AT Protocol DIDs

The AT Protocol uses Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs) as persistent, long-term account identifiers. DID is a W3C standard, with many standardized and proposed DID method implementations.

Blessed DID Methods

Currently, atproto supports two DID methods:

  • did:web, which is a W3C standard based on HTTPS (and DNS). The identifier section is a hostname. This method is supported in atproto to provide an independent alternative to did:plc. The method is inherently tied to the domain name used, and does not provide a mechanism for migration or recovering from loss of control of the domain name. In the context of atproto, only hostname-level did:web DIDs are supported: path-based DIDs are not supported. The same restrictions on top-level domains that apply to handles (eg, no .arpa) also apply to did:web domains. The special localhost hostname is allowed, but only in testing and development environments. Port numbers (with separating colon hex-encoded) are only allowed for localhost, and only in testing and development.
  • did:plc, which is a novel DID method developed by Bluesky. See the did-method-plc GitHub repository for details. Even though this method is referred to as "placeholder", it will be supported indefinitely.

In the future, a small number of additional methods may be supported. It is not the intention to support all or even many DID methods, even with the existence of universal resolver software.

AT Protocol DID Identifier Syntax

Lexicon string format type: did

The DID Core specification constraints on DID identifier syntax, regardless of the method used. A summary of those syntax constraints, which may be used to validate DID generically in atproto are:

  • The entire URI is made up of a subset of ASCII, containing letters (A-Z, a-z), digits (0-9), period, underscore, colon, percent sign, or hyphen (._:%-)
  • The URI is case-sensitive
  • The URI starts with lowercase did:
  • The method segment is one or more lowercase letters (a-z), followed by :
  • The remainder of the URI (the identifier) may contain any of the above-allowed ASCII characters, except for percent-sign (%)
  • The URI (and thus the remaining identifier) may not end in :.
  • Percent-sign (%) is used for "percent encoding" in the identifier section, and must always be followed by two hex characters
  • Query (?) and fragment (#) sections are allowed in DID URIs, but not in DID identifiers. In the context of atproto, the query and fragment parts are not allowed.

DID identifiers do not generally have a maximum length restriction, but in the context of atproto, there is an initial hard limit of 2 KB.

In the context of atproto, implementations do not need to validate percent encoding. The percent symbol is allowed in DID identifier segments, but the identifier should not end in a percent symbol. A DID containing invalid percent encoding should fail any attempt at registration, resolution, etc.

A reasonable starting-point regex for DIDs in the context of atproto is:

// NOTE: does not constrain overall length


Valid DIDs for use in atproto (correct syntax, and supported method):


Valid DID syntax (would pass Lexicon syntax validation), but unsupported DID method:


Invalid DID identifier syntax (regardless of DID method):


DID Documents

After a DID document has been resolved, atproto-specific information needs to be extracted. This parsing process is agnostic to the DID method used to resolve the document.

The current handle for the DID is found in the alsoKnownAs array. Each element of this array is a URI. Handles will have the URI scheme at://, followed by the handle, with no path or other URI parts. The current primary handle is the first valid handle URI found in the ordered list. Any other handle URIs should be ignored.

It is crucial to validate the handle bidirectionally, by resolving the handle to a DID and checking that it matches the current DID document.

The DID is the primary account identifier, and an account whose DID document does not contain a valid and confirmed handle can still, in theory, participate in the atproto ecosystem. Software should be careful to either not display any handle for such account, or obviously indicate that any handle associated with it is invalid.

The public signing key for the account is found under the verificationMethod array, in an object with id matching #atproto, and the controller matching the DID itself. The first valid atproto signing key in the array should be used, and any others ignored. The type field will indicate the cryptographic curve type, and the publicKeyMultibase field will be the public key in multibase encoding. See below for details for parsing these fields.

A valid signing key is required for atproto functionality, and an account with no valid key in their DID document is broken.

The PDS service network location for the account is found under the service array, with id matching #atproto_pds, and type matching AtprotoPersonalDataServer. The first matching entry in the array should be used, and any others ignored. The serviceEndpoint field must contain an HTTPS URL of server. It should contain only the URI scheme (http or https), hostname, and optional port number, not any "userinfo", path prefix, or other components.

A working PDS is required for atproto functionality, and an account with no valid PDS location in their DID document is broken.

Note that a valid URL doesn't mean the the PDS itself is currently functional or hosting content for the account. During account migrations or server downtime there may be windows when the PDS is not accessible, but this does not mean the account should immediately be considered broken or invalid.

Public Key Encoding

The atproto cryptographic systems are described in the AT Protocol Overview.

Public keys in DID documents under verificationMethod, including atproto signing keys, are represented as an object with the following fields:

  • id (string, required): always #atproto for atproto signing keys
  • type (string, required): a fixed name identifying the key's curve type
    • p256: EcdsaSecp256r1VerificationKey2019 (note the "r")
    • k256: EcdsaSecp256k1VerificationKey2019 (note the "k")
  • controller (string, required): DID controlling the key, which in the current version of atproto must match the account DID itself
  • publicKeyMultibase (string, required): the public key itself, encoded in multibase format

A summary of the multibase encoding in this context:

  • Start with the full public key bytes. Do not use the "compressed" or "compact" representation (unlike for did:key, described below)
  • Encode the key bytes with base58btc, yielding a string
  • Add the character z as a prefix, to indicate the multibase, and include no other multicodec indicators

The decoding process is the same in reverse, using the curve type as context.

As an internal detail of the DID PLC method, the W3C-standardized did:key encoding is used to represent public keys in DID PLC operations. Software only needs to process keys in this format if they are trying to validate PLC operation chains, but the details are described here anyways.

This encoding includes metadata about the type of key, so they can be parsed and used unambiguously. The encoding process is:

  • Encode the public key curve "point" as bytes. Be sure to use the smaller "compact" or "compressed" representation. This is usually easy for k256, but might require a special argument or configuration for p256 keys
  • Prepend the appropriate curve multicodec value, as varint-encoded bytes, in front of the key bytes:
    • p256 (compressed, 33 byte key length): p256-pub, code 0x1200, varint-encoded bytes: [0x80, 0x24]
    • k256 (compressed, 33 byte key length): secp256k1-pub, code 0xE7, varint bytes: [0xE7, 0x01]
  • Encode the combined bytes with base58btc, yielding a string
  • Add did:key: as a prefix, forming a DID Key identifier string

The decoding process is the same in reverse, using the identified curve type as context.

Usage and Implementation Guidelines

Protocol implementations should be flexible to processing content containing DIDs based on unsupported DID methods. This is important to allow gradual evolution of the protocol ecosystem over time. In other words, implementations should distinguish between at least the distinct cases "invalid DID syntax", "unsupported DID method" and "supported DID method, but specific DID resolution failed".

While longer DIDs are supported in the protocol, a good best practice is to use relatively short DIDs, and to avoid DIDs longer than 64 characters.

DIDs are case-sensitive. While the currently-supported methods are not case sensitive, and could be safely lowercased, protocol implementations should reject DIDs with invalid casing. It is permissible to attempt case normalization when receiving user-controlled input, such as when parsing public URL path components, or text input fields.

Possible Future Changes

The hard maximum DID length limit may be reduced, at the protocol level. We are not aware of any DID methods that we would consider supporting which have identifiers longer than, say, 256 characters.

There is a good chance that the set of "blessed" DID methods will slowly expand over time.

The EcdsaSecp256r1VerificationKey2019 verificationMethod is not a final W3C standard. We will move to whatever ends up standardized by W3C for representing P-256 public keys with publicKeyMultibase. This may mean a transition to Multikey, and we would transition K-256 representations to that type as well.

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