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Recurring Payments on Ethereum

October 27, 2021    |    By Jonathan Becker

ethereum poc

Recurring payments on the blockchain have been a topic of discussion for some time. First introduced in EIP-1337 in 2018, the proposal never really caught on. My approach to recurring payments on Ethereum takes a simpler approach than EIP-1337 did, which may help it have a larger impact on the community.

The full source for this PoC can be found within the Jon-Becker/Ethereum-Recurring-Payments GitHub repository. The repository version I will reference in this write-up is 4aed03acb40f01628c7f57fcdd99c898b659a058.

0x01. Abstract

The recurring payment implementation I will explore throughout this paper is an application of the ERC-20 Token Standard's approve(...) function. An unlimited allowance (2^256-1) is approved to the subscription contract address, which periodically allows the _payee to call a timelocked proxy of ERC-20's transferFrom(...) method.

0x02. Detailed Analysis

Consequences

Pros:

  • _spender must only call 2 transactions to create a subscription; approve(...) and createSubscription(...).The burden is on the payee to call the transferFrom(...) proxy, meaning they must pay the gas fees to process future payments.
  • Subscriptions can be cancelled at any time, by either the _spender or the _payee.

Cons:

  • This approach requires an unlimited* approval to the smart contract handling the recurring payments.
    • * Technically, this approval can be any amount as long as the _spender approves at least enough to pay for a minimum of 2 transactions. Although unlimited approvals of ERC-20 tokens are against Solidity best practice, this PoC allows for recurring payments on Ethereum in a generally secure manner, where the only potential losses lie in the smart contract's integrity.
  • We rely on block.timestamp for the timelock. This is generally not an issue, but should be noted.

Specification

Methods

  • getSubscription

    Returns the Subscription of _customer to _payee.

    function getSubscription(address _customer, address _payee) public view returns(Subscription memory)
  • subscriptionTimeRemaining

    Returns the time in seconds remaining until the subscription payment may be charged again.

    function subscriptionTimeRemaining(address _customer, address _payee) public view returns(uint256)
  • createSubscription

    Creates a Subscription which allows _payee to charge the caller _subscriptionCost every _subscriptionPeriod, until the Subscription is cancelled.

    This may only be called by the customer, and will automatically charge them for the first billing period. Requires an approval to the subscription contract address of _subscriptionCost * 2.

    Emits a Transfer, NewSubscription, and SubscriptionPaid event.

    function createSubscription(address _payee, uint256 _subscriptionCost, address _token, string memory _name, string memory _description, uint256 _subscriptionPeriod ) public virtual
  • cancelSubscription

    Cancels a subscription between _customer and _payee and disallows further executePayment(...) calls.

    This can be called by either party.

    function cancelSubscription(address _customer, address _payee ) public virtual
  • executePayment

    Charges _customer for the subscription between _customer and the payee a total of _subscriptionCost, given that they have enough token balance and _subscriptionPaid is false.

    This must be called by the payee.

    function executePayment(address _customer) public virtual
  • _subscriptionPaid

    An internal function that returns true if the subscription between _customer and _payee has been paid for the current period, or false if otherwise.

    function _subscriptionPaid(address _customer, address _payee) internal view returns(bool)

Events

  • NewSubscription

    MUST be called whenever a new subscription is created.

    event NewSubscription(Customer, Payee, Allowance, TokenAddress, Name, Description, LastExecutionDate, SubscriptionPeriod);
  • SubscriptionCancelled

    MUST be called whenever a new subscription is cancelled.

    event SubscriptionCancelled(Customer, Payee);
  • SubscriptionPaid

    MUST be called whenever a new subscription is paid.

    event SubscriptionPaid(Customer, Payee, PaymentDate, PaymentAmount, NextPaymentDate);

0x04. Conclusion

This method of allowing smart-contracts to recursively call transferFrom(...) based on an timelocked proxy function enables subscriptions on the blockchain, one of the most important aspects when it comes to running a service or business. The approach this PoC takes is also trustless, and can be revoked any time by the owner, allowing for a truly decentralized form of recurring payments & subscriptions on Ethereum.


0x05. Resources & Citations

  • Fabian Vogelsteller, Vitalik Buterin, "EIP-20: Token Standard," Ethereum Improvement Proposals, no. 20, November 2015. [Online serial]. Available: https://eips.ethereum.org/EIPS/eip-20.
  • Kevin Owocki, Andrew Redden, Scott Burke, Kevin Seagraves, Luka Kacil, Štefan Šimec, Piotr Kosiński, ankit raj, John Griffin, Nathan Creswell, "EIP-1337: Subscriptions on the blockchain," Ethereum Improvement Proposals, no. 1337, August 2018. [Online serial]. Available: https://eips.ethereum.org/EIPS/eip-1337.