Elliptic Curve Signatures

Let's dig into when, where, and how Bitcoin uses Elliptic curve signatures in transactions. This chapter covers the importance of signatures to transactions, the three purposes these signatures serve, and how they are applied.

Digital Signatures (ECDSA)

Signature Hash Types (SIGHASH)

Digital signatures are applied to messages, which in the case of bitcoin, are the transactions themselves. The signature implies a commitment by the signer to specific transaction data. In the simplest form, the signature applies to the entire transaction, thereby committing all the inputs, outputs, and other transaction fields. However, a signature can commit to only a subset of the data in a transaction, which is useful for a number of scenarios as we will see in this section.

Bitcoin signatures have a way of indicating which part of a transaction's data is included in the hash signed by the private key using a SIGHASH flag. The SIGHASH flag is a single byte that is appended to the signature. Every signature has a SIGHASH flag and the flag can be different from input to input. A transaction with three signed inputs may have three signatures with different SIGHASH flags, each signature signing (committing) different parts of the transaction.

Remember, each input may contain a signature in its unlocking script. As a result, a transaction that contains several inputs may have signatures with different SIGHASH flags that commit different parts of the transaction in each of the inputs. Note also that bitcoin transactions may contain inputs from different "owners," who may sign only one input in a partially constructed (and invalid) transaction, collaborating with others to gather all the necessary signatures to make a valid transaction. Many of the SIGHASH flag types only make sense if you think of multiple participants collaborating outside the bitcoin network and updating a partially signed transaction.

There are three SIGHASH flags: ALL, NONE, and SINGLE, as shown in SIGHASH types and their meanings.


Table 4. SIGHASH types and their meanings 

SIGHASH flag Value Description



Signature applies to all inputs and outputs



Signature applies to all inputs, none of the outputs



Signature applies to all inputs but only the one output with the same index number as the signed input


In addition, there is a modifier flag SIGHASH_ANYONECANPAY, which can be combined with each of the preceding flags. When ANYONECANPAY is set, only one input is signed, leaving the rest (and their sequence numbers) open for modification. The ANYONECANPAY has the value 0x80 and is applied by bitwise OR, resulting in the combined flags as shown in SIGHASH types with modifiers and their meanings.


Table 5. SIGHASH types with modifiers and their meanings

SIGHASH flag Value Description



Signature applies to one input and all outputs



Signature applies to one input, none of the outputs



Signature applies to one input and the output with the same index number


These flag combinations are summarized in Summary of different sighash combinations.

Figure 8. Summary of different sighash combinations

The way SIGHASH flags are applied during signing and verification is that a copy of the transaction is made and certain fields within are truncated (set to zero length and emptied). The resulting transaction is serialized. The SIGHASH flag is added to the end of the serialized transaction and the result is hashed. The hash itself is the "message" that is signed. Depending on which SIGHASH flag is used, different parts of the transaction are truncated. The resulting hash depends on different subsets of the data in the transaction. By including the SIGHASH as the last step before hashing, the signature commits the SIGHASH type as well, so it can't be changed (e.g., by a miner).

Note: All SIGHASH types sign the transaction nLocktime field. In addition, the SIGHASH type itself is appended to the transaction before it is signed, so that it can't be modified once signed.

In the example of Alice's transaction, we saw that the last part of the DER-encoded signature was 01, which is the SIGHASH_ALL flag. This locks the transaction data, so Alice's signature is committing the state of all inputs and outputs. This is the most common signature form.

Let's look at some of the other SIGHASH types and how they can be used in practice:


This construction can be used to make a "crowdfunding"- style transaction. Someone attempting to raise funds can construct a transaction with a single output. The single output pays the "goal" amount to the fundraiser. Such a transaction is obviously not valid, as it has no inputs. However, others can now amend it by adding an input of their own, as a donation. They sign their own input with ALL|ANYONECANPAY. Unless enough inputs are gathered to reach the value of the output, the transaction is invalid. Each donation is a "pledge," which cannot be collected by the fundraiser until the entire goal amount is raised.



This construction can be used to create a "bearer check" or "blank check" of a specific amount. It commits to the input, but allows the output locking script to be changed. Anyone can write their own bitcoin address into the output locking script and redeem the transaction. However, the output value itself is locked by the signature.



This construction can be used to build a "dust collector". Users who have tiny UTXO in their wallets can't spend these because the cost in fees exceeds the value of the dust. With this type of signature, the dust UTXO can be donated for anyone to aggregate and spend whenever they want.

There are some proposals to modify or expand the SIGHASH system. One such proposal is Bitmask Sighash Modes by Blockstream's Glenn Willen, as part of the Elements project. This aims to create a flexible replacement for SIGHASH types that allows "arbitrary, miner-rewritable bitmasks of inputs and outputs" that can express "more complex contractual precommitment schemes, such as signed offers with change in a distributed asset exchange".

Note: You will not see SIGHASH flags presented as an option in a user's wallet application. With few exceptions, wallets construct P2PKH scripts and sign with SIGHASH_ALL flags. To use a different SIGHASH flag, you would have to write software to construct and sign transactions. More importantly, SIGHASH flags can be used by special-purpose bitcoin applications that enable novel uses.