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The Marlowe platform

When compared to a Turing-complete language, the Marlowe domain-specific language (DSL) provides significantly greater security, certainty, guarantees of termination, and behavior correctness.

The design ensures the following:

  • Contracts are finite. No recursion or loops.
  • Contracts will terminate. Timeout on all actions.
  • Contracts have a defined lifetime.
  • No assets retained on close.
  • Conservation of value.

Developing and modeling Marlowe

Marlowe is modeled on special-purpose financial contract languages popularized in the last decade or so by academics and enterprises such as LexiFi, which provides contract software in the financial sector.

In developing Marlowe, we have adapted these languages to work on blockchain. Marlowe is implemented on the Cardano blockchain, but could equally well be implemented on Ethereum or other blockchain platforms; in this respect, it is "platform agnostic" just like modern programming languages such as Java and C++.

Marlowe has been designed as an industry-scale solution and embodies examples from the ACTUS taxonomy and standard for financial contracts.

Marlowe can interact with real-world data – such as oracles – and the participants in the contract make choices within the contract flow to determine what happens both on- and off- chain, such as in a wallet. Marlowe is blockchain-agnostic: it enables the expression of smart contacts on top of an account-based model, such as Ethereum, and on the extended unspent transaction output (EUTXO) model of Cardano.

The Marlowe Playground online simulation allows you to experiment with, develop, simulate, and analyze Marlowe contracts in your web browser, without having to install any software. Marlowe Runtime is an API with a service behind it that programmers can use to run Marlowe contracts. Marlowe DApps use Marlowe Runtime to interact with and create Marlowe contracts on-chain.

How Marlowe contracts are protected

To make sure that contracts are followed, Marlowe uses a different method to non-blockchain approaches. Commitments and timeouts are central to how Marlowe works in a blockchain context.

All Marlowe constructs that require user participation -- including user deposits and user choices -- are protected by timeouts. The commitment made by a participant to a contract is finite: we can predict when the contract will have nothing left to do -- when it can be closed.

Prospective contract participants can easily understand the lifetime of the contract and when it will terminate before choosing to take part.

The instructions of the contract are adhered to. The participants take part rather than walk away early, preventing money from being locked up in the contract forever.

A contract can ask a participant to make a deposit of some funds, but the contract cannot actually force a participant to make a deposit. Instead, the contract can wait for a period of time for the participant to commit to the contract: when that period of time expires, the contract moves on to follow some alternative instructions. This prevents a participant from being able to stop a contract merely by choosing not to take part.

At this point any unspent funds left in the contract are refunded to participants and the contract stops, or terminates. Any funds put into the contract by a participant can't be locked up forever: at this point the commitment effectively ends.

In Marlowe, a running contract cannot force a deposit or a choice to happen: all it can do is request either a deposit or choice from a participant. In other words, for these actions it cannot "push," but it can "pull." On the other hand, it can make payments automatically, so some aspects of a Marlowe contract can "push" to make some things happen; for example, ensuring that a payment is made to a participant by constructing an appropriate transaction output.

Research based

Marlowe is based on original, peer-reviewed research conducted by the Marlowe team, initially at the University of Kent supported by a research grant from IOG, and latterly as an internal engineering team in the company. The Marlowe team is also working jointly with Wyoming Advanced Blockchain R&D Laboratory (WABL) at the University of Wyoming. If you are interested in working with the Marlowe team, please get in touch.

Our research work is reported in these published papers.

and in this EPrints survey paper.

Further important information

Best practices for Marlowe on Cardano

Marlowe security guide