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Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2015 20:35:54 +0200
From: Thomas Pornin <pornin@...et.org>
To: discussions@...sword-hashing.net
Subject: Re: [PHC] Specification of a modular crypt format

On Wed, Sep 16, 2015 at 10:03:22AM +0000, Jean-Philippe Aumasson wrote:
> Krisztián asks two important questions, regarding the encoding flexibility
> and parameters ordering. I don't know what's the usual practice to deal
> with those. Can't parameters be in arbitrary order?

The way my draft specifies things, there is a unique encoding for a
given set of parameters and salt value. This is what I call
"deterministic". Having a deterministic encoding makes parsing a bit
easier, and, maybe more importantly, makes tests easier as well: you
can simply verify that you obtain the expected test vector.

This is not an absolute requirement. Right now, existing formats for,
say, SHA-256 crypt, are not deterministic, since one can omit or include
the '$rounds=5000' parameter. This does not apparently prevent password
verification. In the crypt() API, the returned string is the
concatenation of the salt string, _as it was received_, and the hash
output, which rather cleanly tolerates all variants in parameter
encoding.


IF we want deterministic encoding, then a numerical parameter of value
'1' can only be encoded as '1', not '01' or '001' (or, alternatively,
can be encoded only as '001', not '01' or '1'; or any other convention
as long as there is no choice). Otherwise, determinism is not achieved.
This should answer Krisztián's first question: yes, it is intentional
that '001' be rejected.


Krisztián's second question is about lexicographic order. Still under
the idea that we want a deterministic encoding, then the parameters
cannot appear in arbitrary order; a fixed order must be specified.
However, that order can be specific to each function. In the
specification, I currently defined that lexicographic ordering of
parameter names must be used, but any convention is as good as any
other. If, for aesthetic reasons, it is considered that the normal
parameter ordering for Argon2 is 'm,t,p' and not 'm,p,t', then it is
certainly possible to define the encoding format for Argon2 to use
'm,t,p'.

Defining a systematic rule (lexicographic order) for all hash functions
potentially helps in writing a generic decoder: each function just has
to invoke the decoder with a list of parameters to expect; if the rule
is per function, then the decoder must be invoked with an _ordered_ list
of parameters. This is not substantially harder, so I'd say that letting
each function define the ordering of parameters is possible.


Of course, if we decide that determinism is not needed or not desirable,
then both of these questions become irrelevant. However, accepting
parameters in arbitrary order makes the parser more complex, and we need
a lot many more test vectors to account for the greater number of
possible combinations.


	--Thomas Pornin

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