Validator Management

The lighthouse vc command starts a validator client instance which connects to a beacon node performs the duties of a staked validator.

This document provides information on how the validator client discovers the validators it will act for and how it should obtain their cryptographic signatures.

Users that create validators using the lighthouse account tool in the standard directories and do not start their lighthouse vc with the --disable-auto-discover flag should not need to understand the contents of this document. However, users with more complex needs may find this document useful.

Introducing the validator_definitions.yml file

The validator_definitions.yml file is located in the validator-dir, which defaults to ~/.lighthouse/validators. It is a YAML encoded file defining exactly which validators the validator client will (and won't) act for.


Here's an example file with two validators:

- enabled: true
  voting_public_key: "0x87a580d31d7bc69069b55f5a01995a610dd391a26dc9e36e81057a17211983a79266800ab8531f21f1083d7d84085007"
  type: local_keystore
  voting_keystore_path: /home/paul/.lighthouse/validators/0x87a580d31d7bc69069b55f5a01995a610dd391a26dc9e36e81057a17211983a79266800ab8531f21f1083d7d84085007/voting-keystore.json
  voting_keystore_password_path: /home/paul/.lighthouse/secrets/0x87a580d31d7bc69069b55f5a01995a610dd391a26dc9e36e81057a17211983a79266800ab8531f21f1083d7d84085007
- enabled: false
  voting_public_key: "0xa5566f9ec3c6e1fdf362634ebec9ef7aceb0e460e5079714808388e5d48f4ae1e12897fed1bea951c17fa389d511e477"
  type: local_keystore
  voting_keystore_path: /home/paul/.lighthouse/validators/0xa5566f9ec3c6e1fdf362634ebec9ef7aceb0e460e5079714808388e5d48f4ae1e12897fed1bea951c17fa389d511e477/voting-keystore.json
  voting_keystore_password: myStrongpa55word123&$

In this example we can see two validators:

  • A validator identified by the 0x87a5... public key which is enabled.
  • Another validator identified by the 0x0xa556... public key which is not enabled.


Each permitted field of the file is listed below for reference:

  • enabled: A true/false indicating if the validator client should consider this validator "enabled".
  • voting_public_key: A validator public key.
  • type: How the validator signs messages (currently restricted to local_keystore).
  • voting_keystore_path: The path to a EIP-2335 keystore.
  • voting_keystore_password_path: The path to the password for the EIP-2335 keystore.
  • voting_keystore_password: The password to the EIP-2335 keystore.

Note: Either voting_keystore_password_path or voting_keystore_password must be supplied. If both are supplied, voting_keystore_password_path is ignored.

Populating the validator_definitions.yml file

When validator client starts and the validator_definitions.yml file doesn't exist, a new file will be created. If the --disable-auto-discover flag is provided, the new file will be empty and the validator client will not start any validators. If the --disable-auto-discover flag is not provided, an automatic validator discovery routine will start (more on that later). To recap:

  • lighthouse vc: validators are automatically discovered.
  • lighthouse vc --disable-auto-discover: validators are not automatically discovered.

Automatic validator discovery

When the --disable-auto-discover flag is not provided, the validator will search the validator-dir for validators and add any new validators to the validator_definitions.yml with enabled: true.

The routine for this search begins in the validator-dir, where it obtains a list of all files in that directory and all sub-directories (i.e., recursive directory-tree search). For each file named voting-keystore.json it creates a new validator definition by the following process:

  1. Set enabled to true.
  2. Set voting_public_key to the pubkey value from the voting-keystore.json.
  3. Set type to local_keystore.
  4. Set voting_keystore_path to the full path of the discovered keystore.
  5. Set voting_keystore_password_path to be a file in the secrets-dir with a name identical to the voting_public_key value.

Discovery Example

Lets assume the following directory structure:

├── john
│   └── voting-keystore.json
├── sally
│   ├── one
│   │   └── voting-keystore.json
│   ├── three
│   │   └── my-voting-keystore.json
│   └── two
│       └── voting-keystore.json
└── slashing_protection.sqlite

There is no validator_definitions.yml file present, so we can run lighthouse vc (without --disable-auto-discover) and it will create the following validator_definitions.yml:

- enabled: true
  voting_public_key: "0xa5566f9ec3c6e1fdf362634ebec9ef7aceb0e460e5079714808388e5d48f4ae1e12897fed1bea951c17fa389d511e477"
  type: local_keystore
  voting_keystore_path: /home/paul/.lighthouse/validators/sally/one/voting-keystore.json
  voting_keystore_password_path: /home/paul/.lighthouse/secrets/0xa5566f9ec3c6e1fdf362634ebec9ef7aceb0e460e5079714808388e5d48f4ae1e12897fed1bea951c17fa389d511e477
- enabled: true
  voting_public_key: "0xaa440c566fcf34dedf233baf56cf5fb05bb420d9663b4208272545608c27c13d5b08174518c758ecd814f158f2b4a337"
  type: local_keystore
  voting_keystore_path: /home/paul/.lighthouse/validators/sally/two/voting-keystore.json
  voting_keystore_password_path: /home/paul/.lighthouse/secrets/0xaa440c566fcf34dedf233baf56cf5fb05bb420d9663b4208272545608c27c13d5b08174518c758ecd814f158f2b4a337
- enabled: true
  voting_public_key: "0x87a580d31d7bc69069b55f5a01995a610dd391a26dc9e36e81057a17211983a79266800ab8531f21f1083d7d84085007"
  type: local_keystore
  voting_keystore_path: /home/paul/.lighthouse/validators/john/voting-keystore.json
  voting_keystore_password_path: /home/paul/.lighthouse/secrets/0x87a580d31d7bc69069b55f5a01995a610dd391a26dc9e36e81057a17211983a79266800ab8531f21f1083d7d84085007

All voting-keystore.json files have been detected and added to the file. Notably, the sally/three/my-voting-keystore.json file was not added to the file, since the file name is not exactly voting-keystore.json.

In order for the validator client to decrypt the validators, they will need to ensure their secrets-dir is organised as below:

├── 0xa5566f9ec3c6e1fdf362634ebec9ef7aceb0e460e5079714808388e5d48f4ae1e12897fed1bea951c17fa389d511e477
├── 0xaa440c566fcf34dedf233baf56cf5fb05bb420d9663b4208272545608c27c13d5b08174518c758ecd814f158f2b4a337
└── 0x87a580d31d7bc69069b55f5a01995a610dd391a26dc9e36e81057a17211983a79266800ab8531f21f1083d7d84085007

Manual configuration

The automatic validator discovery process works out-of-the-box with validators that are created using the lighthouse account validator new command. The details of this process are only interesting to those who are using keystores generated with another tool or have a non-standard requirements.

If you are one of these users, manually edit the validator_definitions.yml file to suit your requirements. If the file is poorly formatted or any one of the validators is unable to be initialized, the validator client will refuse to start.

How the validator_definitions.yml file is processed

If a validator client were to start using the first example validator_definitions.yml file it would print the following log, acknowledging there there are two validators and one is disabled:

INFO Initialized validators                  enabled: 1, disabled: 1

The validator client will simply ignore the disabled validator. However, for the active validator, the validator client will:

  1. Load an EIP-2335 keystore from the voting_keystore_path.
  2. If the voting_keystore_password field is present, use it as the keystore password. Otherwise, attempt to read the file at voting_keystore_password_path and use the contents as the keystore password.
  3. Use the keystore password to decrypt the keystore and obtain a BLS keypair.
  4. Verify that the decrypted BLS keypair matches the voting_public_key.
  5. Create a voting-keystore.json.lock file adjacent to the voting_keystore_path, indicating that the voting keystore is in-use and should not be opened by another process.
  6. Proceed to act for that validator, creating blocks and attestations if/when required.

If there is an error during any of these steps (e.g., a file is missing or corrupt) the validator client will log an error and continue to attempt to process other validators.

When the validator client exits (or the validator is deactivated) it will remove the voting-keystore.json.lock to indicate that the keystore is free for use again.