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Version: 3.4 (unsupported)

A Guide on How to Write Function for ScalarDL

This document sets out some guidelines for writing functions for ScalarDL.

What is a function for ScalarDL ?

A Function (Smart Function) for ScalarDL is a Java program, which extends the predefined base functions such as JacksonBasedFunction class, written for implementing single business logic. A Function mainly manages the data of a ScalarDL application whereas a Contract manages the evidence of the data. Before looking at this, please check Getting Started with ScalarDL and How to Write Contract For ScalarDL to understand what ScalarDL is and what ScalarDL can do with contracts.


Assets managed by Contracts in ScalarDL are tamper-evident and append-only, so their data structure is limited in modeling various applications. Moreover, assets cannot be deleted to guarantee tamper evidence. Many distributed ledger platforms deal with the issue by having another database, such as an RDBMS, in front of a ledger to handle the application's data in the database and write logs to the ledger as evidence. However, this scheme is not ideal since data consistency between the database and the ledger is not always preserved. There could be a case where applications don't have corresponding logs in the ledger due to a catastrophic failure, which defeats the purpose of writing logs to the ledger as evidence. ScalarDL resolves the issue with a different approach by introducing Functions to manage applications' data and making Contracts and Functions execute atomically by utilizing underlying distributed ACID transactions with ScalarDB.

Write a Function

Let's take a closer look at Payment Function to better understand how to write a function.

public class Payment extends JacksonBasedFunction {
private final String FROM_KEY_NAME = "from";
private final String TO_KEY_NAME = "to";
private final String AMOUNT_KEY_NAME = "amount";
private final String NAMESPACE_KEY_NAME = "namespace";
private final String TABLE_KEY_NAME = "table";

public JsonNode invoke(
Database<Get, Scan, Put, Delete, Result> database,
@Nullable JsonNode functionArgument,
JsonNode contractArgument,
@Nullable JsonNode contractProperties) {
// error handling is omitted
String fromId = contractArgument.get(FROM_KEY_NAME).asText();
String toId = contractArgument.get(TO_KEY_NAME).asText();
int amount = contractArgument.get(AMOUNT_KEY_NAME).asInt();
String namespace = contractProperties.get(NAMESPACE_KEY_NAME).asText();
String table = contractProperties.get(TABLE_KEY_NAME).asText();

Key fromKey = Key.ofText("id", fromId);
Key toKey = Key.ofText("id", toId);

// get the account balances
Optional<Result> account1 =
Optional<Result> account2 =

// assumes that both accounts exist, but it should be checked in production code
long balance1 = account1.get().getInt("balance");
long balance2 = account2.get().getInt("balance");

if (balance1 - amount < 0) {
throw new ContractContextException(
"The account " + fromId + " does not have enough account balance.");

// transfer amount
balance1 -= amount;
balance2 += amount;

// update the account balances
.bigIntValue("balance", balance1)
.bigIntValue("balance", balance2)

return null;

It is a money transfer application written with ScalarDB API, where getting specified account balances, transferring a specified amount of money between the two account balances, and updating the balances. Please also read the ScalarDB docs for more details about ScalarDB API.

Base Functions

Similar to predefined base Contracts, ScalarDL also provides predefined base Functions. For example, the above PaymentFunction is based on one of the base Functions called JacksonBasedFunction, which allows you to deal with the Function inputs and output in Jackson's JsonNode format.

As of writing this, we provide four base Functions as shown below; however, using JacksonBasedFunction is recommended to balance development productivity and performance well.

Base Function ClassType of Function inputs and outputLibrary
JacksonBasedFunction (recommended)JsonNodeJackson
StringBasedFunctionStringJava Standard Libraries
Function (deprecated)JsonObjectJSONP

The old Function is still available, but it is now deprecated and will be removed in a later major version. So, it is highly recommended to use the above new (non-deprecated) Functions as a base Function.

About the invoke arguments

Similar to a Contract using Ledger object to manage assets, a Function uses Database object to manage records of the underlying database. Note that Database implements ScalarDB interface so that you can do the CRUD operations base on the data model of ScalarDB.

A functionArgument is a runtime argument for the Function specified by the requester. The argument is not digitally signed as opposed to the contract argument so that it can be used to pass data that is stored in the database but it might be deleted at some later point for some reason.

contractArgument and contractProperties are the corresponding contract's argument and properties. See How to Write a Contract to understand what they are.

Receive information from Contracts

In non-deprecated Functions like JacksonBasedFunction, you can receive some information from Contracts by calling T getContractContext(). Note that the return value can be null if Contracts has nothing set and the base Function class that you use will decide the return value type T. For details on how to send information to Functions from Contracts, see Send information to Functions.

JsonNode context = getContractContext();

How to use Functions

The Function feature is enabled by default; thus, nothing needs to be configured in Ledger except for the following things. If you want to disable the feature, please set scalar.dl.ledger.function.enabled to false in the properties of Ledger.

Add an application-specific schema

Since Functions can read and write arbitrary records through the ScalarDB CRUD interface, ScalarDL can't define the database schema for the Function by itself. It is the applications' owner's responsibility to define such schema and apply it to the database by themselves or asking system admins to do it depending on who owns and manages the database. For more details about defining database schema for ScalarDB, please read ScalarDB Schema Loader.

Register a Function

You then need to register a Function to Ledger before used like you register a Contract.

client/bin/register-function --properties --function-id test-function --function-binary-name com.example.function.TestFunction --function-class-file /path/to/TestFunction.class

Execute a Function

You can specify a Function to execute along with a Contract to execute. For example, you can execute a function as follows with the command-line tool.

client/bin/execute-contract --properties --contract-id test-contract --contract-argument '{...}' --function-id test-function --function-argument '{...}'

You can also do it with the ClientService as follows.

ContractExecutionResult result = clientService.executeContract(contractId, contractArgument, functionId, functionArgument);

Like a Contract, a Function can invoke another Function so multiple Functions (and multiple Contracts) can be grouped together. ScalarDL executes a group of Contracts and Functions in an ACID manner so that they can be done atomically and in a consistent, isolated, and durable manner.

How to use Contracts and Functions properly

Contracts and Functions should be properly used to make the scheme meaningful. As a basic principle, Contracts should be used to manage data that requires tamper-evidence, and Functions should be used to manage data that can be updated or deleted or that needs a more flexible data model. As a good practice, Functions are used to manage applications' data and Contracts are used to manage the logs of applications' execution as evidence. For example in a payment application, a Function manages the account balances of users and a Contract manages the evidence of payment between the users.