How smart contract upgrades fail in practice

A popular trend in smart contract design is to promote the development of upgradable contracts. At Trail of Bits, we have reviewed many upgradable contracts and believe that this trend is going in the wrong direction. Existing techniques to upgrade contracts have flaws, increase the complexity of the contract significantly, and ultimately introduce bugs. To highlight this point, we are releasing a previously unknown flaw in the Zeppelin contract upgrade strategy, one of the most common upgrade approaches.
In this article, we are going to detail our analysis of existing smart contract upgrade strategies, describe the weaknesses we have observed in practice, and provide recommendations for contracts that require upgrades. In a follow-up blog post, we will detail a method, contract migration, that achieves the same benefits with few of the downsides.
An overview of upgradable contracts
Two ‘families’ of patterns have emerged for upgradable smart contracts:
Data separation, where logic and data are


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