Roles and metadata

TUF uses roles to define the set of actions a party can perform. The concept of roles allows TUF to only trust information provided by the correctly designated party. The root role indicates which roles can sign for which projects.

The roles sign metadata, which TUF uses to create verifiable records about the state of a repository or application at a specified time. As such, clients can use it to make decisions on which files to update. Different metadata files provide different information, and will be signed by different roles.

The signed metadata files always include an expiration date. This ensures that outdated metadata will be detected and that clients can refuse to accept metadata older than that which they’ve already seen.

Implementers of TUF may use any data format for metadata files. The examples here use a subset of the JSON object format. When calculating the digest of an object, we use the Canonical JSON format. Implementation-level detail about the metadata can be found in the spec.

There are four required top-level roles, each with their own metadata file.


  • Root
  • Targets
  • Snapshot
  • Timestamp


There may also be any number of delegated target roles.

Root Metadata (root.json)

Signed by: Root role.

Specifies the other top-level roles. When specifying these roles, the trusted keys for each are listed, along with the minimum number of those keys required to sign the role’s metadata. We call this number the signature threshold.

See example of Root metadata.

Targets Metadata (targets.json)

Signed by: Targets role.

Target files are the actual files that clients want to download, such as the software updates they are trying to obtain. The targets.json metadata file lists hashes and sizes of target files.

This file can optionally define other roles to which it delegates trust, or specify that another role is to be trusted for some or all of the target files available from the repository. When delegated roles are specified, it is done so in a way similar to how the Root role specifies the top-level roles: by giving the trusted keys and signature threshold for each role. Additionally, one or more glob patterns will be specified to indicate the target file paths for which clients should trust each delegated role.

See example of Targets metadata.

Delegated Targets Metadata (role1.json)

Signed by: A delegated targets role.

A metadata file provided by a Delegated Targets role will follow exactly the same format as one provided by the top-level Targets role.

When the Targets role delegates trust to other roles, each delegated role will provide one signed metadata file. As is the case with the directory structure of top-level metadata, the delegated files are relative to the base URL of metadata available from a given repository mirror.

A delegated role file is located at:


where DELEGATED_ROLE is the name of the role specified in targets.json. If this role further delegates trust to a role named ANOTHER_ROLE, that role’s signed metadata file would be found at:


See example of delegated Targets metadata and example of a nested delegation.

Snapshot Metadata (snapshot.json)

Signed by: Snapshot role.

The snapshot.json metadata file lists version numbers of all metadata files other than timestamp.json. This file ensures that clients will see a consistent view of all files on the repository. That is, metadata files (and thus Target files) that existed on the repository at different times cannot be combined and presented to clients by an attacker.

​See example of Snapshot metadata.

Timestamp Metadata (timestamp.json)

Signed by: Timestamp role.

The timestamp.json metadata file lists the hashes and size of the snapshot.json file. This is the first and potentially only file that needs to be downloaded when clients search for updates. It is frequently re-signed, and has a short expiration date, thus allowing clients to quickly detect if they are being prevented from obtaining the most recent metadata. An online key is generally used to automatically re-sign this file at regular intervals.

There are a few reasons why the timestamp.json and snapshot.json files are not combined:

  • The timestamp.json file is downloaded very frequently and so should be kept as small as possible, especially considering that the snapshot.json file grows proportionally with the number of delegated target roles.
  • As the Timestamp role’s key is an online key and thus at high risk, separate keys should be used for signing the snapshot.json file so that the Snapshot role’s keys can be kept offline, and thus more secure.
  • Timestamp.json may be given to mirrors.

See example of Timestamp metadata.