Remote Scry

To scry is to perform a read from Urbit's referentially transparent namespace. In other words, it's a function from a path to a noun (although in some cases, the resulting type may be more constrained). Previously we only supported scrying within the same ship, but from Kernel version [%zuse 413], it is possible to scry from other ships.


  1. It should also be noted that, while responses are signed, encryption has not yet been implemented.

  2. The initial release of [%zuse 413] had a bug in the remote scry client implementation that causes crashes and failed downloads. This issue was fixed in this PR, which was released (at the same Kelvin) on June 1, 2023. Any ships that are still on the initial [%zuse 413] Kelvin release will continue to experience this bug.

    The recommended approach to dealing with this is to include a timer in clients to fall back to using Ames for a download if a remote scry request doesn't succeed within a certain amount of time. This is what Clay uses, and its main advantage is that client ships on older pre-remote-scry Kelvins can still download data from newer server ships.

Lifecycle of a scry

When you think of scry, you probably think of .^ (dotket). However, since networking is asynchronous, this is not a suitable interface for remote scry. Instead, a ship that wants to read from a remote part of the namespace will have to pass a %keen task to its Ames, which then cooperates with Vere to produce the desired data. In some future event when the result is available, Ames gives it back as a %tune gift. From the requester's perspective, this is the entire default lifecycle of a remote scry request.

Of course, you need to know how %keen and %tune look to be able to use them. There are also a few exceptions to this default lifecycle. We'll go through all of this in a moment, but first, let's look at what kind of data is possible to scry.


At the moment, there are two vanes that can handle remote scry requests: Clay and Gall. Clay uses it to distribute source code in a more efficient manner than is possible with conventional Ames, but conceptually it only extends its local scries over the network, with the notable difference that you can't scry at the current time, since the requester doesn't know when the request reaches the publisher. Additionally, the paths are modified so that the vane and care are specified separately, like so: /c/x/1/base/sys/hoon/hoon.

Gall is more interesting. First, let's clear up a possible misunderstanding that could easily come up: remote scry does not involve calling an agent's +on-peek arm. +on-peek scries always happen at the current time, and since the requester can't know at which time the publisher handles the request, these aren't possible to reliably serve.

Instead, agents ask Gall to %grow paths in the namespace on their behalf. Gall will take care of incrementing version numbers, so that the same path never maps to different nouns. The agent can also ask Gall to delete data, either at a specific version number, or everything up to and including a version number. Concretely, we've extended $note:agent:gall to include the following cases:

+$ note
$% ...
[%grow =path =page] :: publish
[%tomb =case =path] :: delete one
[%cull =case =path] :: delete up to

Here's an example sequence of cards that use these:

[%pass /call/back/path %grow /foo atom+'lorem'] :: /foo version 0
[%pass /call/back/path %grow /foo atom+'ipsum'] :: /foo version 1
[%pass /call/back/path %grow /foo atom+'dolor'] :: /foo version 2
[%pass /call/back/path %grow /foo atom+'sit'] :: /foo version 3
[%pass /call/back/path %tomb ud+3 /foo] :: delete /foo version 3
[%pass /call/back/path %cull ud+1 /foo] :: delete /foo 0 through 1
[%pass /call/back/path %grow /foo atom+'amet'] :: /foo version 4
[%pass /call/back/path %grow /foo/bar atom+123] :: /foo/bar version 0

After this sequence of cards we would have the following mappings (assuming the agent that emits them is named %test):

/g/x/2/test//foo -> [%atom 'dolor']
/g/x/4/test//foo -> [%atom 'amet']
/g/x/0/test//foo/bar -> [%atom 123]

Let's pick apart the first one of these paths.

/g :: g for Gall
/x :: a care of %x generally means "normal read"
/2 :: version number
/test :: the agent that published the data
/ :: ???
/foo :: the path that the data is published on

What's that lone / before the path? It signifies that this data is published by Gall itself, instead of the +on-peek arm in the %test agent. As part of the remote scry release, we will reserve part of the scry namespace for Gall, effectively preventing any agents from directly publishing at those paths. Though as we've seen, they can do it indirectly, by asking Gall to do it for them using %grow.

As long as the extra / is included, Gall will serve scries with care %x at both specific revision numbers and at arbitrary times. If the extra / is not included, the scry has to happen at the current time, since we don't cache old results of calling +on-peek.

Additional Gall cares

Apart from supporting reads using the %x care, Gall now also supports three new cares:

  • %t lists all subpaths that are bound under a path (only supported at the current time, i.e. not remotely!).
  • %w gives the latest revision number for a path (only supported at the current time, i.e. not remotely!).
  • %z gives the hash identifier of the value bound at the path (supported at any time and at specific revisions, but not remotely).

All of these require the extra / to be present in the path, just as with %x.

Scrying tasks

With this, we're ready to look at all the new tasks to, and gifts from, Ames:

+$ task
$% ...
[%keen =ship =path] :: peek [ship /vane/care/case/spur]
[%yawn =ship =path] :: cancel request from arvo
[%wham =ship =path] :: cancels all scry requests from any vane
+$ gift
$% ...
[%tune spar roar=(unit roar)]

At this point, most of these should be very clear, but briefly:

  • We pass [%keen =ship =path] to Ames to request to read from path on ship. Example:

    [%pass /call/back/path %arvo %a %keen ~sampel /c/x/4/base/sys/hoon/hoon]
  • We pass [%yawn =ship =path] to tell Ames that we're no longer interested in a response. Example:

    [%pass /call/back/path %arvo %a %yawn ~sampel /g/x/4/test//foo]
  • We pass [%wham =ship =path] to tell Ames that no-one on this ship is interested in a response. Example:

    [%pass /call/back/path %arvo %a %wham ~sampel /g/x/4/test//foo]
  • Ames gives the following to the original requester(s), either when it has a response, or when the request gets %whamed:

    [%tune [=ship =path] roar=(unit roar)]

    The outer unit of roar will be ~ if Ames doesn't have a response, but may have one in the future. Otherwise, it will contain a signature and the data. The data in the $roar may be ~, meaning that there is no value at this path and will never be one.


In addition to the above interface offered to agents, there is also support for making scry requests from threads using +keen in lib/strandio. It accepts a [=ship =path] and returns a (unit page). There is also a thread ted/keen that demonstrates this. You can run it from the dojo using -keen [ship path]. For example, this reads the %noun mark's source code out of ~zod's %kids desk, try it!

-keen [~zod /c/x/1/kids/mar/noun/hoon]

Additional reading

  • Gall scry reference: Reference documentation of Gall's vane-level and agent-level scry interface.

  • Ames API reference: Reference documentation of tasks that can be passed to Ames, including those for remote scries.