Hasso-Plattner-Institut25 Jahre HPI
Hasso-Plattner-Institut25 Jahre HPI

Jan Ladleif

Enforceability Aspects of Smart Contracts on Blockchain Networks

Smart contracts promise to reform the legal domain by automating clerical and procedural work, and minimizing the risk of fraud and manipulation. Their core idea is to draft contract documents in a way which allows machines to process them, to grasp the operational and non-operational parts of the underlying legal agreements, and to use tamper-proof code execution alongside established judicial systems to enforce their terms.

The implementation of smart contracts has been largely limited by the lack of an adequate technological foundation which does not place an undue amount of trust in any contract party or external entity. Only recently did the emergence of Decentralized Applications (DApps) change this: Stored and executed via transactions on novel distributed ledger and blockchain networks, powered by complex integrity and consensus protocols, DApps grant secure computation and immutable data storage while at the same time eliminating virtually all assumptions of trust.

However, research on how to effectively capture, deploy, and most of all enforce smart contracts with DApps in mind is still in its infancy. Starting from the initial expression of a smart contract’s intent and logic, to the operation of concrete instances in practical environments, to the limits of automatic enforcement—many challenges remain to be solved before a widespread use and acceptance of smart contracts can be achieved.

This thesis proposes a model-driven smart contract management approach to tackle some of these issues. A metamodel and semantics of smart contracts are presented, containing concepts such as legal relations, autonomous and non-autonomous actions, and their interplay. Guided by the metamodel, the notion and a system architecture of a Smart Contract Management System (SCMS) is introduced, which facilitates smart contracts in all phases of their lifecycle. Relying on DApps in heterogeneous multi-chain environments, the SCMS approach is evaluated by a proof-of-concept implementation showing both its feasibility and its limitations.

Further, two specific enforceability issues are explored in detail: The performance of fully autonomous tamper-proof behavior with external off-chain dependencies and the evaluation of temporal constraints within DApps, both of which are essential for smart contracts but challenging to support in the restricted transaction-driven and closed environment of blockchain networks. Various strategies of implementing or emulating these capabilities, which are ultimately applicable to all kinds of DApp projects independent of smart contracts, are presented and evaluated.