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Solidity Optimizer Keccak Caching Bug

Posted by Solidity Team on March 23, 2021

Security Alerts

On March 20, 2021, a bug in Solidity's bytecode optimizer was found by differential fuzzing. The bug is fixed with version 0.8.3 released on March 23, 2021. The bug is present in all prior versions of Solidity.

We assigned the bug a severity level of "medium".

Technical Details

Summary: The bytecode optimizer incorrectly re-used previously evaluated Keccak-256 hashes. You are unlikely to be affected if you do not compute Keccak-256 hashes in inline assembly.

Solidity's bytecode optimizer has a step that can compute Keccak-256 hashes, if the contents of the memory, over which the Keccak-256 built-in function is invoked, are known during compilation time. This step also has a mechanism to determine that two Keccak-256 hashes are equal even if the values in memory are not known during compile time. This step had a bug where Keccak-256 hashes of the same memory content, but of different sizes were considered equal. The following is a simple example that illustrates the bug:

contract C {
  function bug() public returns (uint a, uint b) {
    assembly {
      mstore(0, 0)
      // The optimizer computes the value at compile time:
      // 0x290decd9548b62a8d60345a988386fc84ba6bc95484008f6362f93160ef3e563
      a := keccak256(0, 32)
      // The optimizer incorrectly uses the cached value
      // and transforms the next line to
      // b := 0x290decd9548b62a8d60345a988386fc84ba6bc95484008f6362f93160ef3e563
      // instead of
      // b := 0xe2b9f9f9430b05bfa9a3abd3bac9a181434d23a707ef1cde8bd25d30203538d8
      b := keccak256(0, 23)

In the above example, both the Keccak-256 hashes can be computed at compile time. Here are two other cases where the hashes cannot be computed at compile time, yet the optimizer considered them equal and thus modified the semantics:

contract C {
  function bug(string memory s) public returns (bool ret) {
    assembly {
      let a := keccak256(s, 32)
      let b := keccak256(s, 8)
      // Here `a` and `b` were considered equal,
      // leading to `ret` being incorrectly set to true.
      ret := eq(a, b)
contract C {
  function bug() public view returns (bool ret) {
    assembly {
      let x := calldataload(0)
      mstore(0, x)
      mstore(0x20, x)
      let a := keccak256(0, 4)
      // even though the memory location is different,
      // the 32-byte content is the same.
      let b := keccak256(0x20, 8)
      // Here `a` and `b` were considered equal,
      // leading to `ret` being incorrectly set to true.
      ret := eq(a, b)

Specifically, keccak256(mpos1, length1) and keccak256(mpos2, length2) in some cases were considered equal if length1 and length2, when rounded up to nearest multiple of 32 were the same, and when the memory contents at mpos1 and mpos2 can be deduced to be equal.

You may be affected if you compute multiple Keccak-256 hashes of the same content, but with different lengths inside inline assembly, and enabled the optimizer.

Unaffected Cases

You are unaffected if your code:

  • uses keccak256 with a length that is not known at compile time,
  • only uses keccak256 with a length that is always a multiple of 32. In particular, for storage slot computation, the Solidity compiler always computes Keccak-256 hash over memory regions whose lengths and offsets are multiples of 32,
  • contains pairs of keccak256 hashes that are separated by certain instructions such as:
    • an instruction that breaks the control flow, e.g., jumpi, jump etc. In high level code, this would be function calls, if statements, loops, etc,
    • an instruction that writes to memory other than a very simple mstore, e.g., call, returndatacopy, etc.

Note that, apart from the builtin function keccak256, the compiler internally generates code that makes use of the Keccak-256 hash. For example,

  • in certain indexed event arguments,
  • in the function abi.encodeWithSignature,
  • when using string or bytes as keys in mappings,
  • when accessing the data location of mapping and array types.


Most usages of keccak256 fall under one of the unaffected cases mentioned in the previous section. In particular, this can only affect pairs of keccak256 opcodes without an intermediate jump or an external call, which makes the likelyhood of the bug being present in existing code very low. This is also be validated by the fact that the bug has been present in the optimizer for so long without being detected. Therefore, we assigned the bug a "medium" severity level.


The bug was discovered by differentially testing the current code-generation and the upcoming Yul based code-generation with fuzzer generated input. Essentially, the example in solidity#11131 produced different results, when compiled using different code-generation paths; this is because the bytecode optimizer, in which the bug was present, is only activated in the old code-generation, and the Yul based codegen currently only uses the Yul-optimizer that does not contain this bug.

This bug discovery is part of ongoing fuzzing related work. You can read more about Solidity's approach to fuzzing in this introductory blog post.

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