Star operator's guide
Stars are an identity class that play a specialized role, acting as a combination between a certificate authority, ISP, and software services provider, with a mix of required and voluntary services. There are 65,280 stars, each with a unique, two-syllable
@p name, like
~sampel. A star is a natural business, and keeping your customers happy is your basic responsibility, but it also carries duties to the rest of the network. As a star operator, you should gain familiarity with what your star can do, what is expected of it, and how to perform the tasks associated with its custody.
What do stars do?
Stars distribute planets. Each star is capable of issuing 65,535 unique planets; this is their most important intrinsic ability. You can generate a list of all of the planets that can be issued by a specific star, including those containing English words, or sorted by sigil, and you can spawn any of the unspawned planets belonging to your star.
Operating a star means not only spawning, but also sponsoring planets. Spawning is the act of issuing a planet, and sponsorship is providing network and software services to the planets you spawn. Most importantly, your star delivers updates to the planets it sponsors. It is critical that your star is running and available at all times. In the future, stars will take on more roles as network infrastructure, and take over tasks currently performed by galaxies.
Social Moderation and Reputation
You are also responsible for the ships you sponsor to a degree. If a planet you sponsor is abusive, others may ask you to take corrective action by warning or de-sponsoring the ship in question. Note that this isn't a common occurrence; unilaterally revoking sponsorship should be considered the nuclear option. Right now this is a system of norms and expectations, but you should expect different kinds of reputation frameworks to be developed in the future. As a star, your reputation is particularly important -- nobody wants to be thought of in the same terms as a shady bulk email provider, and others would be disincentivized from doing business with you.
Sponsorship is a two-way street. All networking between ships is voluntary. If you develop a reputation for facilitating abusive planets, others ultimately have the option of ignoring you or the ships you sponsor. Sponsorship requires mutual assent, and either you or a sponsored planet can terminate your relationship without intervention from the other party. Eventually, formal reputation systems may be expected to play a role in this calculus.
While spawning and sponsoring planets, and social moderation make up the primary responsibilities of all star owners, there are additional voluntary actions that star holders can do to provide utility to their children. Services like these are not obligatory, but the planets you spawn and others may find them useful. Services can also be turned into lines of business -- others may be willing to pay for you to take care of the technical work involved in setting up and maintaining additional infrastructure. Examples can be found in the 'Services' section below.
Urbit's operating system, Arvo, is updated on the fly without the need for system restarts or manual intervention -- what is called 'over the air', or OTA updates. New updates are published by galaxies, then passed to the stars beneath that galaxy, where it cascades down to planets and moons. Your star is responsible for delivering updates to all the planets beneath it.
As mentioned, OTAs flow galaxy → star → planet; if you are experiencing issues pushing or receiving updates, you can narrow down the issue by figuring out at which step it is breaking. It is a good idea to sponsor your own personal planet with your star, so that you can passively monitor expected functionality. This only applies to stars that have spawned planets, which should be active on the network.
Under the hood, updates work by syncing file system branches from your sponsor galaxy to your star, and syncing a copy of those branches to your sponsored planets. These branches are called desks -- your star's desks are copied to your planet, and copied from there to its moons. You can check where your desks are syncing from by entering
+vats in the dojo. This will enumerate the desks you subscribe to, their hashes, and the source desks they sync from.
You can change your subscription to another galaxy at the system home screen by navigating to 'System Preferences' > 'System Updates', and entering a
@p in the 'Switch OTA source' field.
When new OTAs are pushed to the network, an email is sent out to the urbit-dev mailing list with release notes and the new base hash. You can be alerted to new updates by subscribing to this list. Under ordinary circumstances, OTAs ought to trickle down to your planet within a small amount of time, almost always within an hour.
How can you tell whether OTAs are being delivered? All ships display a truncated hash value in their system menu -- look for a small box at the bottom with a five-character alphanumeric string. This should match the last five characters of the hash value from the release notes in the email. Alternately, enter
+vats in the dojo to print debug information, including the current base hash and the hashes and sources of your other desks.
If you or another planet are not receiving OTAs from your star, check the planet's and star's base hash. If the star hash differs from the planet's, there is either a connectivity issue between the two, or the update installation is failing on the planet.
Software distribution on Urbit works in the same way as OTA delivery: a ship installs a desk from a remote ship, and subscribes to updates to that desk. Stars are well situated to act as software distribution nodes, since the same things that make them useful for updates are useful for this purpose, and many ships may already be subscribed to them.
As a star, you are a natural Schelling point to provide services for the planets you spawn. The following services are all elective, but act as examples of useful services for your customers and residents. Services might be offered gratis or as a commercial service. Services that run on Urbit ships should be delegated to moons so that they don't slow down the core services your star provides.
Urbit ships with a native app that enables peer-to-peer Bitcoin payments.
%btc-wallet transparently handles the process of exchanging transient BTC addresses to facilitate transactions between
@p's, but this system still requires a relay node to send commands to a Bitcoin full node. Casual pilots may not have the resources or experience to set up a full node on their own, but connecting to an existing service from their provider is an obvious choice.
Once your blockchain is synced and the stack is ready to go, you'll connect the
%btc-provider app to your full node, then whitelist any clients or groups that you want to allow access:
dojo> :btc-provider +bitcoin!btc-provider/command [%add-whitelist %kids ~]dojo> :btc-provider +bitcoin!btc-provider/command [%add-whitelist [%groups groups=(sy ~[[~sampel %group-name]])]]dojo> :btc-provider +bitcoin!btc-provider/command [%add-whitelist [%users users=(sy ~[~wallet-hodler])]]dojo> :btc-provider +bitcoin!btc-provider/command [%add-whitelist %public ~]
Note that running
%btc-provider and a full node on the same machine as your star may prove burdensome, so it may make sense for you to delegate it to another machine, as well as running
%btc-provider on a moon.
Urbit's layer 2 solution, naive rollups, moves the computation involved in modifying the Azimuth PKI off the Ethereum blockchain. Instead, state is calculated by ships on the Urbit network, and condensed batches of modifications are periodically published to the blockchain by 'rollers', saved as data rather than executed as code. This cuts the costs of spawning or modifying points dramatically compared to the layer 1 Azimuth system.
Tlon operates a roller which submits batches once a day, and covers the cost of those submissions. However, all ships are capable of operating as a roller, and you may consider doing so as a service to your children or the public network. Stars might offer on-demand roller submissions, submissions on a high-tempo schedule, or very large batches of transactions.
Due to Urbit's current memory limits, it doesn't make sense to store large media inside of a ship's file system. Instead, connectors exist that allow you to automatically upload media through the Groups interface to a file storage service, then simply store the URL. This allows a ship to host its own images, without relying on "free" services or stuffing its memory with large files. These systems and their backends require resources, setup and maintenance -- handling these tasks would be valuable for other ships.
These connectors currently point to two systems -- S3, an API for object storage originally developed for AWS, and LFS, a system for object storage developed for Git. Both of these systems are standards and are not bound to particular vendors -- they're just ways of storing and retrieving data. Minio is a free S3-compatible service you can run on your own server. Urbit's LFS system features explicit accomodations for 3rd party hosts, like storage quotas.
Newcomers sometimes buy planets sight-unseen from NFT sales platforms, boot for the first time, and discover that they do not receive software updates. You may receive a request to act as a sponsor for these orphaned planets.
Adoption is a simple process, but it's a two-way operation. To adopt a planet, they must escape their original sponsor and set your star's
@p as their sponsor, which they can do in Bridge. You must also accept by logging into Bridge with your ownership or management key, then selecting 'Requests' within the 'Residents' menu, and accepting the incoming sponsorship request.
Note that on layer 1, this can cost a little bit of money, but it can be performed for free using Tlon's roller for layer 2 ships, like all layer 2 transactions. Stars can still sponsor planets that are on another layer -- for instance, there is no problem with a layer 2 star adopting a layer 1 planet.
Urbit carries an ethos of self-reliance and autonomy, but not every person can be expected to keep their laptop running 24/7 or run their ship on a Pi in their bedroom. Hosting as a commercial activity is another way to provide services to the ships under your star. At the simplest level, you might run a handful of ships on VPSes, and mostly take care of DNS and networking. If you have the relevant skills, you might make use of tools like Kubernetes and Docker to build an automated, scalable platform. Some existing providers have open-sourced some of the tooling that they have developed.
If you are acting as a host, follow the spirit of the Urbit ethos. Embody the values of digital freedom and autonomy. If a customer wants to migrate their ship, allow them to download their pier data without difficulty. Protect your customers' privacy, and avoid unnecessary tracking. A planet is a deeply personal object, so treat the data you host with respect and caution.
Software distribution on Urbit works by syncing desks between ships, which maintain subscriptions to their source desk -- the same way OTA updates are distributed. This is similar to a folder of code downloaded from another computer onto your ship that also downloads updates automatically. Since this is a decentralized network, there is no central app store, only ships sharing with other ships. One way stars may set themselves apart is by performing distribution -- a star might specialize by sharing programs written by its residents, games, or providing services for commercial distribution on behalf of others. Some software might also take advantage of a star acting as a proxy to external services like blockchains, or as a trusted intermediary between parties.
Buying a star
There are several general means for purchasing a star. Note that this will almost always be an exchange for cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Ethereum, though you might be able to find individual sellers who take fiat. Be sure to investigate the transaction history of a star -- you can do this trivially by searching for it on Urbit.live. Stars can be 'virgin', meaning they have not spawned any planets, or otherwise been used. Unspawned stars carry a higher price; the price of a given star might also be influenced by its
@p, sigil, reputation, or other intangibles.
Direct purchase -- You can purchase a star directly from somebody else, in an unmediated exchange. A good place to look for sellers is in groups related to trading Urbit IDs and cryptocurrency, like The Marketplace and Cryptocurrency Forum.
Purchasing a star means taking custody of an ERC-721 token. In concrete terms, you will be on the receiving end of an Azimuth transaction which will assign ownership of a point to an address you control, in the same way as buying a layer 1 planet. If you don't have experience with handling cryptocurrency, spend some time learning how to manage an Ethereum wallet. Stars are high-value objects and should not be handled inattentively.
Selling a star
Your options for selling a star are a mirror of the options to buy one -- directly, through a mediated platform, or via
$WSTR token. If you list your star on OpenSea, note that the fiat value of the listing will fluctuate with ETH.
You can get an idea of the current star prices by checking on current OpenSea listings, looking at the recent sales statistics on urbit.live, and checking the value of the
$WSTR token. As of writing, there is a relatively slow-and-steady volume of public star sales, but star tokens are expected to contribute significant market liquidity. See Swapping a star for $WSTR below.
Be forthright about the history and background of any star you sell. If you have spawned planets that rely on your services, notify both any potential buyers of the obligations to your existing residents, as well as notifying your residents of an imminent change. Consider reaching out to the planets you sponsor via an Urbit group, or out-of-band communications like a newsletter or website. If you are selling a star that has an inactive sponsor, or one that has been de-sponsored, it is your obligation to let the purchaser know this ahead of the sale. Similarly, let them know about the number of points it has issued, and any services that its residents are making use of. A responsible buyer should be willing to accommodate your existing duties.
Claiming a star from Bridge
Once you have purchased a star, authenticate into Bridge with the wallet that received the transfer. You will be greeted with an incoming transfer prompt, and you will be required to fund the transaction with a small amount of ETH. If you do not have the funds to accept the transfer, you can send ETH to the same address that is receiving the star.
Take advantage of your proxy addresses to delegate spawning and management privileges to different addresses than your ownership key (see 'Key management' section below). Urbit's HD wallet design makes it easy to keep your ownership key locked in a box while you perform typical operations with subsidiary keys, or re-derive those keys if you lose them.
Stars are valuable assets, so consider transferring yours to a master ticket (Urbit's paper HD wallet), or using a hardware wallet to manage it. Never reveal the master ticket code or wallet seed phrase to anything other than Bridge or a wallet you trust, or store either on a computer.
To send your incoming star to a master ticket:
- Send enough ETH to the same address you provided to the seller to cover transaction fees (this will likely come to a few hundred dollars).
- Log into Bridge with your hardware wallet, and approve the incoming transfer of the galaxy. Note that you must pay a transaction fee.
- Once the star has been accepted, go to the 'ID' section in Bridge to transfer your key to a master ticket.
- Download the 'Passport' containing your new private keys; never share these documents or store them on a computer.
- Approve the transfers to your new addresses; note that this process requires you to approve several sequential transactions that will need to be paid for by the address you have logged into Bridge with.
- Print the 'Passport' you were prompted to download
- Store your passport documents somewhere very safe, particularly your master ticket.
You can load individual seed phrases of the addresses in a hardware wallet as recovery keys (Trezor, Ledger). If you prefer to purely use a hardware wallet, instructions for a hardware HD wallet analogous to a master ticket are also available in the docs.
Swapping a star for $WSTR
$WSTR, or 'wrapped star', is a fungible token that bears a 1:1 correspondence with a star. This allows you to make use of your star in DeFi tools like Uniswap or smart contracts. A
$WSTR token represents 'a star', abstractly -- not any particular star.
$WSTR contract only works with stars that have [never been booted or issued planets. 'Unkeyed' or 'inactive' refers to whether a ship has set its networking keys -- a ship that has not had its networking keys set cannot have been booted. The contract accepts the transfer of an unkeyed star, and produces a token for the address that initiated the transfer. Alternatively, anyone who possesses a token can exchange it for a star. You can interact with the contract via its official UI at Star Market.
If you've ever used Uniswap, these processes will be familiar. To trade stars for
- Allow the site to connect to your wallet in order to let it see the stars that it holds.
- If you have more than one star, you can select one or more from a modal.
- Use the 'Review Swap' button to confirm your transaction.
- After confirming the transaction with your wallet, you'll see your new balance at the top of the page. Note that you will need to pay for the transaction fees.
In order to swap a
$WSTR for stars, the process is the same:
- Connect your wallet that contains
$WSTR, select the number of tokens you want to exchange.
- Confirm the transaction with your wallet.
- The star will be transferred to the same address as your funds. Note that you will need to pay for the transaction fees.
Trading in a
$WSTR token will give you the star that was most recently deposited into the
$WSTR contract. If you deposit your star, there is no guarantee that you will be able to exchange the token back for that specific
Booting a star
Booting a star will be a familiar experience if you've booted a planet. After setting your network keys, download your keyfile from Bridge, and enter the first-time boot command:
$> ./urbit -w sampel -k /path/to/sampel-1.key -p 54321
It's good practice to delete your keyfile after you've used it (you will not need one to boot again unless you breach). Specifying your Ames port is not strictly necessary, but is useful for network configuration and firewall rules.
Once you have spawned a planet, you have an obligation to keep your star online. Do not boot your star just to spawn planets without participating in the network; offline sponsors may suffer from damaged reputation, and their children may escape to other sponsors.
Hosting a star
A star can run on any computer a planet can, but a star carries obligations to its residents. For this reason, you are encouraged to run your star on a hosted server in a datacenter, or otherwise in a high-availability configuration.
Like any application, there are a handful of bottlenecks that might throttle your star's performance under load. These include disk space, available memory, network speed, and CPU performance. As a star operator, it is incumbent upon you to offer services in a performant manner. If you've noticed degraded performance, try keeping an eye on what your server is reporting via traditional Linux administration tools like
htop, Zabbix, or Netdata. If you are butting up against the limits of your memory or CPU, consider upgrading the instance running your ship. You should expect your star to accrue something like 30GB/year of disk space. In the future, event log pruning will make this less of an issue, but you should plan ahead of time to accommodate a very large pier.
[You might notice that a few major providers like DigitalOcean are frequently used for hosting ships, but Urbit is portable -- you can run a ship on just about any x86_64 or ARM server instance with the necessary resources. Compare commodity hosting providers and evaluate the metrics and resources that are most important for the services you offer. If you find a better arrangement in the future, migrating is as easy as copying a folder between computers.
Groups on stars
Groups can allow you to announce downtime, technical issues, or accommodate support requests to many residents at once. You may find it useful to operate a group for your residents, or related to services that you provide to them. Your star's operation should optimize for availability and performance, and as a result it may be inadvisable to run large groups on your star directly. Groups with hundreds or thousands of members may have a noticeable effect on the performance of your star's basic operations.
Unlike elective software services, currently there is no way to migrate groups between hosts. If you want to host a group related to your star, it may be pragmatic to run it on a planet or moon on a separate machine.
Urbit's ownership registry lives on the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is used so that the state of the network is stored and modified through distributed consensus, by nodes validating transactions according to pre-set rules. These rules are laid out in the Azimuth contract, which defines the functions of Urbit's PKI and how you can interact with it. Like a cryptocurrency, this prevents a ship from being transferred to two people at the same time. The network of Ethereum validators perform the computational work of making sure all transactions are valid, in exchange for the gas fees you pay for transactions.
Ships on layer 1 interact directly with the Azimuth contracts through Bridge. You can see which layer your ship is after logging into Bridge by looking for 'L1' or 'L2' in the modal at the top of the home menu[.
- Log into Bridge by authenticating with your master ticket code or the wallet software or hardware that holds your star, and click 'Issue Point' from the main menu.
- Provide the
@p(name) of the ship you want to spawn. Bridge will list several random
@psuggestions if you don't have a specific ID in mind.
- Enter and the address that will receive the planet. The Ethereum address should be provided by the planet's recipient -- most commonly, this will be from the recipient's Metamask extension.
- Optionally, you can manually set the transaction fee by clicking Advanced and selecting from the provided options (slow, normal or fast). Layer 1 transactions can be quite expensive, so you probably want to set this to 'slow'.
Once you click 'Generate & Sign Transaction', you will be prompted to approve the transaction with your wallet. Bridge will then show you a progress bar that tracks the transaction's status. A slow transaction might take up to a few hours, but leave the window open until it completes. The recipient will then need to log into Bridge using the wallet that contains the address they provided you in order to receive it, which carries its own transaction fees.
Urbit's layer 2 refers to a protocol developed to address the high costs of spawning points, called naive rollups. Naive rollups work by shifting the distributed calculation of PKI state onto the Urbit network itself, with compressed batches of changes periodically committed to the Ethereum blockchain by ships running special software, called 'rollers'. This makes transferring and modifying keys so cheap that Tlon covers the cost, meaning you can spawn planets without paying transaction fees by using Tlon's roller. You can even spawn batches of planets, and distribute them without managing ETH tokens at all.
Planets spawned on layer 2 are created with 'planet codes', a special password that can be redeemed on Bridge for a keyfile. For both a star operator and planet recipient, this is significantly simpler than layer 1 transfers. Layer 2 ships are still owned cryptographically, just like layer 1 planets.
Use Bridge to issue layer 2 planets:
- Authenticate in Bridge with your star.
- Click the timer at the top right corner of the home screen -- this is a countdown to the next rollup batch submission, which by default takes place every 24 hours.
- Click 'Generate Codes' and enter the number of planets to spawn. You can return to this screen to claim codes that you have generated.
The batch will need to be processed before you can retrieve planet codes, so check back the following day. You'll see a transaction confirmation notification, and an inbox with the number of planet codes that have been generated for you. You can copy these codes out individually, or download a CSV file with all of them.
Planet codes are simply text strings; in addition to being cheaper to issue than layer 1 points, they should be simpler to distribute. For instance, you can use traditional tools like email to transfer IDs to recipients. It is not necessary for the recipient to manage a cryptocurrency wallet; they only need to click a link.
In the future, stars will perform a more critical role for their planets. Today, galaxies perform the job of telling a ship the IP address of another ship to facilitate direct communication, or relay communication behind routers where necessary. In the future, these tasks will be performed by stars.
Ames is an end-to-end encrypted protocol that establishes peer-to-peer connections when possible. When urbits communicate with each other, they perform a lookup for the IP address of the ship they want to talk to, so they can initiate communication with that IP. A ship will then send UDP packets encrypted with the public key for that
@p from Azimuth. If the ship can be reached directly, the connection will be a direct connection (peer-to-peer). If one of the ships cannot be reached, the connection may be proxied through a sponsoring galaxy, or the packets may be stored for later delivery by the sponsoring star if the ship is offline.
NAT traversal is the act of forwarding a connection on behalf of a computer that cannot perform direct connections. Most commonly, this is due to the ship running on a computer that is behind a home router, but it can also occur if an Ames port is blocked by a firewall. This is not only a burden on the galaxy that is forwarding the connection, it also introduces noticeable latency for the planet. If your residents complain about slow message delivery, you should make sure that they have a configuration that allows direct connections to their ship. The
urbit-king binary has UPnP built in, so you might encourage your residents to use that instead of
urbit if they are not comfortable with modifying their router or firewall.
In the future, both peer discovery and NAT traversal will be performed by stars, rather than galaxies. This will certainly carry a significantly higher resource demand than stars presently require, particularly network bandwidth. There is no date set that this switch will occur, but it is worth bearing in mind.
Urbit is still a young project and will develop in directions not yet conceived. As a star operator you play a critical role in distributing address space, but also in developing the ways that the network is used. Your job as an infrastructure provider dovetails easily with providing elective services and building new and useful functionality for other ships.
Stars are typically hosted with more robust infrastructure than individual planets, and might make use of that for tasks that require e.g. significant bandwidth or disk space. As new software and uses are developed for the network, identify systems and utilities that place a burden on individuals but might lend themselves to scaling and automation. These may lead to commercial opportunities.
The future of stars will likely be one of specialization. All stars begin with the same capabilities, but their operators will have different aims and skills. Some stars may be operated by DAOs, and others passed through families. Some may act as bridges to other decentralized networks, offer financial services, or distribute publications. The path your star takes is in your hands.