Filename: 252-single-onion.txt
Title: Single Onion Services
Author: John Brooks, Paul Syverson, Roger Dingledine
Created: 2015-07-13
Status: Superseded
Superseded-by: 260

1. Overview

   Single onion services are a modified form of onion services, which trade
   service-side location privacy for improved performance, reliability, and

   Single onion services have a .onion address identical to any other onion
   service. The descriptor contains information sufficient to do a relay
   extend of a circuit to the onion service and to open a stream for the onion
   address. The introduction point and rendezvous protocols are bypassed for
   these services.

   We also specify behavior for a tor instance to publish a single onion
   service, which requires a reachable OR port, without necessarily acting
   as a public relay in the network.

2. Motivation

   Single onion services have a few benefits over double onion services:

      * Connection latency is much lower by skipping rendezvous
      * Stream latency is reduced on a 4-hop circuit
      * Removing rendezvous circuits improves service scalability
      * A single onion service can use multiple relays for load balancing

   Single onion services are not location hidden on the service side,
   but clients retain all of the benefits and privacy of onion
   services. More details, relation to double onion services, and the
   rationale for the 'single' and 'double' nomenclature are further
   described in section 7.4.

   We believe these improvements, along with the other benefits of onion
   services, will be a significant incentive for website and other internet
   service operators to provide these portals to preserve the privacy of their

3. Onion descriptors

   The onion descriptor format is extended to add:

     "service-extend-locations" NL encrypted-string
       [At most once]

       A list of relay extend info, which is used instead of introduction
       points and rendezvous for single onion services. This field is
       encoded and optionally encrypted in the same way as the
       "introduction-points" field.

       The encoded contents of this field contains no more than 10 entries,
       each containing the following data:

         "service-extend-location" SP link-specifiers NL
            [At start, exactly once]
            link-specifiers is a base64 encoded link specifier block, in
            the format described by proposal 224 [BUILDING-BLOCKS] and the
            EXTEND2 cell.

          "onion-key" SP key-type NL onion-key
            [Exactly once]
            Describes the onion key that must be used when extending to the
            single onion service relay.

            The key-type field is one of:
                  onion-key is a PEM-encoded RSA relay onion key
                  onion-key is a base64-encoded NTOR relay onion key

   [XXX: Should there be some kind of cookie to prove that we have the desc?
   See also section 7.1. -special]

   A descriptor may contain either or both of "introduction-points" and
   "service-extend-locations"; see section 5.2.

   [XXX: What kind of backwards compatibility issues exist here? Will existing
   relays accept one of those descriptors? -special]

4. Reaching a single onion service as a client

   Single onion services use normal onion hostnames, so the client will first
   request the service's descriptor. If the descriptor contains a
   "service-extend-locations" field, the client should ignore the introduction
   points and rendezvous process in favor of the process defined here.

   The descriptor's "service-extend-locations" information is sufficient for a
   client to extend a circuit to the onion service, regardless of whether it
   is also listed as a relay in the network consensus. This extend info must
   not be used for any other purpose. If multiple extend locations are
   specified, the client should randomly select one.

   The client uses a 3-hop circuit to extend to the service location from the
   descriptor. Once this circuit is built, the client sends a BEGIN cell to
   the relay, with the onion address as hostname and the desired TCP port.

   If the circuit or stream fails, the client should retry using another
   extend location from the descriptor. If all extend locations fail, and the
   descriptor contains an "introduction-points" field, the client may fall
   back to a full rendezvous operation.

5. Publishing a single onion service

   To act as a single onion service, a tor instance (or cooperating group of
   tor instances) must:

      * Have a publicly accessible OR port
      * Publish onion descriptors in the same manner as any onion service
      * Include a "service-extend-locations" section in the onion descriptor
      * Accept RELAY_BEGIN cells for the service as defined in section 5.3

5.1. Configuration options

   The tor server operating a single onion service must accept connections as
   a tor relay, but is not required to be published in the consensus or to
   allow extending circuits. To enable this, we propose the following
   configuration option:

      RelayAllowExtend 0|1
         If set, allow clients to extend circuits from this relay. Otherwise,
         refuse all extend cells. PublishServerDescriptor must also be disabled
         if this option is disabled. If ExitRelay is also disabled, this relay
         will not pass through any traffic.

5.2. Publishing descriptors

   A single onion service must publish descriptors in the same manner as any
   onion service, as defined by rend-spec and section 3 of this proposal.

   Optionally, a set of introduction points may be included in the descriptor
   to provide backwards compatibility with clients that don't support single
   onion services, or to provide a fallback when the extend locations fail.


   When a RELAY_BEGIN cell is received with a configured single onion hostname
   as the destination, the stream should be connected to the configured
   backend server in the same manner as a service-side rendezvous stream.

   All relays must reject any RELAY_BEGIN cell with an address ending in
   ".onion" that does not match a locally configured single onion service.

6. Other considerations

6.1. Load balancing

   High capacity services can distribute load by including multiple entries in
   the "service-extend-locations" section of the descriptor, or by publishing
   several descriptors to different onion service directories, or by a
   combination of these methods.

6.2. Benefits of also running a Tor relay

   If a single onion service also acts as a published tor relay, it will keep
   connections to many other tor relays. This can significantly reduce the
   latency of connections to the single onion service, and also helps the tor

6.3. Proposal 224 ("Next-Generation Hidden Services")

   This proposal is compatible with proposal 224, with small changes to the
   service descriptor format. In particular:

   The "service-extend-location" sections are included in the encrypted
   portion of the descriptor, adjacent to any "introduction-point" sections.
   The "service-extend-locations" field is no longer present. An onion service
   is also single onion service if any "service-extend-location" field is

6.4. Proposal 246 ("Merging Hidden Service Directories and Intro Points")

   This proposal is compatible with proposal 246. The onion service will
   publish its descriptor to the introduction points in the same manner as any
   other onion service. The client may choose to build a circuit to the
   specified relays, or to continue with the rendezvous protocol.

   The client should not extend from the introduction point to the single
   onion service's relay, to avoid overloading the introduction point. The
   client may truncate the circuit and extend through a new relay.

7. Discussion

7.1. Authorization

   Client authorization for a single onion service is possible through
   encryption of the service-extend-locations section in the descriptor, or
   "stealth" publication under a new onion address, as with traditional onion

   One problem with this is that if you suspect a relay is also serving a
   single onion service, you can connect to it and send RELAY_BEGIN without
   any further authorization. To prevent this, we would need to include a
   cookie from the descriptor in the RELAY_BEGIN information.

7.2. Preventing relays from being unintentionally published

   Many single onion servers will not want to relay other traffic, and will
   set 'PublishServerDescriptor 0' to prevent it. Even when they do, they will
   still generate a relay descriptor, which could be downloaded and published
   to a directory authority without the relay's consent. To prevent this, we
   should insert a field in the relay descriptor when PublishServerDescriptor
   is disabled that instructs relays to never include it as part of a

   [XXX: Also see task #16564]

7.3. Ephemeral single onion services (ADD_ONION)

   The ADD_ONION control port command could be extended to support ephemerally
   configured single onion services. We encourage this, but specifying its
   behavior is out of the scope of this proposal.

7.4. Onion service taxonomy and nomenclature

   Onion services in general provide several benefits. First, by requiring a
   connection via Tor they provide the client the protections of Tor and make
   it much more difficult to inadvertently bypass those protections than when
   connecting to a non .onion site.  Second, because .onion addresses are
   self-authenticating, onion services have look-up, routing, and
   authentication protections not provided by sites with standard domain
   addresses. These benefits apply to all onion services.

   Onion services as originally introduced also provide network location
   hiding of the service itself: because the client only ever connects through
   the end of a Tor circuit created by the onion service, the IP address of
   the onion service also remains protected.

   Applications and services already exist that use existing onion service
   protocols for the above described general benefits without the need for
   network location hiding. This Proposal is accordingly motivated by a desire
   to provide the general benefits, without the complexity and overhead of
   also protecting the location of the service.

   Further, as with what had originally been called 'location hidden
   services', there may be useful and valid applications of this design that
   are not reflected in our current intent. Just as 'location hidden service'
   is a misleading name for many current onion service applications, we prefer
   a name that is descriptive of the system but flexible with respect to
   applications of it. We also prefer a nomenclature that consistently works
   for the different types of onion services.

   It is also important to have short, simple names lest usage efficiencies
   evolve easier names for us. For example, 'hidden service' has replaced the
   original 'location hidden service' in Tor Proposals and other writings.

   For these reasons, we have chosen 'onion services' to refer to both those
   as set out in this Proposal and those with the client-side and server-side
   protections of the original---also for referring indiscriminately to any
   and all onion services. We use 'double-onion service' to refer to services
   that join two Tor circuits, one from the server and one from the client. We
   use 'single-onion' when referring to services that use only a client-side
   Tor circuit. In speech we sometimes use the even briefer, 'two-nion' and
   'one-ion' respectively.