Vow - Detailed Documentation

The Maker Protocol's Balance Sheet

1. Introduction (Summary)

The Vow contract represents the Maker Protocol's balance sheet. In particular, the Vow acts as the recipient of both the system surplus and system debt. Its main functions are to cover deficits via debt (Flop) auctions and discharge surpluses via surplus (Flap) auctions.


  • Inter-contract calls necessary for the module function

Not pictured:

  • cage calls from Vow to Flap and Flop

  • Auction and user auction interactions

  • Governance calls / interactions

2. Contract Details

Vow (Glossary)

  • sin: the system debt queue.

  • Sin: the total amount of debt in the queue.

  • Ash: the total amount of on-auction debt.

  • wait: length of the debt queue

  • sump: debt auction bid size, i.e. the fixed debt quantity to be covered by any one debt auction

  • dump: debt auction lot size, i.e. the starting amount of MKR offered to cover the lot/sump

  • bump: surplus auction lot size, i.e. the fixed surplus quantity to be sold by any one surplus auction

  • hump: surplus buffer, must be exceeded before surplus auctions are possible

Other terms included in the above diagram:

  • move: transfers stablecoin between users.

  • kick: starts an auction.

Liquidations Manager

  • Fess - Pushes bad debt to the auctions queue (add debt to the queue).

  • Flog - Release queued debt for auction (realize debt from the queue).

  • Heal - vow calls heal on the vat contract to cancel out surplus and debt. (Optimize debt buffer (vat.heal)).

  • Kiss - Cancels out surplus and on-auction debt. Release on-auction debt and Heal (vat.heal).

  • Flap - Trigger a surplus auction (flapper.kick)

  • Flop - Trigger a deficit auction (flopper.kick)


The vow contract calls kick on flop and flap to start an auction (debt and surplus auctions, respectively).

  • Flopper (Debt auctions) - If the deficit is not covered in the forward auction portion of the flip auction, then debt auctions are used for getting rid of the Vow’s debt by auctioning off MKR for a fixed amount of Dai. Once the auction ends, the Flopper will then send the received Dai to the Vow in order to cancel its debt. Lastly, the Flopper will mint the MKR for the winning bidder.

  • Flapper (Surplus auctions) - These are used for getting rid of the Vow’s surplus by auctioning off a fixed amount of internal Dai for MKR. Once the auction ends, the Flapper burns the winning MKR bid and sends internal Dai to the winning bidder.

System Data

  • System config

    Vow.wait - Flop delay Vow.sump - Flop fixed bid size

    Vow.dump - Flop starting lot size Vow.bump - Flap fixed lot size Vow.hump- Surplus buffer

Debt (SIN) Queue

When a Vault is liquidated (bite - documentation), the seized debt is put in a queue for an auction in a Vow (labeled as sin[timestamp]- the system debt unit). This occurs at the block timestamp of the bite action. It can be released for auction via flog (flog releases queued debt for the auction) once the allotted Vow.wait (the flop delay) time has expired.

The Sin is stored when it's in the debt queue, but the debt available to auction isn't explicitly stored anywhere. This is because the debt that is eligible for auction is derived by comparing the Sin (i.e. debt on the holding queue) with the dai balance of the Vow as recorded in Vat.dai[Vow]. For instance, if Vat.sin[Vow] is greater than the sum of Vow.Sin and the Ash (debt currently on auction), then the difference may be eligible for a Flop auction.


  • In the case of when a cat.bite / vow.fess is executed, the debt tab is added to sin[now] and Sin, which blocks that tab amount to be sent to the flop auction and all of the DAI is recovered with a flip auction. In theory, unblocking the tab amount in the Sin shouldn't be necessary, but in practice it actually is. If this debt is not unblocked, then when we have a real need to send a flop auction, we might have a big Sin that blocks it. To summarize, this means that each registry of sin[era] that has an amount > 0 should be flog'ed before kicking a flop auction (this is because in order to kick the whole thing, you need every register to be 0, otherwise, it would be blocking debt).

    • Each sin[era] isn’t required to be a single bite, it will group all the bite’s that are in the same Ethereum block together.

    • The auction-keeper will flog every era with positive Sin if the woe+ Sin >= sump, where woe = vat.sin[vow] - vow.Sin - vow.Ash. Where the components within vat.sin(vow) - vow.Sin - vow.Ash are defined as:

      • vat.sin(vow)- total bad debt

      • vow.Sin - debt blocked

      • vow.Ash - debt in auctions

  • Vow.sin records individual portions of debt (marked with a timestamp). These are not directly auctioned off, but cleared when flog is called.

  • If the Sin is not covered by holding a flip auction within the designated wait time (tau), the Sin “matures” and gets marked as bad debt to the Vow. This bad debt can be covered through a debt auction (flop) when it exceeds a minimum value (the lot size). In short, the time between the debt being added to the sin[] queue and becoming "mature" (when it flogs off the queue and is eligible for Flop auction) is the amount of time that Flip auction has to clear that debt. This is due to the fact that when a Flip auction receives DAI, it decreases the Vow's DAI balance in the Vat.

  • Note: In this case, there is a risk that a circumstance can occur where the Vow.wait is different than the Flip.tau. The main risk being related to wait < tau, which would result in debt auctions running before the associated seized-collateral auctions could complete.

Overall Sin can affect the system in the following way:

  1. There can be separate Vows each with their own sins

  2. In the case of an upgrade, if we remove a Vow that has sin, this can create untracked bad debt in the system.


Vow.Sin - This calculates the total queued debt in the system. Vow.Ash- This calculates the total on-auction debt.

3. Key Mechanisms & Concepts

It is important to note that the Maker Protocol will deviate from its equilibrium. This occurs when it receives system debt and system surplus through the collateral auctions and Vault stability fee accumulation. The Vow contract contains the logic to trigger both the debt (flop) and surplus (flap) auctions, which work to correct the system’s monetary imbalances.


  • System Debt: In the case where Vaults are bitten (liquidated), their debt is taken on by the Vow contract as a Sin (the system debt unit). The Sin amount is then placed in the Sin queue. Note: When the Sin is not covered by a flip auction (within the dedicated wait time, the Sin is considered to have bad debt to the Vow. This bad debt is then covered through a debt auction (flop) when it exceeds a minimum value (the lot size).

  • System Surplus: Occurs from stability fee accumulation, resulting in additional internal Dai in the Vow. This surplus is then discharged through a surplus auction (flap).

4. Gotchas (Potential source of user error)

  • When the Vow is upgraded, there are multiple references to it that must be updated at the same time (End, Jug, Pot).

  • The Vow is the only user with a non-zero Sin balance (not a vat invariant as there can be multiple Vows).

  • Ilk storage is split across the Vat, Jug, Pot and Vow modules. The cat also stores the liquidation penalty and maximum auction size.

  • A portion of the Stability Fee is allocated for the Dai Savings Rate (DSR) by increasing the amount of Sin in the Vow at every Pot.drip( ) call.

  • Setting an incorrect value for vow can cause the surplus to be lost or stolen.

5. Failure Modes (Bounds on Operating Conditions & External Risk Factors)

Vault Liquidation

  • A failure mode could arise when no actors call kiss, flog or heal to reconcile/queue the debt.


  • A failure mode could arise if a user does not call flapor flop to kick off auctions.

  • Vow.wait, when set too high (wait is too long), the flop auctions can no longer occur. This provides a risk of undercollateralization.

  • Vow.wait, when set too low, can cause too many flop auctions, while preventing flap auctions from occurring.

  • Vow.bump, when set too high, can result in no flap auctions being possible. Thus, if no flap auction takes place, there will be no MKR bidding as part of that process and, accordingly, no automated MKR burn as a result of a successful auction.

  • Vow.bump, when set too low, results in flap auctions not being profitable for participants (lot size is worth less than gas cost). Thus, no MKR will be bid during a flap auction and, as a result, there will be no automated MKR burn.

  • Vow.sump, when set too high, no flop auctions are possible. This results in the system not being able to recover from an undercollateralized state.

  • Vow.sump, when set too low, flop auctions are not profitable for participants (where the lot size is worth less than gas cost). This results in MKR inflation due to automated MKR minting.

  • Vow.dump, when set too high, flop auctions risk not being able to close or mint a large amount of MKR, creating a risk of MKR dilution and the possibility of a governance attack.

  • Vow.dump, when set too low, flop auctions have to be kicked many times before they will be interesting to keepers.

  • Vow.hump, when set too high, the flap auctions would never occur. If a flap auction does not occur, there is no sale of surplus, and thus, no burning of bid MKR.

  • Vow.hump, if set too low, can cause surplus to be auctioned off via flap auctions before it is used to cancel sin from liquidations, necessitating flop auctions and making the system run inefficiently.

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