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Awala Abstract Message Format, Version 1

  • Id: RS-001.
  • Status: Working draft.
  • Type: Implementation.
  • Issue tracking label: spec-ramf.


This document defines version 1 of the Awala Abstract Message Format (RAMF for historic reasons), a binary format used to serialize Awala channel messages. RAMF uses the ASN.1 Distinguished Encoding Rules (DER) and the Cryptographic Message Syntax. It also defines a series of requirements for recipients and intermediaries processing such messages.

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Format
  3. Post-Deserialization Validation
  4. Security Considerations
  5. Reserved Concrete Message Types


Messages exchanged within an endpoint or gateway channel require metadata attached to their payload so that gateways and couriers processing such messages can verify the validity of the message and then deliver the verified message to the next node on the route.

Every endpoint and gateway channel message is serialized as a RAMF message, which encapsulates the payload along with relevant metadata to be used for routing, authentication and authorization purposes. The message payload and metadata, collectively known as the message fields, are serialized as an ASN.1 DER value.

A RAMF message begins with a sequence of octets, collectively known as the format signature, which specify the type of the message (e.g., a parcel) and its format version (e.g., version 1). The format signature is followed by a DER-encoded CMS Signed-data value that encapsulates the message fields and the digital signature (including the Awala PKI certificate of the sender).

By specifying the message type and version in the format signature, future RAMF versions could use different serialization formats, including formats incompatible with ASN.1.


The format signature MUST span the first 10 octets of the message, representing the following sequence (encoded in little-endian):

  1. Prefix (5 octets): “Awala” in ASCII (hex: 41 77 61 6C 61).
  2. Concrete message type (1 octet).
  3. Concrete message format version (1 octet). This MUST be an 8-bit unsigned integer.

The format signature MUST be followed by a DER-encoded CMS signed-data value where:

  • digestAlgorithms, the collection of message digest algorithm identifiers, MUST contain exactly one OID and it MUST correspond to a valid algorithm per RS-018.
  • encapContentInfo, the signed content, MUST include signed ciphertext – In this case, the message fields.
  • certificates MUST contain the sender’s certificate and it SHOULD also include the rest of the certificates in the chain. All certificates MUST comply with the Awala PKI.
  • crls MUST be empty, since certificate revocation is part of the Awala PKI.
  • signerInfos MUST contain exactly one signer (SignerInfo), and whose signatureAlgorithm MUST be valid per RS-018.

The message fields MUST be represented as the DER serialization of the ASN.1 RAMFMessage type below:

  RAMFMessage ::= SEQUENCE
     recipient          RAMFRecipient,
     messageId          VisibleString (SIZE(0..63)),
     creationTimeUtc    DATE-TIME,
     ttl                INTEGER (0..15552000),
     payload            OCTET STRING (SIZE(0..8388608))

  RAMFRecipient ::= SEQUENCE
     id                 VisibleString (SIZE(0..127)),
     internetAddress    VisibleString (SIZE(0..127)) OPTIONAL

Where the items in the RAMFMessage sequence are defined as follows:

  • recipient MUST contain the addressing information for the recipient. Its internetAddress MUST be specified when the message is bound for the Internet.
  • messageId MUST be the unique identifier assigned to this message by its sender. It MUST NOT span more than 256 octets.
  • creationTimeUtc MUST be the creation date of the message (in UTC).
  • ttl MUST represent the time-to-live of the message – That is, the number of seconds since creationTimeUtc during which the message is regarded valid. It MUST NOT be less than zero or greater than 15552000 (180 days).
  • payload MUST be the service data unit (SDU) encapsulated in a DER-encoded Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS) value. If the payload requires encryption, it MUST be encapsulated in a CMS Enveloped-Data value; otherwise, it MUST be encapsulated in a CMS Data-Content value. The absence of the payload MUST be represented as an empty sequence of octets.

    If the payload is encrypted, its Enveloped-Data value MUST have exactly one recipient (RecipientInfo). The encryption key SHOULD be generated with the Awala Channel Session Protocol – Alternatively, the key MAY be that of the target node’s certificate, in which case the CMS value MUST be serialized with the KeyTransRecipientInfo choice.

    This field MUST NOT span more than 8 MiB (8388608 octets). For this reason, implementations SHOULD enforce a lower limit on the SDU depending on how it is to be encapsulated: Any SDU to be encrypted SHOULD be at least 65 KiB below the limit (up to 8322048 octets), and any SDU to be encapsulated as-is SHOULD be at least 1 KiB below the limit (up to 8387584 octets).

A RAMF message MUST NOT span more than 8396800 octets. This allows for the largest possible payload (8 MiB), and up to 8 KiB to serialize the remaining RAMF fields and the CMS signed-data value.

Concrete RAMF formats MAY require lower limits for the payload and overall size of its messages.

Post-Deserialization Validation

Recipients and brokers of a RAMF message MUST validate the message as soon as it is received, before any further processing or relay. The message MUST be refused when any of the conditions below is not met:

  • The message date MUST NOT be in the future.
  • The message TTL MUST NOT resolve to a date in the past.
  • The message date MUST be within the period of time during which the sender certificate was valid.
  • All certificates MUST be valid per Awala PKI.
  • The signature MUST be valid according to the CMS verification process and the specified signature algorithm. Additionally, the signature MUST be deemed invalid if the cryptographic algorithms are not valid per RS-018.
  • If the recipient address is private, the sender’s certificate MUST be issued by the message recipient. That is, the id of the public key in the issuing certificate MUST match the id set as the message recipient. Such sender certificates are known as delivery authorizations in the Awala PKI.

Security Considerations

To avoid replay attacks, the message id SHOULD be persisted until the TTL expires, and until then, reject any incoming message from the same sender and the same id.

Nodes can further protect from replay attacks, amongst other attack vectors, by establishing a secure session with the Awala Key Agreement Protocol.

Note that all cryptographic algorithms MUST comply with RS-018.

Reserved Concrete Message Types

The following concrete types have been reserved by other Awala specifications: