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Creating reproducible canister builds


Thanks to its consensus protocol, the Internet Computer always runs canister code correctly. But this doesn’t mean that it’s running the correct code for a canister. If you are using a canister somebody else developed, you may want to verify that the canister is indeed running the intended code before giving it control to make important decision for you, e.g., sending your ICP to another canister. Verifying this requires answering two questions:

  1. Which WebAssembly (Wasm) code is being executed for a canister?
  2. The canisters are normally written in a higher-level language, such as Motoko or Rust, and not directly in Wasm. The second question is then: is the Wasm that’s running really the result of compiling the purported source code?

The rest of the document answers these questions. For the first question, we will see how the Internet Computer provides information about canister code. To be able to answer the second question, canister authors should ensure trusted and reproducible builds of the Wasm code from the source. Such builds allow anyone to follow the same steps as the canister authors and yield the exact same Wasm code, which can then be compared to the Wasm code executing in the canister on the Internet Computer.

The impatient reader who is familiar with the topic of reproducible builds can skip straight to the conclusion.

Finding out which canister code the Internet Computer is executing

Internet Computer does not allow you to access the Wasm code of an arbitrary canister. This is a design decision, as developers might want to keep some code private. However, the Internet Computer does allow you to access the SHA-256 of the Wasm code of a canister.

To obtain this hash, you must first note the principal of the Internet Computer canister whose code you want to check. For example, assume we’re interested in the code of the Internet Identity canister, whose principal is rdmx6-jaaaa-aaaaa-aaadq-cai. Then, the easiest way to access this service is using the IC SDK from the terminal. Open your terminal, and run:

dfx canister --network ic info rdmx6-jaaaa-aaaaa-aaadq-cai
Controllers: r7inp-6aaaa-aaaaa-aaabq-cai
Module hash: 0xa9a5d0492d1455d6b6b84fdc102fb182f55975145a2f99a403eb10ea7e37aee6

If you are running an older version of the IC SDK, you will need to run this command from a directory that contains a valid dfx.json file. If you don’t have such a directory, you can create it using dfx new.

Here, the Internet Computer tells us that the hash of the Wasm module of the rdmx6-jaaaa-aaaaa-aaadq-cai canister (which happens to be the Internet Identity canister) is 0xa9a5d0492d1455d6b6b84fdc102fb182f55975145a2f99a403eb10ea7e37aee6.

The check above provides you the current hash of the canister’s Wasm module, but the controllers of an Internet Computer canister may change the code at any time (e.g., to upgrade a canister). However, if the list of controllers is empty or the only controller is a black-hole canister, you know that the canister is immutable since nobody has the power to change the code.

Armed with this hash, you can next check whether it corresponds to some given source code. This only works if the build process for the code is reproducible.

Reproducible builds

As a canister author, there are a few things you have to provide to your users to allow them to reproduce your build:

  • The same source code that you used to create the Wasm module for the canister.

  • Instructions on how to recreate your build environment.

  • Instructions on how to repeat the process of building the Wasm from the source code. Crucially, the process must be deterministic, to ensure that it results in the exact same Wasm. It also has to be trusted, such that the user can be convinced that the Wasm is a faithful translation of the source code, and not an artifact of a malicious build tool. In particular, look for .dfx, node_modules, and target directories that could contain pre-built files.

We next look at each of these points in more detail.

Providing source code

Typically, you will version your code in git or some other version control system, and your versioned code may be available in a public repository, e.g., GitHub. In this case, you should note the particular commit that you used when producing the code to be deployed to the Internet Computer, and communicate it to the users who are trying to verify your canister. Alternatively, you can also provide a package (e.g., a zip file or a tarball) containing the source code you used to build your canister.

Reproducing build environments

Before building your code, you should document the build environment you are using in detail. In particular, for the languages supported by the Internet Computer SDK:

  • Note down the operating system and its version you are using to build your canister.

  • If you are using the IC SDK, note the version used, as specified in dfx.json. You can install arbitrary versions of the IC SDK using dfx toolchain install <version>, or by running the installation script with the DFX_VERSION environment variable set to the desired version.

  • If you are building Motoko code in a way other than dfx build, note the version of moc you are using.

  • If you are building Rust, note the version of cargo you are using.

  • If you are using Node.js and/or webpack for frontend development, note their versions.

  • If your build process depends on any environment variables (such as the time zone or locale), note them down.

You should communicate all of these to your user in the instructions. Ideally, do so by providing an executable recipe to recreate the build environment, using tools such as Docker or Nix. We recommend using Docker, as this allows you to also pinpoint the operating system used for building the software.

Build environments using Docker

Docker containers are a popular solution for providing build environments. For developers using OS X, we recommend installing Docker using lima, as it proved more stable than Docker Desktop or Docker Machine in our experience (in particular, it avoids some QEMU bugs on Apple M1 machines).

After setting Docker up, you can use a Dockerfile such as the following to provide the user with a particular version of the operating system, as well as dfx, Node.js and the Rust toolchain. Make sure to stick with x86_64 for running the Docker container, as builds are generally not reproducible across architectures. See docs on setting up cross-platform Docker containers in case your host environment is not x86_64.

This Dockerfile is an example of how a Rust build environment can be standardized using Docker.

Example Dockerfile

FROM ubuntu:22.04

ENV NVM_DIR=/root/.nvm

ENV RUSTUP_HOME=/opt/rustup
ENV CARGO_HOME=/opt/cargo


# Install a basic environment needed for our build tools
RUN apt -yq update && \
apt -yqq install --no-install-recommends curl ca-certificates \
build-essential pkg-config libssl-dev llvm-dev liblmdb-dev clang cmake rsync

# Install Node.js using nvm
ENV PATH="/root/.nvm/versions/node/v${NODE_VERSION}/bin:${PATH}"
RUN curl --fail -sSf${NVM_VERSION}/ | bash
RUN . "${NVM_DIR}/" && nvm install ${NODE_VERSION}
RUN . "${NVM_DIR}/" && nvm use v${NODE_VERSION}
RUN . "${NVM_DIR}/" && nvm alias default v${NODE_VERSION}

# Install Rust and Cargo
ENV PATH=/opt/cargo/bin:${PATH}
RUN curl --fail -sSf \
| sh -s -- -y --default-toolchain ${RUST_VERSION}-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu --no-modify-path && \
rustup default ${RUST_VERSION}-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu && \
rustup target add wasm32-unknown-unknown &&\
cargo install ic-wasm

# Install dfx
RUN sh -ci "$(curl -fsSL"

COPY . /canister
WORKDIR /canister

What this does

There are a couple of things worth noting about this Dockerfile:

  • It starts from an official Docker image. Furthermore, all the installed tools are standard, and come from standard sources. This provides the user with confidence that the build environment hasn’t been tampered with, and thus that the build process using Docker can be trusted.

  • To ensure that specific versions of the build tools are installed, it installs them directly, rather than through apt (the package manager of Ubuntu, the Linux distribution running inside of the container). Such package managers usually don’t provide a way of pinning the build tools to specific versions.

To use this Dockerfile, get Docker up and running, place the Dockerfile in the project directory of your canister, and create the Docker container by running:

docker build -t mycanister .

This creates a Docker container image called mycanister, with Node.js, Rust and dfx installed in it, and your canister source code copied to /canister (recall that you should invoke docker build from the canister project directory). You can then enter an interactive shell inside of your container by running:

docker run -it --rm mycanister

From here, you can experiment with the steps needed to build your canister. Once you are confident that the steps are deterministic, you can also put them in the Dockerfile (e.g., as RUN ./ for a build script such as the example below, saved as ./, to allow the user to automatically reproduce the build of your canister. You can see an example in the Dockerfile of the Internet Identity canister.

Example script for building a Rust project

An example script to build a Rust project looks as follows:

This is an example build script for a Rust project, and does not include a fully comprehensive example of what a build script may contain, nor does it include build instructions for other languages such as Motoko.

# additional setup, e.g., build frontend assets:
# ...
# Rust build:
export RUSTFLAGS="--remap-path-prefix $(readlink -f $(dirname ${0}))=/build --remap-path-prefix ${CARGO_HOME}=/cargo"
cargo build --locked --target wasm32-unknown-unknown --release
ic-wasm target/wasm32-unknown-unknown/release/example_backend.wasm -o example_backend.wasm shrink

A build script such as the one above can be specified as a custom build script in dfx.json as follows:

"canisters": {
"example_backend": {
"candid": "src/example_backend/example_backend.did",
"package": "example_backend",
"type": "custom",
"wasm": "./example_backend.wasm",
"build": "./"

Ensuring the determinism of the build process

Next, we will investigate what is necessary to make the build deterministic. For the build process to be deterministic:

  • Step 1: You will need to ensure that any dependencies of your canister are always resolved in the same way. Most build tools now support a way of pinning dependencies to a particular version.

    • For npm, running npm install will create a package-lock.json file with some fixed versions of all (transitive) dependencies of your project that satisfy the requirements specified in your package.json. However, npm install will overwrite the package-lock.json file every time it is invoked. Thus, once you are ready to create the final version of your canister, run npm install only once. After that, commit package-lock.json to your version control system. Finally, when checking the build for reproducibility, use npm ci instead of npm install.

    • For Rust code, Cargo will automatically generate a Cargo.lock file with the fixed versions of your (transitive) dependencies. Like with package-lock.json, you should commit this file to your version control system once you are ready to produce the final version of your canister. Furthermore, Cargo by default ignores the locked versions of dependencies. Pass the --locked flag to the cargo command to ensure that the locked dependencies are used.

    • You have to allocate canister IDs in advance, as canisters refer to each other by their IDs.

  • Step 2: Your own build scripts must not introduce non-determinism.

    Obvious sources of non-determinism include randomness, timestamps, concurrency, or code obfuscators. Less obvious sources include locales, absolute file paths, order of files in a directory, and remote URLs whose content can change. Furthermore, relying on third-party build plug-ins exposes you to any non-determinism introduced by these.

  • Step 3. Given the same dependencies and deterministic build scripts, the build tools themselves (moc for Motoko, cargo for Rust, webpack by default for frontend development) must also be deterministic.

    The good news is that all of these tools aim to be deterministic. However, they are complicated pieces of software, and ensuring determinism is non-trivial. Thus, non-determinism bugs can and do occur. For Rust, see the list of current potential non-determinism issues in Rust. Furthermore, we have observed differences between Rust code compiled to Wasm under Linux and MacOS, and thus recommend pinning the build platform and its version. For webpack, deterministic naming of module and chunk IDs that you should use have been introduced since version 5. The Motoko compiler aims to be deterministic and reproducible; if you find reproducibility issues, please submit a new issue, and we will try to address them to the extent possible.

Testing reproducibility

If reproducibility is vital for your code, you should test your builds to increase your confidence in their reproducibility. Such testing is non-trivial: we have seen real-world examples where non-determinism in a canister build took a month to show up! Fortunately, the Debian Reproducible Builds project created a tool called reprotest, which can help you automate reproducibility tests. It tests your build by running it in two different environments that differ in characteristics such as paths, time, file order, and others, and comparing the results. To check your build with reprotest, add the following line to your Dockerfile:

RUN apt -yqq install --no-install-recommends reprotest disorderfs faketime rsync sudo wabt

When using dfx build --network ic, you need to prebuild your frontend dependencies (e.g., by running npm ci before dfx build --network ic or by setting the custom build type in dfx.json and running npm ci in your build script) and your project directory should contain a canister_ids.json file containing the IDs of your canisters on the Internet Computer. An example canister_ids.json file looks as follows:

"example_backend": {
"ic": "rrkah-fqaaa-aaaaa-aaaaq-cai"
"example_frontend": {
"ic": "ryjl3-tyaaa-aaaaa-aaaba-cai"

Now, from the root directory of your canister project, you can test the reproducibility of your IC SDK builds as follows:

docker build -t mycanister .
docker run --rm --privileged -it mycanister
/canister# mkdir artifacts
/canister# reprotest -vv --store-dir=artifacts --variations '+all,-time' 'dfx build --network ic' '.dfx/ic/canisters/*/*.wasm'

What this does

  • The first command builds the Docker container using the Dockerfile provided earlier.
  • The second one opens an interactive shell (hence the -it flags) in the container. We run this in privileged mode (the --privileged flag), as reprotest uses kernel modules for some build environment variations. You can also run it in non-privileged mode by excluding some of the variations; see the reprotest manual. The --rm flag will destroy the container after you close its shell.
  • Once inside of the container, we create a directory for the build artifacts and launch reprotest in verbose mode (the -vv flags). You need to give it the build command you want to run as the first argument. Here, we assume that it’s dfx build --network ic - adjust it if you’re using a different build process. It will then run the build in two different environments.
  • Finally, you need to tell reprotest which paths to compare at the end of the two builds. Here, we compare the Wasm code for all canisters, which is found in the .dfx/ic directory. We omit the time variation because the Rust compiler uses jemalloc for dynamic memory allocation and this library is not compatible with faketime used by reprotest to implement the time variation. Nevertheless, we encourage you to compare the artifacts produced by reprotest while manually changing your system time.

If the comparison doesn’t find any differences, you will see an output similar to this one:

Reproduction successful
No differences in ./.dfx/ic/canisters/*/*.wasm
6b2a15a918219138836e88e9c95f9c5d2d7b6d465df83ae05d6fd2b0f14f8a97 ./.dfx/ic/canisters/example_backend/example_backend.wasm
a047686c1d517e21d447bcd42c9394a12cdb240e06425b830c99d3a689b5ee20 ./.dfx/ic/canisters/example_frontend/assetstorage.wasm
a047686c1d517e21d447bcd42c9394a12cdb240e06425b830c99d3a689b5ee20 ./.dfx/ic/canisters/example_frontend/example_frontend.wasm

Congratulations - this is a good indicator that your build is not affected by your environment!

Note that reprotest can’t check that your dependencies are pinned properly; use guidelines from the previous section for that. Moreover, we recommend you to run the container reprotest builds under several host operating systems and compare the results. If the comparison does find differences between the Wasm code produced in two builds, it will output a diff. You will then likely want to use the --store-dir flag of reprotest to store the outputs and the diff somewhere where you can analyze them. If you are struggling to achieve reproducibility, consider also using DetTrace, which is a container abstraction that tries to make arbitrary builds deterministic.

Even after you achieve reproducibility for your builds, there are still other things to consider for the long term.

Long-term considerations

Reproducibility can be more demanding if you expect your canister code to stay around for years, and stay reproducible. The biggest challenges are to ensure that your:

  • Build toolchain is still available in the future.

  • Dependencies are available.

  • Toolchain still runs and still correctly builds your dependencies.

Distributions and package archives may drop old versions of packages, including both your toolchain and their dependencies. Web sites may go offline and URLs might stop working. Thus, it’s prudent to back up all of your toolchain and dependencies. You should consider getting involved in projects such as Software Heritage, which do this on a large scale. At some later point in time, you might have to adjust your build process (e.g., by changing URLs) to ensure that your canister still builds. Even if the build changes, if it still yields the same result, your users can be confident that your canister is running the correct code. The trust argument is easier if your dependencies come from a trustworthy source, such as the Software Heritage project.


Summarizing our recommendations for canister authors:

  • Ideally, when producing the final version of your container code, use Docker or a similar technology to conveniently set up the operating system and the build tools, and fix their versions for the user. If the build tools you are using don’t guarantee fully reproducible builds, Docker can also help by minimizing the differences in paths, environment variables etc.

  • The build tools and the base Docker image should be sourced from somewhere that the user can trust.

  • Rust and Motoko compilers aim to be deterministic, and thus to support reproducible builds. If you notice non-determinism, file bug reports.

  • When using NPM, ensure that you specify the exact versions of all your dependencies (commit package_lock.json to your git repo!). Invoke NPM using the ci command rather than install to reproduce the build. Similarly, for Rust packages commit Cargo.lock to your repository, and then use cargo build --locked when building the package.

  • Webpack builds should be deterministic, but obfuscators and similar tools may compromise reproducibility. Make sure you use deterministic chunk and module IDs.

  • Build tools aren’t perfect, and may fail to ensure reproducible builds. If reproducibility is critical for your canister (e.g., it holds other users' funds), test it. Reprotest is a useful tool for this purpose.

  • Ideally, you want to minimize the number of dependencies, as, in order to do a full audit, the user may have to (reproducibly) rebuild all of your dependencies too.

  • Achieving reproducibility is harder over longer time scales, primarily as you need to ensure that a trustworthy source of your dependencies and build tools stays available.

Finally, if your build is reproducible, you can compare the hash of the resulting Wasm code to the hash of the code that is running in a canister, which you retrieve as follows:

dfx canister --network ic info <canister-id>

Beware that this hash might change if the controllers upgrade the canister code.