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To interact with a

methods, there are two primary types of calls that can be used: update calls and query calls.

Canisters implement methods that can be called via update or query calls. A query method can be called as both an update and a query, whereas update methods can be called only as an update.

Update calls can make modifications to a canister's state, while query calls cannot.

Update vs Query

Update calls

Update calls are executed on all nodes of a subnet since the result must go through consensus. This makes them slower compared to query calls. They are submitted and answered asynchronously.

Example update call

actor countCharacters {
public func test(text : Text) : async Bool {
let size = Text.size(text);
return size % 2 == 0;

Query calls

Query calls, also referred to as non-replicated queries, are executed on a single node and return a synchronous response. Since they execute on a single node, they do not go through consensus and can be much faster than update calls.

The downside of query calls is that the response is not trusted since it's coming from a single node. An update call or a certified query (see below) should be used for security-critical calls.

Example query call

actor Echo {

public query func say(phrase : Text) : async Text {
return phrase;

Comparison of update calls vs query calls

Update callsQuery Calls
Slow (1-2s)Fast (200-400ms)
Can modify stateCan't modify state
Goes through consensusDoes not go through consensus
Asynchronous responseSynchronous response
Executed on all nodes of a subnetExecuted on a single node

ICP message executions

Calls to canisters can be initiated by end users or other canisters. A call is processed by the canister in one or more message executions. A message execution is a set of consecutive instructions that ICP executes on behalf of the canister.

Typically, a call is processed within a single message execution unless there are calls to other canisters involved, in which case the call will be split across several message executions.

Learn more about the properties of ICP message executions.

Other types of calls

Composite queries

Composite queries are query calls that can call other queries (on the same subnet). They can only be invoked by end users, and not by other canisters.

Certified queries

Certified queries use certified variables to prove the authenticity of a piece of data that comes along with the query's response. Certified variables can be set via an update call and can then be read via a query call.

Replicated queries

Replicated queries, also referred to as the "query-as-update" execution model, are query calls executed as updates. The query still discards the state changes, but execution happens on all subnet nodes and the results go through consensus.

Inter-canister calls

Inter-canister calls are used to make calls between different canisters. An inter-canister call involves two messages: a request from the caller to the callee along with a response that the callee will return to the caller.

Making calls with IDLs

On the protocol level, calls on ICP use blobs to describe arguments and results passed to and returned from canisters. It's typically easier to use an Interface description language (IDL) to define a canister's interfaces that can be called by end users or other canisters.

While any IDL can be used for this purpose, most canisters on ICP use Candid, a specialized IDL that is developed for ICP and makes use of some of the unique features and properties of ICP.