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Contract Composition

Given the Actor model of dispatching messages, and synchronous queries implemented in CosmWasm v0.8, we have all the raw components to enable arbitrary composition of contracts with both other contracts and native modules. Here we will explain how the components fit together and how they can be extended.


For the remainder of this article, I will make a key distinction between "Contracts" and "Native Modules". "Contracts" are CosmWasm code that is dynamically uploaded to the blockchain at a given address. This can be added after the fact and is not tied to any runtime implementation. "Native Modules" are basically Go Cosmos SDK modules, which are compiled into the blockchain binary. These are relatively static (requiring a soft or hard fork to be added or modified) and will differ between different blockchains running CosmWasm.

We support composition between both types, but we must look more deeply at the integration with "Native Modules", as using those can cause Portability issues. To minimize this issue, we provide some abstractions around "Modules"


Both init and handle can return an arbitrary number of CosmosMsg objects, which will be re-dispatched in the same transaction (thus providing atomic success/rollback with the contract execution). There are 3 classes of messages:

  • Contract - This will call a given contract address with a given message (provided in serialized form). It assumes the caller has access to the API format.
  • Module interfaces - These are standardized interfaces that can be supported by any chain to expose native modules under a portable interface.
  • Custom - This encapsulates a chain-dependent extension to the message types to call into custom native modules. Ideally, they should be immutable on the same chain over time, but they make no portability guarantees.


As of CosmWasm v0.8, we now allow the contracts to make synchronous read-only queries to the surrounding runtime. As with Messages, we have three fundamental types:

  • Contract - This will query a given contract address with a given message (provided in serialized form). It assumes the caller has access to the API format.
  • Module interfaces - These are standardized interfaces that can be supported by any chain to expose native modules under a portable interface.
  • Custom - This encapsulates a chain-dependent extension to query custom native modules. Ideally, they should be immutable on the same chain over time, but they make no portability guarantees.

Cross-Contract queries take the address of the contract and a serialized QueryMsg in the contract-specific format, and synchronously get a binary serialized return value in the contract-specific format. It is up to the calling contract to understand the appropriate formats. To simplify this, we can provide some contract-specific type-safe wrappers, much in the way we provide a simple query_balance method as a wrapper around the query implementation provided by the Trait.


To enable better integrations with the native blockchain, we are providing a set of standardized module interfaces that should work consistently with all CosmWasm chains. The most basic one is the Bank module, which provides access to the underlying native tokens. This gives us BankMsg::Send as well as BankQuery::Balance and BankQuery::AllBalances to check balances and move tokens.

The second standardized module is staking, which provides some standardized messages for Delegate, Undelegate, Redelegate and Withdraw, as well as querying Validators and Delegations. These interfaces are designed to support most PoS systems and can be supported on any PoS system, not just with the current staking module of the Cosmos SDK. (So, if you fork that for your chain, the contracts should still work).

This provides a clean design, where one can develop a contract that eg. issues staking derivatives using the staking module interface, and have confidence that that same contract will run on two different blockchains, even if they are both heavily customized and one is on Cosmos SDK 0.38 and the other on Cosmos SDK 0.39 (with many breaking changes). The downside here is that every module interface must be added to all layers of the stack, which provides some delay to supporting custom features, and we cannot easily add support for every custom module in every Cosmos SDK-based blockchain.

That said, we highly recommend using the module interface when possible and using custom types as a temporary measure to keep a fast release cycle. We are happy to work with projects with concrete use cases that can be reused between many different chains to add new standardized module interfaces. Perhaps for governance, or for IBC/light client-related features.

Note, that theoretically these module interfaces can also be implemented by contracts, not just native code. Eg. if we made a standard swap interface, and your blockchain has no native swap module, we could upload a UniSwap-inspired contract and register that somehow with the Go blockchain. Then the blockchain would know to take the swap message and dispatch it to this custom contract. (Note that this is not implemented at all, just an idea of future directions).


Many chains will want to allow contracts to execute with their custom go modules, without going through all the work to try to turn it into a standardized Module Interface and wait for a new CosmWasm release. For this case, we introduce the Custom variant on both CosmosMsg and QueryRequest. The idea here is that the contract can define the type to be included in the Custom variants, and it just needs to be agreed upon by the Cosmos SDK app (in Golang) on the other side. All the code between the contract and the blockchain codec treats it as opaque JSON bytes.

The demo "reflect" contract in the standard CosmWasm repo, shows how to use CustomMsg and CustomQuery . You can see how the contract uses a CustomQuery to call out to some "runtime-provided" code. For unit tests, we can mock out the runtime querier , but in a deployed system, this should be provided by native Go code in your Cosmos SDK application.

Beyond trivial cases, we are working with Terra to expose their swap, oracle, and treasury modules to CosmWasm contracts on their chains. These features need to be exposed in an immutable format that will work forever on their chain, but there is no need for portability. More interesting is the ability to quickly expose new features of their native modules to contracts on their chain. In fact, this concrete use case inspired all the refactoring to make sure custom messages and queries are possible.

Design Considerations

In producing a solid design, we want the API to fulfill all these requirements (or strike a good balance if truly impossible to achieve them all):


The same contract should run on two distinct blockchains, with differing Golang modules, different versions of the Cosmos SDK, or ideally, even based on different frameworks (eg. running on Substrate). This should be possible when avoiding Custom messages, and checking the optional features one uses. The features are currently staking, which assumes a PoS system, and iterator, which assumes we can do prefix scans over the storage (ie. it is a Merkle Tree , not a Merkle Trie).


Contracts are immutable and encode the query and message formats in their bytecode. If we allowed dispatching sdk.Msg in the native format (be it json, amino, or protobuf), and the format of native messages changes, then the contracts would break. This may mean that a staking module could never undelegate the tokens. If you think this is a theoretical issue, please note that every major update of the Cosmos SDK has produced such breaking changes and has migrations for them. Migrations that cannot be performed on immutable contracts. Thus, we need to ensure that our design provides an immutable API to a potentially mutable runtime, which is a primary design criterion when designing the standard module interfaces.


We should be able to add new interfaces to a contract and blockchain without needing to update any of the intermediate layers. That is if you are building a custom superd blockchain app, which imports x/wasm from wasmd, and want to develop contracts on it that call into your custom superd modules, then in an ideal world, you could add those message types to an additional cw-superd library that you can import in your contracts and add the callbacks to them in superd Go code. Without any changes in cosmwasm-std, cosmwasm-vm, go-cosmwasm, or wasmd repositories (which have a different release cycle than your app).

We provide the Custom variants to CosmosMsg and QueryRequest to enable such cases. They can provide immutability but not portability.


We also want to make it not just secure and possible to compose contracts into a larger whole, but make it simple from the developer's perspective. This applies to both the contract authors, as well as the blockchain developers integrating CosmWasm into their custom blockchain. And we want to make it easy to build client-side applications using the contracts.

We are using JSON encoding for the CosmWasm messages to make this simple and export JSON schemas for every contract to allow auto-generation of client-side codecs. We also provide CosmJS as an easy-to-use TypeScript client library allowing access to all contracts (and bank module) on a CosmWasm-based chain.

Checking for Support

If we want to call some extensions, say to the Staking modules, we can compile our contract to handle that. But how do we detect if the blockchain can support it? We want to fail on upload or instantiation of a contract, and not discover some key functionality that doesn't work on this chain when there is value stored in the contract.

The design decision was to you use feature flags, exposed as wasm export functions, to configure which extra features are required by the contract. This lets the host chain inspect compatibility before allowing an upload. To do so, we make some "ghost" exports like requires_staking() or requires_terra(). This would only pass compatibility check if the runtime also exposed such features. When instantiating x/wasm.NewKeeper() you can specify which features are supported.

Type-Safe Wrappers

When querying or calling into other contracts, we give up all the type-checks we get with native module interfaces. They require the caller to know the details of the caller. This is the same as Ethereum. However, we can provide some " interface" wrappers that a contract could export, such that other contracts can easily call into it.

For example:

pub struct NameService(CanonicalAddr);

impl NameService {
pub fn query_name(deps: &Extern, name: &str) -> CanonicalAddr { /* .. */ }
pub fn register(api: &Api, name: &str) -> CosmosMsg { /* .. */ }

Rather than storing just the CanonicalAddr of the other contract in our configuration, we could store NameService, which is a zero-cost "newtype" over the original address, with the same serialization format. However, it would provide us some type-safe helpers to make queries against the contract, as well as produce CosmosMsg for registration.

Note that these type-safe wrappers are not tied to an implementation of a contract, but rather the contract's interface. Thus, we could create a small library with a list of standard/popular interfaces (like the ERCxxx specs) represented with such "newtypes". A contract creator could import one of these wrappers and then easily call the contract, regardless of implementation, as long as it supported the proper interface.