Getting Started with Characters

A Note about Side Channels

The NuCypher network does not store or handle an application’s data; instead - it manages access to application data. Management of encrypted secrets and public keys tends to be highly domain-specific - the surrounding architecture will vary greatly depending on the throughput, sensitivity, and sharing cadence of application secrets.

In all cases, NuCypher must be integrated with a storage and transport layer in order to function properly. Along with the transport of ciphertexts, a nucypher application also needs to include channels for Alice and Bob to discover each other’s public keys, and provide policy encrypting information to Bob and Enrico.

The Application Side Channel

  • Secrets:

    • Message Kits - Encrypted Messages, or “Ciphertexts”

  • Identities:

    • Alice Verifying Key - Public key used for verifying Alice

    • Bob Encrypting Key - Public key used to encrypt for Bob

    • Bob Verifying Key - Public key used to verify Bob

  • Policies:

    • Policy Encrypting Key - Public key used to encrypt messages for a Policy.

    • Labels - A label for specifying a Policy’s target, like a filepath

Choosing an Ethereum Provider

Operation of a decentralized NuCypher character [Alice, Bob, Ursula] requires a connection to an Ethereum node and wallet to interact with smart contracts.

For general background information about choosing a node technology and node operation, see

Ursula: Untrusted Re-Encryption Proxies

When initializing an Alice, Bob, or Ursula, an initial “Stranger-Ursula” is needed to perform the role of a Teacher, or “seednode”:

from nucypher.characters.lawful import Ursula

seed_uri = "<SEEDNODE URI>:9151"
seed_uri2 = "<OTHER SEEDNODE URI>:9151"

ursula = Ursula.from_seed_and_stake_info(seed_uri=seed_uri)
another_ursula = Ursula.from_seed_and_stake_info(seed_uri=seed_uri2)


While any nucypher worker node can be used to seed your peers, NuCypher maintains workers that can be used as seed nodes:

  • mainnet:

  • lynx:

  • ibex:

seed_uri = ''
ursula = Ursula.from_seed_and_stake_info(seed_uri=seed_uri)

Stranger Ursulas can be created by invoking the from_seed_and_stake_info method, then a list of known_nodes can be passed into any Character’s init. The known_nodes will inform your character of all of the nodes they know about network-wide, then kick-off the automated node-discovery loop:

from nucypher.characters.lawful import Alice
alice = Alice(known_nodes=[ursula, another_ursula], ...)

For information on how to run a staking Ursula node via CLI, see Running a Worker.

Alice: Grant Access to a Secret

Setup Alice Keys

Alice uses an ethereum wallet to create publish access control policies to the ethereum blockchain, and a set of related keys called a “nucypher keyring”.

First, instantiate a Signer to use for signing transactions. This is an API for Alice’s ethereum wallet, which can be an keystore file, trezor, ethereum node, or clef. The signer type and address are specified using a signer_uri:

  • Trezor Hardware Wallet: 'trezor'

  • Keystore directory or keyfile: 'keystore://<ABSOLUTE PATH TO KEYSTORE>'

  • Local geth node: 'web3://<ABSOLUTE PATH TO IPC ENDPOINT>'

  • Clef external signer: 'clef'

Here are some examples of usage:

from nucypher.blockchain.eth.signers import Signer
wallet = Signer.from_signer_uri('<YOUR SIGNER URI>')

# Trezor Wallet
trezor = Signer.from_signer_uri('trezor')

# Local Geth Wallet
geth_signer = Signer.from_signer_uri('web3:///home/user/.ethereum/geth.ipc')

# Keyfile Wallet
software_wallet = Signer.from_signer_uri('keystore:///home/user/.ethereum/keystore/<KEY FILENAME>')

If you are using a software wallet, be sure to unlock it:

# Unlocking a software wallet
>>> software_wallet.unlock_account(account='0x287A817426DD1AE78ea23e9918e2273b6733a43D', password=<ETH_PASSWORD>)

Next, create a NuCypher Keyring. This step will generate a new set of related private keys used for nucypher cryptography operations, which can be integrated into your application’s user on-boarding or setup logic. These keys will be stored on the disk, encrypted-at-rest using the supplied password. Use the same account as the signer; Keyrings are labeled and associated with ethereum accounts, so be sure to specify an account you control with a Signer.

from nucypher.config.keyring import NucypherKeyring

keyring = NucypherKeyring.generate(
    password=NEW_PASSWORD  # used to encrypt nucypher private keys

# The keyring identifier
>>> keyring.checksum_address

# Be sure to use an address controlled by your signer!
>>> keyring.checksum_address in signer.accounts

# The root directory containing the private keys
>>> keyring.keyring_root

After generating a keyring, any future usage can decrypt the keys from the disk:

from nucypher.config.keyring import NucypherKeyring

# Restore an existing Alice keyring
keyring = NucypherKeyring(account='0x287A817426DD1AE78ea23e9918e2273b6733a43D')

# Unlock Alice's keyring
from nucypher.characters.lawful import Alice, Ursula

# Instantiate a default peer (optional)
ursula = Ursula.from_seed_and_stake_info(seed_uri='')

# Instantiate Alice
alice = Alice(
    keyring=keyring,              # NuCypher Keyring
    known_nodes=[ursula],         # Peers (Optional)
    signer=signer,                # Alice Wallet
    provider_uri=<RPC ENDPOINT>,  # Ethereum RPC endpoint
    domain='lynx'                 # NuCypher network (mainnet, lynx, ibex)

# Alice is identified by her ethereum address

# Start node discovery

Alice needs to know Bob’s public keys in order to grant him access. Alice’s are expected to acquiring Bob’s public keys through the application side channel. Umbral public keys used in NuCypher’s proxy re-encryption can be restored from hex for API usage:

from umbral.keys import UmbralPublicKey

verifying_key = UmbralPublicKey.from_hex(verifying_key_as_hex),
encrypting_key = UmbralPublicKey.from_hex(encryption_key_as_hex)


Alice can grant access to Bob using his public keys:

from umbral.keys import UmbralPublicKey
from nucypher.characters.lawful import Bob
from datetime import timedelta
from web3 import Web3
import maya

# Deserialize bob's public keys from the application side-channel
verifying_key = UmbralPublicKey.from_hex(verifying_key_as_hex),
encrypting_key = UmbralPublicKey.from_hex(encryption_key_as_hex)

# Make a representation of Bob
bob = Bob.from_public_keys(verifying_key=bob_verifying_key,  encrypting_key=bob_encrypting_key)

policy = alice.grant(
    label=b'my-secret-stuff',   # Send to Bob via side channel
    m=2,                        # Threshold shares for access
    n=3,                        # Total nodes with shares
    rate=Web3.toWei(50, 'gwei'),  # 50 Gwei is the minimum rate (per node per period)
    expiration= + timedelta(days=5)  # Five days from now

# The policy's public key
policy_encrypting_key = policy.public_key

Putting it all together, here’s an example starter script for granting access using a software wallet and an existing keyring:

from nucypher.blockchain.eth.signers import Signer
from nucypher.config.keyring import NucypherKeyring
from nucypher.characters.lawful import Alice, Bob
from umbral.keys import UmbralPublicKey
from datetime import timedelta
from web3 import Web3
import maya

# Restore Existing NuCypher Keyring
keyring = NucypherKeyring(account='0x287A817426DD1AE78ea23e9918e2273b6733a43D')
keyring.unlock('KEYRING PASSWORD')

# Ethereum Software Wallet
wallet = Signer.from_signer_uri("keystore:///home/user/.ethereum/goerli/keystore/UTC--2021...0278ad02...')
wallet.unlock_account('0x287A817426DD1AE78ea23e9918e2273b6733a43D', 'SOFTWARE WALLET PASSWORD')

# Make Alice
alice = Alice(
    domain='lynx',  # testnet
    provider_uri='GOERLI RPC ENDPOINT',

# From Public Key Side Channel
verifying_key = UmbralPublicKey.from_hex('0278ad02da8083aea357a8ed675dcc0b6e9c78557c506ea10b102b4b282c006b12')
encrypting_key = UmbralPublicKey.from_hex('03ec6b4e1f2b7d06ac544dde86730f9a4047e80a0a4d3c1566e88afe4bb449bdd9')

# Make Stranger-Bob
bob = Bob.from_public_keys(verifying_key=verifying_key, encrypting_key=encrypting_key)

# Grant Bob Access
policy = alice.grant(
    label=b'my-secret-stuff',     # Send to Bob via side channel
    m=2,                          # Threshold shares for access
    n=3,                          # Total nodes with shares
    rate=Web3.toWei(50, 'gwei'),  # 50 Gwei is the minimum rate (per node per period)
    expiration= + timedelta(days=5)  # Five days from now

Enrico: Encrypt a Secret

First, a policy_encrypting_key must be retrieved from the application side channel, then to encrypt a secret using Enrico:


from nucypher.characters.lawful import Enrico

enrico = Enrico(policy_encrypting_key=policy_encrypting_key)
ciphertext, signature = enrico.encrypt_message(plaintext=b'Peace at dawn.')

The ciphertext can then be sent to Bob via the application side channel.

Note that Alice can get the public key even before creating the policy. From this moment on, any Data Source (Enrico) that knows the public key can encrypt data originally intended for Alice, but can be shared with any Bob that Alice grants access.

policy_pubkey = alice.get_policy_encrypting_key_from_label(label)

Bob: Decrypt a Secret

For Bob to retrieve a secret, the ciphertext, label, policy encrypting key, and Alice’s verifying key must all be fetched from the application side channel. Then, Bob constructs his perspective of the policy’s network actors:

Setup Bob

Bob’s setup is similar to Alice’s above.

from nucypher.characters.lawful import Alice, Bob, Enrico, Ursula

# Application Side-Channel
# --------------------------
# label = <Side Channel>
# ciphertext = <Side Channel>
# policy_encrypting_key = <Side Channel>
# alice_verifying_key = <Side Channel>

# Everyone!
ursula = Ursula.from_seed_and_stake_info(seed_uri='')
alice = Alice.from_public_keys(verifying_key=alice_verifying_key)
enrico = Enrico(policy_encrypting_key=policy_encrypting_key)

# Restore Existing Bob keyring
keyring = NucypherKeyring(account='0xC080708026a3A280894365Efd51Bb64521c45147')

# Unlock keyring and make Bob
bob = Bob(

Join a Policy

Next, Bob needs to join the policy using the policy label and alice’s public key. Bob needs to retrieve both of these from the application side channel first.

# Make alice from known public key (from application side channel)
alice = Alice.from_public_keys(verifying_key=alice_verifying_key)

# Use alice's public key and the label to join the access policy
alice_public_key = alice.public_keys(SigningPower)

Retrieve and Decrypt

Then Bob can retrieve and decrypt the ciphertext:

cleartexts = bob.retrieve(