CHIP-2021-03: Bigger Script Integers

CHIP-2021-03: Bigger Script Integers

OWNERS: Jason Dreyzehner, Rosco Kalis, Jonathan Silverblood

DISCUSSION: Bitcoin Cash Research, Telegram


MILESTONES: Published, Specification, Testnet, Accepted (BU - BCHN - Knuth - Verde - Bitauth), Deployed (May 15th, 2022).


This proposal expands the integer range allowed in BCH contracts (from 32-bit to 64-bit numbers) and re-enables the multiplication opcode (OP_MUL).


Deployment of this specification is proposed for the May 2022 upgrade.


BCH virtual machine (VM) math operations are currently limited to signed 32-bit integers, preventing contracts from operating on values larger than 2147483647 – representing satoshis, this is ~21 BCH. Workarounds which allow contracts to emulate higher-precision math are often impractical, difficult to secure, and significantly increase transaction sizes.

This unusually-low limit on arithmetic operations has been present since the earliest Bitcoin release to avoid standardizing a strategy for overflow handling (though 64-bit math was always used internally). Since the development of covenants, this unusual overflow-handling strategy has become a source of contract vulnerabilities and a barrier to real-world applications. Few remaining computing environments operate using 32-bit integers, and this limit has never been relevant to worst-case transaction validation performance.


By allowing contracts to efficiently operate on larger numbers, this proposal enables new use cases, improves contract security, and reduces transaction sizes.

Larger Contract Values

By expanding the upper bound of arithmetic inputs to 9223372036854775807, contracts can efficiently operate on values larger than the total possible satoshi value of any transaction output (approx. 2100000000000000). This enables contracts to manage balances of any size, clearing the way for large, public decentralized applications.

Expanded arithmetic capabilities also enable greater practical use of new payment and financial systems including: scheduled and recurring payments, risk-hedging contracts, synthetic assets, decentralized exchanges, inheritance and treasury management systems, crowdfunding and crowdmatching applications, loyalty point and token systems, delayed-withdrawal vaults (and other contract security strategies), and more.

Safer Contracts

This proposal obviates the need for higher-precision math emulation. As a result, existing applications can be simplified, making them easier to develop and review. Additionally, by making arithmetic overflows less common (many common operations overflow 32 bits, but few approach 64 bits), contracts are less likely to include vulnerabilities or faults which can expose users to attacks and losses.

Reduced Transaction Sizes

Because this proposal allows existing contracts to remove higher-precision math emulation, transactions employing these contracts are reduced in size. This reduces transaction fees for contract users, and it reduces storage and bandwidth costs for validators.

Costs & Risk Mitigation

The following costs and risks have been assessed.

Modification to Transaction Validation

Modifications to VM limits have the potential to increase worst-case transaction validation costs and expose VM implementations to Denial of Service (DOS) attacks.

Mitigations: migration from 32-bit to 64-bit arithmetic has no impact on worst-case validation performance. (Notably, most implementations already use 64-bit or larger number representations internally, and overflow-checked 64-bit math is also available natively in most programming languages and computing environments.) Even at a significantly higher practical limit approaching 10,000 operations, 64-bit arithmetic operations are thousands to millions of times less expensive than existing scenarios (varies by environment and implementation).

Node Upgrade Costs

This proposal affects consensus – all fully-validating node software must implement these VM changes to remain in consensus.

These VM changes are backwards-compatible: all past and currently-possible transactions remain valid under these new rules.

Ecosystem Upgrade Costs

Because this proposal only affects internals of the VM, most wallets, block explorers, and other services will not require software modifications for these changes. Only software which offers VM evaluation (e.g. Bitauth IDE) will be required to upgrade.

Wallets and other services may also upgrade to add support for new contracts which will become possible after deployment of this proposal.

Protocol Implementation Costs

By requiring support for 64-bit math, this proposal could increase the cost of new protocol implementations in unusual programming languages which lack native support for overflow-checked, signed, 64-bit math.

Mitigations: nearly all modern platforms and languages include native support for 64-bit or larger integers. Additionally, transaction output values are already encoded using unsigned, 64-bit integers, so many BCH software libraries already include support for 64-bit integers.

For example, until recent years, JavaScript supported only 64-bit floating point numbers (IEEE-754). While JavaScript now widely supports BigInt, many older BCH JavaScript libraries still include big integer polyfills to support encoding of transaction output values without using BigInt. These polyfills typically support 64-bit math, making implementation easier.

Technical Specification

All BCH VM operations which operate on Script Numbers (A.K.A. CSCriptNum) are modified to support values within the expanded range of 8 bytes (64 bits), and OP_MUL (0x95/149) is re-enabled.

Script Number Range

The Script Number format (A.K.A. CSCriptNum) is a consensus-standardized, variable-length, signed integer format used by all VM operations which consume or produce numeric values. In practice, the allowable range of the Script Number format is limited by the parsing of Script Number values within all VM operations which consume Script Numbers.

Prior to activation of this proposal, Script Number parsing is limited to 4 byte stack values. After activation, Script Number parsing must be limited to 8 byte stack values. This expands the available range from a minimum of 0xffffffff (-2147483647) and maximum of 0xffffff7f (2147483647) to a minimum of 0xffffffffffffffff (-9223372036854775807) and maximum of 0xffffffffffffff7f (9223372036854775807).

Note: an unusual property of the existing Script Number format reduces its negative range by 1: the Script Number format can hypothetically represent both “positive” 0 (0x, the empty stack item) and “negative” 0 (0x80) (despite minimal-encoding requirements preventing this in practice). As such, the minimum Script Number which can be represented in 8 bytes is -9223372036854775807 rather than -9223372036854775808 (the minimum signed 64-bit integer in C-like programming languages).

All operations which consume Script Numbers must immediately fail evaluation if an input is received which exceeds the allowed range. (Note: since 2019-11-15, Script Numbers are also required by consensus to be minimally encoded in most cases; this rule remains in effect.)

Notice of Possible Future Expansion

While unusual, it is possible to design contracts which rely on the rejection of otherwise-valid Script Numbers which are larger than 8 bytes. Contract authors are advised that future upgrades may further expand the supported range of BCH VM Script Numbers beyond 8 bytes.

This proposal interprets such failure-reliant constructions as intentional – they are designed to fail unless/until a possible future network upgrade in which larger Script Numbers are enabled (i.e. a contract branch which can only be successfully evaluated in the event of such an upgrade).

As always, the security of a contract is the responsibility of the entity locking funds in that contract; funds can always be locked in insecure contracts (e.g. OP_DROP OP_1). This notice is provided to warn contract authors and explicitly codify a network policy: the possible existence of poorly-designed contracts will not preclude future upgrades from further expanding the range of Script Numbers.

To ensure a contract will always fail when arithmetic results overflow or underflow 8-byte Script Numbers (in the rare case that such a behavior is desirable), that behavior must be either 1) explicitly validated or 2) introduced to the contract prior to the activation of any future upgrade which expands the range of Script Numbers.

Script Number Test Vectors

Valid Script Numbers
Hex Value
0x (empty) 0
0x01 1
0x02 2
0x03 3
0x7e 126
0x7f 127
0x8000 128
0x8100 129
0x8200 130
0xff00 255
0xfe7f 32766
0xff7f 32767
0x008000 32768
0x018000 32769
0x028000 32770
0xffff00 65535
0xffffff00 16777215
0xfeff7f 8388606
0xffff7f 8388607
0x00008000 8388608
0x01008000 8388609
0x02008000 8388610
0xfeffff7f 2147483646
0xffffff7f 2147483647
0x0000008000 2147483648
0x0100008000 2147483649
0xffffffff7f 549755813887
0x000000008000 549755813888
0xffffffffff7f 140737488355327
0x00000000008000 140737488355328
0xffffffffffff7f 36028797018963967
0x0000000000008000 36028797018963968
0xffffffffffffff7f 9223372036854775807 (maximum)
0xffffffffffffffff -9223372036854775807 (minimum)
0xfeffffffffffffff -9223372036854775806
0xffffffffffffff -36028797018963967
0xffffffffffff -140737488355327
0xffffffffff -549755813887
0xffffffff -2147483647
0xfeffffff -2147483646
0xfdffffff -2147483645
0xffffff80 -16777215
0x01008080 -8388609
0x00008080 -8388608
0xffffff -8388607
0xfeffff -8388606
0xfdffff -8388605
0xffff80 -65535
0x018080 -32769
0x008080 -32768
0xffff -32767
0xfeff -32766
0xfdff -32765
0xff80 -255
0x8180 -129
0x8080 -128
0xff -127
0xfe -126
0xfd -125
0x82 -2
0x81 -1
Invalid Script Numbers
Hex Error
0x000000000000008000 9223372036854775808 exceeds the maximum Script Number.
0x000000000000008080 -9223372036854775808 is less than the minimum Script Number.
0x00 Non-minimal encoding (for 0x/0)
0x0000 Non-minimal encoding (for 0x/0)
0x80 Non-minimal encoding (for 0x/0)
0x0080 Non-minimal encoding (for 0x/0)
0x0180 Non-minimal encoding (for 0x81/-1)
0x010080 Non-minimal encoding (for 0x81/-1)
0x01000080 Non-minimal encoding (for 0x81/-1)
0x0100000080 Non-minimal encoding (for 0x81/-1)
0xffffffffffff0080 Non-minimal encoding (for 0xffffffffffff80/-281474976710655)

Arithmetic Operation Overflows

All arithmetic VM operations must use (C-like) signed, 64-bit integer operations with overflow detection (e.g. using the X86-64 GNU C Integer Overflow Builtins, __builtin_ssubll_overflow, __builtin_saddll_overflow, and __builtin_smulll_overflow, for OP_SUB, OP_ADD, and OP_MUL, respectively). If an operation overflows or underflows, the operation must immediately fail evaluation.

Additionally, operations which produce precisely the minimum value (-9223372036854775808) – requiring 9 bytes to be encoded as a Script Number – must immediately fail evaluation. (Implementation note: this error can be enforced during Script Number re-encoding.)

Re-Enable Multiplication (OP_MUL)

The OP_MUL multiplication operation is re-enabled (at 0x95/149, its original codepoint). OP_MUL performs C-style, overflow-checked, integer multiplication (e.g. using the X86-64 GNU C Integer Overflow Builtins, __builtin_smulll_overflow).


This section documents design decisions made in this specification.

Inclusion of OP_MUL

The OP_MUL operation was excluded from the upgrade restoring disabled opcodes (May 2018) because a solution for handling overflows was not yet decided; it was expected that OP_MUL would be re-enabled during another upgrade which expanded the accepted range of Script Number arithmetic inputs.

Because this proposal offers a solution for arithmetic underflows and overflows, OP_MUL is no longer blocked. Re-activation is included directly in this proposal because the two changes are strongly connected and will benefit from a combined review.

Alternative Overflow Behavior

Until this proposal, overflows have only been prevented indirectly: VM implementations typically employ signed 64-bit integers internally, and because numeric inputs to all operations have been limited to 4-byte Script Numbers, no operations are capable of producing Script Number results larger than 5 bytes. (While inputs are constrained to 4 bytes, 5-byte results are allowed.) With this proposal, overflows would be handled explicitly: they cause an evaluation to immediately fail.

Alternatively, this proposal could attempt to maintain the previous “undefined” overflow behavior, where overflows aren’t explicitly handled by the VM. However, that behavior would require a much less efficient implementation: to support 64-bit multiplication, VM implementations would be required to use at least 128-bit arithmetic internally (while still preventing contracts from using inputs larger than 64 bits).

To demonstrate, the maximum 64-bit/8-byte input 0xffffffffffffffff (18446744073709551615), multiplied by itself is 0xfffffffffffffffe0000000000000001 (340282366920938463426481119284349108225), which requires 128-bits/16 bytes to represent.

The overflow handling behavior implemented by this proposal is both more common (among popular programming languages and computing environments) and more efficient than the existing undefined overflow handling strategy. Additionally, this proposal’s explicit overflow handling strategy also enables potential future operations (e.g. exponentiation) to be enabled using simple, common implementations.

Limiting Arithmetic Operations to 8-byte Script Numbers

This proposal limits all inputs and outputs of arithmetic operations to the range which can be encoded in 8-byte Script Numbers. This range is nearly equivalent to the range of signed, 64-bit integers (excluding only one value), and in the positive range (9223372036854775807 maximum) significantly exceeds the largest possible value of any transaction output: ~2100000000000000 (21 million BCH * 100 million satoshis).

Because signed, 64-bit integer arithmetic is natively implemented in most computing environments, this limit also offers practically-equivalent worst-case performance vs. the existing 4-byte Script Number limitation. (Notably, derivatives of the Satoshi implementation already use 64-bit numbers internally, but enforce the lower 4-byte limit to prevent overflows.) As such, an 8-byte limit significantly expands the functionality of the VM without impacting worst-case transaction validation costs or VM implementation complexity.

A future upgrade which adds support for significant subdivision of satoshi values could create demand for Script Numbers with a greater range than 8 bytes. However, given a maximum possible satoshi supply of ~2100000000000000, the 9223372036854775807 maximum provides ample room for 1/1000th satoshi subunits before representing even the largest balances might require arithmetic workarounds. And even in these cases, many contracts will be able to either 1) emulate support for larger arithmetic operations using multi-step computations, or 2) operate on rounded values for very large numbers. Given this additional flexibility, the 8-byte limit is likely sufficient until a distant future upgrade.

Note: a popular BCH token protocol, Simple Ledger Protocol (SLP), technically allows tokens to be created with much greater divisibility than BCH – BCH supports 8 decimal places (satoshis), while SLP tokens can support up to 18. This proposal does not consider these unusual cases to currently warrant a greater arithmetic range: divisibility beyond that of BCH is unlikely to be practically useful in commerce, and if satoshis become insufficiently divisible in the distant future, arithmetic range can be increased at the same time as divisibility.

Users of higher-level protocols like SLP who intend to employ VM arithmetic are advised to target an arithmetic range less than or equal to satoshis for maximum contracting flexibility.

Continued Separation of Cryptographic and Arithmetic Operations

Past proposals have suggested larger arithmetic limits in an effort to support number sizes useful to cryptosystems. While deeper analysis indicates that larger arithmetic limits are unlikely to be useful in implementing new cryptosystems, such larger limits could negatively impact transaction validation costs.

In short, BCH VM cryptographic operations do not operate on numbers: they are high-level APIs which operate on data structures representing (sets of) numbers. Compatibility between arithmetic and cryptographic operations would be complex and likely introduce performance bottlenecks.

Note, limiting arithmetic inputs to 8-byte Script Numbers does not prevent larger numbers from being represented and used elsewhere in the BCH VM instruction set. (In fact, larger numbers are already in use within signatures and public keys.) Future proposals could introduce new operations specifically designed to perform mathematical operations on cryptographic data structures (including greater than 8-byte Script Numbers).

Inclusion of Future Expansion Notice

The Notice of Possible Future Expansion is included in this specification to avert future controversy by documenting the proposal’s intent with respect to future (not-yet specified) upgrades: the BCH VM is not guaranteed to forever limit Script Numbers to 8 bytes.

If this were not clarified, any future Script Number upgrade proposals could be more easily mischaracterize by publicizing deposits made to contracts that are intentionally designed to rely on the 8-byte overflow behavior. With this notice, such misdirection might be more easily identified as disingenuous.

Disallowance of 9-byte Script Numbers from Arithmetic Results

Only one 9-byte Script Number can be represented within the signed 64-bit integer range to be used by VM arithmetic operations after activation of this proposal: -9223372036854775808. This precise value is disallowed (by limiting all Script Number arithmetic inputs and outputs to 8 bytes) to simplify both VM implementation and contract security analysis.

If this 9-byte value were allowed in arithmetic results, it would break the assumption that all valid arithmetic results are also valid arithmetic inputs. In some covenants, this could present a subtle exploit: if an attacker can force the contract to somehow retain this precise 9-byte result, the attacker could place the covenant in an unintended state, preventing the 9-byte result from being successfully passed into other arithmetic operations. Furthermore, analyzing contracts for this vulnerability requires detailed information about the possible numeric ranges of arithmetic inputs and outputs, creating an unnecessary burden for static contract analysis.

For example, if the 9-byte value were allowed, the script <-9223372036854775807> OP_1SUB OP_1ADD would successfully produce the 9-byte value after OP_1SUB, but the resulting 9-byte Script Number would be rejected by OP_1ADD. Implementations could add a special case for handling this particular signed 64-bit integer, 9-byte Script Number, but the corresponding positive number (9223372036854775808) is also not representable as a signed 64-bit integer (in most computing environments), so an operation like <-9223372036854775808> OP_NEGATE would also overflow.


(in progress)

Test Cases

(in progress)

Evaluation of Alternatives

Alternative designs for several components of this proposal have been documented in the Rationale section, and several past proposals have also informed the design of this proposal:

128-bit Integers

An earlier proposal for 128-bit integers would also enable up to 128-bit arithmetic operations. The larger 128-bit range may impact worst-case validation performance, and implementation is likely to be more complex in many computing environments.

While future proposals could further expand the range of VM arithmetic operations, 64-bit math is likely sufficient even for operation on 1/1000th “fractional satoshis”, so further expansion requires additional research.

NextChain BigNum

NextChain BigNum would enable up to 4096-bit integer arithmetic, add the OP_SETBMD, OP_BIN2BIGNUM, and OP_BIGNUM2BIN operations, and introduce “type” information to all stack items (with a new BigNum type).

Implementation of NextChain BigNum is notably more complex than other proposals, and it is unclear whether support for larger arithmetic inputs would have practical applications (see Continued Separation of Cryptographic and Arithmetic Operations).

Primary Stakeholders

At least five primary stakeholder groups exist:

Node Developers

At least six node implementations must be upgraded:

Library Developers

At least five libraries must be upgraded:

Contract Developers

Contract developers affected by existing limits include:

  • General Protocols created AnyHedge, a volatility risk-trading contract. AnyHedge contracts are limited to ~$15k and have a slight math error due to workarounds.
  • Licho created a Last Will contract to manage inheritance and the Mecenas contract for recurring payments. These contracts are limited to ~21 BCH (~$10k).
  • Shomari Prince created Causes Cash, which includes a modified Mecenas to support recurring payments in USD. These contracts are limited to ~21 BCH (~$10k).
  • James Cramer created experimental SLP Mint Guard contracts and tokens with minting schedules. These contracts are currently not limited, but to execute the proposed roadmap they will be very limited as they will need to perform arithmetic on SLP token amounts (which can have more decimals and lower USD values than BCH).
  • p0oker created an SLP vending contract that mints tokens on-demand and is building a BCH staking contract that mints tokens over time and an SLP exchange contract to sell NFTs. Similar to James Cramer’s contracts, these contracts will be very limited as they need to work with SLP amounts.
  • Jason Dreyzehner created CashChannels, recurring payments for Bitcoin Cash. These channels are limited to ~21 BCH (~$10k).

Node Operators & Miners

(in progress)


These individuals and organizations have invested in the BCH currency and ecosystem on the premise that it can become peer to peer electronic cash for the world. These stakeholders expect the token to serve effectively as money, including in the innovative financial services which could be enabled by expanded arithmetic support.


Node Developers

(in progress)

Library Developers

(in progress)

Contract Developers

(in progress)

General Protocols

Developing workarounds to this limitation has cost General Protocols a large amount of time and money. This is still ongoing as the added complexity makes further smart contract changes more difficult. Because of the required code to address this, there are also other contract features that do not fit within the contract bytecode size limits.

Node Operators & Miners

(in progress)


(in progress)


This section summarizes the evolution of this document.

  • v1.0 – 2021-6-9 (current)
    • Completed technical specification
    • Added Rationale section, revised supporting material (Summary, Deployment, Motivation, Benefits, Evaluation of Alternatives, etc.)
  • v0 – 2021-2-21 (32e9d5ed)
    • Initial draft

Copyright © 2021 GeneralProtocols / Research

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the MIT license.