Shielded Transactions

Transparent Transactions are relatively easy to understand and implement but they have a significant issue:

The blockchain contains all the Transactions in clear. It is possible to follow any address and analyze its history.

Privacy coins, such as Zcash, aim to prevent blockchain analysis by hiding addresses and amounts.

But, how can they do it while keeping the consistency rules of transparent transactions?

First, transaction outputs are encrypted with a key that only the recipient (and the sender) knows. However, once the output is encrypted, no one else can read the output. The address and the amounts are perfectly hidden but now validators have no obvious mechanism for verifying that the transaction is right.


So, in place of the transaction outputs, we have note commitments.

A note commitment is a hash of the address and the value of the note1.

This hash has two very important properties:

  • it hides the address and the value of the note. Knowing the hash gives no information about the note itself;
  • it commits to the note. The hash function is designed so that it is practically impossible with our technology to find another note that has the same hash.


Then, in place of the transaction inputs, we have note nullifiers.

These are also hashes but calculated from the note commitment and a secret key only known by the sender.


Commitments and Nullifiers are different for the same note! It is actually extremely unlikely we will ever see a commitment equal to a nullifier. Even so, it would not mean that they are coming from the same note.

Validation Process

If the sender is honest, a transaction can be verified by running the following algorithm2:

  • Check that the nullifier was not used previously
  • Check the signatures on the inputs

That's it! Validators can no longer verify that the transaction has less output value that input value, nor that the output address is well-formed, because inputs and outputs are now hashes, and hashes perfectly hide all the properties of the note.

Validators can only check that the inputs are unspent, because there is just one nullifier for a given note. If the sender uses the same note twice, they would use the same nullifier twice too.

Now, validators can check that the transaction is not double spending but they do not know what output was spent.

However, obviously we cannot build a cryptocurrency based on the honest behavior of every participants.

In the next section, we will see how Zcash makes sure that participants MUST behave properly.



  1. Other elements are included in the hash that make it unique even if the address and amount are the same between two notes. We'll not discuss these because they are not fundamental at our level of understanding. ↩

  2. Some details are omitted for simplicity. ↩