Principles of Distributed Ledgers

Module aims

Decentralised ledgers, such as Bitcoin, have gained rapid popularity, attracting the attention of academics, entrepreneurs, and policy-makers. They promise and already create new disruptive markets, and revolutionise how we think of money and financial infrastructure. In this module you will have the opportunity explore the foundational principles behind decentralised ledgers and learn about current research in cryptocurrencies. This will include the foundations of distributed computing, applied cryptography and incentive mechanisms.   

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module you will be able to:

  • instantiate and experiment with your own blockchain
  • conduct a critical analysis of blockchain security
  • evaluate the privacy of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin
  • design, implement and assess smart contract applications
  • evaluate the scalability of blockchain applications and build scalable solutions

Module syllabus

  • Hash Functions
  • Digital Signature
  • Decentralisation and permissionless/ permissioned ledgers
  • Wallets and transactions
  • Authenticated datastructures
  • Blocks and the blockchain
  • Proof of work and mining
  • Ethereum smart contracts
  • Smart contract security
  • Network layer propagation
  • Blockchain security and privacy
  • Building decentralised applications
  • Security and privacy of distributed ledgers
  • Scaling decentralised ledger and alternatives
  • Network and Hardware aspects of decentralised ledgers   

Teaching methods

The module will be taught via interactive classes where you will be encouraged to engage with your classmates and the lecturer. The lectures will be interspersed with unassessed, formative, exercises based on topical research papers that you will be asked to read in advance. Mentimeter will be used regularly in order to verify your understanding of the key topics as they are taught. There will be accompanying assessed laboratory exercises which will provide a safe space for you to develop decentralised applications as an individual.

The Piazza Q&A web service will be used as an open online discussion forum for the module.


There will be one assessed coursework which has a practical lab-based component. This is worth 50% of the marks. The remaining 50% will come from a written examination which will test both theoretical and practical aspects of the subject.

You will receive regular feedback in class via the Mentimeter Q&A. There will also be written feedback on the coursework submission. As part of the coursework exercise you will also receive live feedback from ( when coding smart contracts.       

Module leaders

Dr Arthur Gervais