Cannon Fault Proof Virtual Machine

Table of Contents


This is a description of the Cannon Fault Proof Virtual Machine (FPVM). The Cannon FPVM emulates a minimal Linux-based system running on big-endian 32-bit MIPS32 architecture. A lot of its behaviors are copied from Linux/MIPS with a few tweaks made for fault proofs. For the rest of this doc, we refer to the Cannon FPVM as simply the FPVM.

Operationally, the FPVM is a state transition function. This state transition is referred to as a Step, that executes a single instruction. We say the VM is a function , given an input state , steps on a single instruction encoded in the state to produce a new state .

Thus, the trace of a program executed by the FPVM is an ordered set of VM states.


The virtual machine state highlights the effects of running a Fault Proof Program on the VM. It consists of the following fields:

  1. memRoot - A bytes32 value representing the merkle root of VM memory.
  2. preimageKey - bytes32 value of the last requested pre-image key.
  3. preimageOffset - The 32-bit value of the last requested pre-image offset.
  4. pc - 32-bit program counter.
  5. nextPC - 32-bit next program counter. Note that this value may not always be when executing a branch/jump delay slot.
  6. lo - 32-bit MIPS LO special register.
  7. hi - 32-bit MIPS HI special register.
  8. heap - 32-bit base address of the most recent memory allocation via mmap.
  9. exitCode - 8-bit exit code.
  10. exited - 8-bit indicator that the VM has exited.
  11. step - 8-byte step counter.
  12. registers - General-purpose MIPS32 registers. Each register is a 32-bit value.

The state is represented by packing the above fields, in order, into a 226-byte buffer.

State Hash

The state hash is computed by hashing the 226-byte state buffer with the Keccak256 hash function and then setting the high-order byte to the respective VM status.

The VM status can be derived from the state's exited and exitCode fields.

enum VmStatus {
    Valid = 0,
    Invalid = 1,
    Panic = 2,
    Unfinished = 3,

fn vm_status(exit_code: u8, exited: bool) -> u8 {
    if exited {
        match exit_code {
            0 => VmStatus::Valid,
            1 => VmStatus::Invalid,
            _ => VmStatus::Panic,
    } else {


Memory is represented as a binary merkle tree. The tree has a fixed-depth of 27 levels, with leaf values of 32 bytes each. This spans the full 32-bit address space, where each leaf contains the memory at that part of the tree. The state memRoot represents the merkle root of the tree, reflecting the effects of memory writes. As a result of this memory representation, all memory operations are 4-byte aligned. Memory access doesn't require any privileges. An instruction step can access any memory location as the entire address space is unprotected.


FPVM state contains a heap that tracks the base address of the most recent memory allocation. Heap pages are bump allocated at the page boundary, per mmap syscall. mmap-ing is purely to satisfy program runtimes that need the memory-pointer result of the syscall to locate free memory. The page size is 4096.

The FPVM has a fixed program break at 0x40000000. However, the FPVM is permitted to extend the heap beyond this limit via mmap syscalls. For simplicity, there are no memory protections against "heap overruns" against other memory segments. Such VM steps are still considered valid state transitions.

Specification of memory mappings is outside the scope of this document as it is irrelevant to the VM state. FPVM implementers may refer to the Linux/MIPS kernel for inspiration.

Delay Slots

The post-state of a step updates the nextPC, indicating the instruction following the pc. However, in the case of where a branch instruction is being stepped, the nextPC post-state is set to the branch target. And the pc post-state set to the branch delay slot as usual.

A VM state transition is invalid whenever the current instruction is a delay slot that is filled with jump or branch type instruction. That is, where while stepping on a jump/branch instruction. Otherwise, there would be two consecutive delay slots. While this is considered "undefined" behavior in typical MIPS implementations, FPVM must raise an exception when stepping on such states.


Syscalls work similar to Linux/MIPS, including the syscall calling conventions and general syscall handling behavior. However, the FPVM supports a subset of Linux/MIPS syscalls with slightly different behaviors. The following table list summarizes the supported syscalls and their behaviors.

$v0system call$a0$a1$a2Effect
4090mmapuint32 addruint32 len🚫Allocates a page from the heap. See heap for details.
4045brk🚫🚫🚫Returns a fixed address for the program break at 0x40000000
4120clone🚫🚫🚫Returns 1
4246exit_groupuint8 exit_code🚫🚫Sets the Exited and ExitCode states to true and $a0 respectively.
4003readuint32 fdchar *bufuint32 countSimilar behavior as Linux/MIPS with support for unaligned reads. See I/O for more details.
4004writeuint32 fdchar *bufuint32 countSimilar behavior as Linux/MIPS with support for unaligned writes. See I/O for more details.
4055fcntluint32 fdint32 cmd🚫Similar behavior as Linux/MIPS. Only the F_GETFL (3) cmd is supported. Sets errno to 0x16 for all other commands

For all of the above syscalls, an error is indicated by setting the return register ($v0) to 0xFFFFFFFF (-1) and errno ($a3) is set accordingly. The VM must not modify any register other than $v0 and $a3 during syscall handling. For unsupported syscalls, the VM must do nothing except to zero out the syscall return ($v0) and errno ($a3) registers.

Note that the above syscalls have identical syscall numbers and ABIs as Linux/MIPS.


The VM does not support Linux open(2). However, the VM can read from and write to a predefined set of file descriptors.

NameFile descriptorDescription
stdin0read-only standard input stream.
stdout1write-only standard output stream.
stderr2write-only standard error stream.
hint response3read-only. Used to read the status of pre-image hinting.
hint request4write-only. Used to provide pre-image hints
pre-image response5read-only. Used to read pre-images.
pre-image request6write-only. Used to request pre-images.

Syscalls referencing unknown file descriptors fail with an EBADF errno as done on Linux.

Writing to and reading from standard output, input and error streams have no effect on the FPVM state. FPVM implementations may use them for debugging purposes as long as I/O is stateless.

All I/O operations are restricted to a maximum of 4 bytes per operation. Any read or write syscall request exceeding this limit will be truncated to 4 bytes. Consequently, the return value of read/write syscalls is at most 4, indicating the actual number of bytes read/written.

Standard Streams

Writing to stderr/stdout standard stream always succeeds with the write count input returned, effectively continuing execution without writing work. Reading from stdin has no effect other than to return zero and errno set to 0, signalling that there is no input.

Hint Communication

Hint requests and responses have no effect on the VM state other than setting the $v0 return register to the requested read/write count. VM implementations may utilize hints to setup subsequent pre-image requests.

Pre-image Communication

The preimageKey and preimageOffset state are updated via read/write syscalls to the pre-image read and write file descriptors (see I/O). The preimageKey buffers the stream of bytes written to the pre-image write fd. The preimageKey buffer is shifted to accommodate new bytes written to the end of it. A write also resets the preimageOffset to 0, indicating the intent to read a new pre-image.

When handling pre-image reads, the preimageKey is used to lookup the pre-image data from an Oracle. A max 4-byte chunk of the pre-image at the preimageOffset is read to the specified address. Each read operation increases the preimageOffset by the number of bytes requested (truncated to 4 bytes and subject to alignment constraints).

Pre-image I/O Alignment

As mentioned earlier in memory, all memory operations are 4-byte aligned. Since pre-image I/O occurs on memory, all pre-image I/O operations must strictly adhere to alignment boundaries. This means the start and end of a read/write operation must fall within the same alignment boundary. If an operation were to violate this, the input count of the read/write syscall must be truncated such that the effective address of the last byte read/written matches the input effective address.

The VM must read/write the maximum amount of bytes possible without crossing the input address alignment boundary. For example, the effect of a write request for a 3-byte aligned buffer must be exactly 3 bytes. If the buffer is misaligned, then the VM may write less than 3 bytes depending on the size of the misalignment.


The FPVM may raise an exception rather than output a post-state to signal an invalid state transition. Nominally, the FPVM must raise an exception in at least the following cases:

  • Invalid instruction (either via an invalid opcode or an instruction referencing registers outside the general purpose registers).
  • Pre-image read at an offset larger than the size of the pre-image.
  • Delay slot contains branch/jump instruction types.

VM implementations may raise an exception in other cases that is specific to the implementation. For example, an on-chain FPVM that relies on pre-supplied merkle proofs for memory access may raise an exception if the supplied merkle proof does not match the pre-state memRoot.