Contract keys

Contract keys are an optional addition to templates. They let you specify a way of uniquely identifying contract instances, using the parameters to the template - similar to a primary key for a database.

You can use contract keys to stably refer to a contract, even through iterations of instances of it.

Here’s an example of setting up a contract key for a bank account, to act as a bank account ID:

type AccountKey = (Party, Text)

template Account with
    bank : Party
    number : Text
    owner : Party
    balance : Decimal
    observers : [Party]
    signatory [bank, owner]
    observer observers

    key (bank, number) : AccountKey
    maintainer key._1

What can be a contract key

The key can be an arbitrary expression but it must include every party that you want to use as a maintainer (see Specifying maintainers below).

It’s best to use simple types for your keys like Text or Int, rather than a list or more complex type.

Specifying maintainers

If you specify a contract key for a template, you must also specify a maintainer or maintainers, in a similar way to specifying signatories or observers. However, maintainers are computed from the key instead of the template arguments. In the example above, the bank is ultimately the maintainer of the key. Maintainers are the parties that know about all of the keys that they are party to, and are used by the engine to guarantee uniqueness of contract keys. The maintainers must be signatories of the contract.

Keys are unique to their maintainers. For example, say you have a key that you’re using as the identifer for a BankAccount contract. You might have key (bank, accountId) : (Party, Text). When you create a new bank account, the contract key ensures that no-one else can have an account with the same accountID at that bank. But that doesn’t apply to other banks: for a contract with a different bank as maintainer, you could happily re-use that accountID.

When you’re writing DAML models, the maintainers matter since they affect authorization – much like signatories and observers. You don’t need to do anything to “maintain” the keys.

Checking of the keys is done automatically at execution time, by the DAML exeuction engine: if someone tries to create a new contract that duplicates an existing contract key, the execution engine will cause that creation to fail.

Contract keys functions

Contract keys introduce several new functions.


(fetchedContractId, fetchedContract) <- fetchByKey @ContractType contractKey

Use fetchByKey to fetch the ID and data of the contract with the specified key. It is an alternative to the currently-used fetch.

It returns a tuple of the ID and the contract object (containing all its data).

You need authorization from at least one of the maintainers to run fetchByKey. A maintainer can authorize by being a signatory, or by submitting the command/being a controller for the choice.

fetchByKey fails and aborts the transaction if:

  • you don’t have sufficient authorization
  • you’re not a stakeholder of the contract you’re trying to fetch

This means that if it fails, it doesn’t guarantee that a contract with that key doesn’t exist, just that you can’t see one.

Because different templates can use the same key type, you need to specify the type of the contract you are trying to fetch using the @ContractType syntax.


optionalContractId <- lookupByKey @ContractType contractKey

Use lookupByKey to check whether a contract with the specified key exists. If it does exist, lookupByKey returns the Some contractId, where contractId is the ID of the contract; otherwise, it returns None.

You need authorization from all of the maintainers to run lookupByKey, and it can only be submitted by one of the maintainers.

If the lookup fails (ie returns None), this guarantees that no contract has this key.

Unlike fetchByKey, the transaction does not fail if a contract with the key doesn’t exist: instead, lookupByKey just returns None.

To get the data from the contract once you’ve confirmed it exists, you’ll still need to use fetch.

Because different templates can use the same key type, you need to specify the type of the contract you are trying to fetch using the @ContractType syntax.


exerciseByKey @ContractType contractKey

Use exerciseByKey to exercise a choice on a contract identified by its key (compared to exercise, which lets you exercise a contract identified by its ContractId). To run exerciseByKey you need authorization from the controllers of the choice and at least one of the key maintainers.

Because different templates can use the same key type, you need to specify the type of the contract you are trying to fetch using the @ContractType syntax.