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Upgrading Move Code

The Aptos chain supports code upgrade, which means already deployed Move code can be replaced with newer code. If a code upgrade happens, all consumers of the upgraded code will automatically receive the new code the next time their code is executed.

Code upgrade enables code owners to evolve their contracts or frameworks under a stable, well-known account address, which can than be referenced by other applications, inside or outside the chain.

Code upgrade is based on an upgrade policy which the owner of a package determines. The default policy is (backwards) compatible. That means, only those upgrades are accepted which guarantee that no existing public APIs (including transactions and public functions) and/or existing resource storage is broken by the upgrade. This compatibility checking is technical complete and possible because of Move's strongly typed byte code semantics. However, even a compatible upgrade can have hazardous effects on applications so depending on upgradable code on chain should be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis (see also below discussion of security aspects).

How it works

Code upgrade on the Aptos chain happens on Move package level. A package specifies an upgrade policy in the Move.toml manifest:

name = "MyApp"
version = "0.0.1"
upgrade_policy = "compatible"
Compatibility check

Aptos checks compatibility at the time a Move package is published via a dedicated Aptos framework transaction. This transaction aborts if compatibility is not satisfied as specified.

Upgrade Policies

Currently, two different upgrade policies are supported:

  • compatible: upgrades must be backwards compatible, specifically:
    • For storage, all old struct declarations must be the same in the new code. This ensures that the existing state of storage is correctly interpreted by the new code. However, new struct declarations can be added.
    • For APIs, all public functions must have the same signature as before. New functions can be added.
  • immutable: the code is not upgradable and guaranteed to stay the same forever.

Those policies are ordered regarding strength such that compatible < immutable. The policy of a package on chain can only get stronger, not weaker. Moreover, the policy of all dependencies of a package must be stronger or equal to the policy of the given package. For example, an immutable package cannot refer directly or indirectly to a compatible package. This gives users the guarantee that no unexpected updates happen under the hood. There is one exception to the above rule: framework packages installed at addresses 0x1 to 0xa are exempted from the dependency check. This is necessary so one can define an immutable package based on the standard libraries, which have the compatible policy.

Security considerations for dependencies

As mentioned, even compatible upgrades can lead to hazardous effects for contracts depending on that upgraded code. Those effects can come simply from bugs but can be also be the result of malicious upgrades. For example, an upgraded dependency can suddenly make all functions abort, breaking operation of your contract, or suddenly cost much more gas to execute then before the upgrade. Because you cannot control the upgrade, dependencies to upgradable packages need to be handled with care.

  • The safest dependency is, of course, to an immutable package. This is guaranteed to never change, including its transitive dependencies (modulo the Aptos framework). In order to evolve an immutable package, the owner would have to introduce a new major version, which is practically like an independent new package. Currently, major versioning would have to be expressed by naming (e.g. module feature_v1 and module feature_v2). However, not all package owners like to publish their code as immutable, because this takes away the ability to fix bugs and evolve the code in place.
  • If you have a dependency to a compatible package it is highly recommended that you know and understand the entity publishing the package. The highest level of assurance is that the package is governed by a DAO where no single user can initiate an upgrade, but a vote or similar has to be taken. This is for example the case for the Aptos framework.

Programmatic upgrade

In general, Aptos offers, via the Move module aptos_framework::code, ways to publish code from anywhere in your smart contracts. However, notice that code published in the current transaction cannot be executed before that transaction ends.

The Aptos Framework itself, including all the chain administration logic, is an example for programmatic upgrade. The framework is marked as compatible. Upgrade happens via specific generated governance scripts. For more details, see Aptos Governance.