange.

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