Ethernaut: Levels 16 to 18

The Ethernaut is a Web3/Solidity based wargame inspired from, played in the Ethereum Virtual Machine. Each level is a smart contract that needs to be 'hacked'.


Level 16 - Preservation


A contract creator has built a very simple token factory contract. Anyone can create new tokens with ease. After deploying the first token contract, the creator sent 0.5 ether to obtain more tokens. They have since lost the contract address.
This level will be completed if you can recover (or remove) the 0.5 ether from the lost contract address.


pragma solidity ^0.5.0;

contract Preservation {

  // public library contracts 
  address public timeZone1Library;
  address public timeZone2Library;
  address public owner; 
  uint storedTime;
  // Sets the function signature for delegatecall
  bytes4 constant setTimeSignature = bytes4(keccak256("setTime(uint256)"));

  constructor(address _timeZone1LibraryAddress, address _timeZone2LibraryAddress) public {
    timeZone1Library = _timeZone1LibraryAddress; 
    timeZone2Library = _timeZone2LibraryAddress; 
    owner = msg.sender;

  // set the time for timezone 1
  function setFirstTime(uint _timeStamp) public {
    timeZone1Library.delegatecall(abi.encodePacked(setTimeSignature, _timeStamp));

  // set the time for timezone 2
  function setSecondTime(uint _timeStamp) public {
    timeZone2Library.delegatecall(abi.encodePacked(setTimeSignature, _timeStamp));

// Simple library contract to set the time
contract LibraryContract {

  // stores a timestamp 
  uint storedTime;  

  function setTime(uint _time) public {
    storedTime = _time;


  1. Preservation uses Libraries: Libraries use delegatecalls. [Level 6 -Delegation] taught us that using delegatecall is risky as it allows the called contract to modifiy the storage of the calling contract.
  2. Storage layouts of Preservation and LibraryContract don't match: Calling the library won't modifiy the expected storedTime variable. ## Solidity Concept: libraries > Libraries are similar to contracts, but their purpose is that they are deployed only once at a specific address and their code is reused using the DELEGATECALL (CALLCODE until Homestead) feature of the EVM. This means that if library functions are called, their code is executed in the context of the calling contract, i.e. this points to the calling contract, and especially the storage from the calling contract can be accessed.

So Libraries are a particular case where functions are on purpose called with delegatecall because preserving context is desired.


As libraries use delegatecall, they can modify the storage of Preservation.
LibraryContract can modify the first slot (index 0) of Preservation, which is address public timeZone1Library. So we can "set" timeZone1Library by calling setFirstTime(_timeStamp). The uint _timeStamp passed will converted to an address type though. It means we can cause setFirstTime() to execute a delegatecall from a library address different from the one defined at initialization. We need to define this malicious library so that its setTime function modifies the slot where owner is stored: slot of index 2.

preservation hack workflow


Level 17 - Recovery


pragma solidity ^0.5.0;

import 'openzeppelin-solidity/contracts/math/SafeMath.sol';

contract Recovery {

  //generate tokens
  function generateToken(string memory _name, uint256 _initialSupply) public {
    new SimpleToken(_name, msg.sender, _initialSupply);


contract SimpleToken {

  using SafeMath for uint256;
  // public variables
  string public name;
  mapping (address => uint) public balances;

  // constructor
  constructor(string memory _name, address _creator, uint256 _initialSupply) public {
    name = _name;
    balances[_creator] = _initialSupply;

  // collect ether in return for tokens
  function() external payable {
    balances[msg.sender] = msg.value.mul(10);

  // allow transfers of tokens
  function transfer(address _to, uint _amount) public { 
    require(balances[msg.sender] >= _amount);
    balances[msg.sender] = balances[msg.sender].sub(_amount);
    balances[_to] = _amount;

  // clean up after ourselves
  function destroy(address payable _to) public {


The generation of contract addresses are pre-deterministic and can be guessed in advance.

Solidity Concepts: selfdestruct, encodeFunctionCall, & generation of contract addresses

  • selfdestruct: see [Level 7 - Force] Sefdestruct is a method tha can be used to send ETH to a recipient upon destruction of a contract.
  • encodeFunctionCall At Level 6 - Delegation, we learnt how to make function call even though we don't know the ABI: by sending a raw transaction to a contract and passing the function signature into the data argument. More convenienttly, this can be done with the encodeFunctionCall function of web3.js: web3.eth.abi.encodeFunctionCall(jsonInterface, parameters)
  • generation of contract addresses, from the Etherem yellow paper, section 7 - contract creation:

Ethereum Yellow Paper screenshot - contract address generation

So in JavaScript, using the web3.js and rlp libraries, one can compute the contract address generated upon creation as follows.

// Rightmost 160 digits means rightmost 160 / 4 = 40 hexadecimals characters
contractAddress = '0x' + web3.utils.sha3(RLP.encode([creatorAddress, nonce])).slice(-40))


  1. Instantiate level. This will create 2 contracts:
    • nonce 0: Recovery contract
    • nonce 1: SimpleToken contract
  2. Compute the address of the SimpleToken:
    • sender = instance address
    • nonce = 1
  3. Use encodeFunctionCall to call the destruct function of SimpleToken instance at address. ## Takeaways > Contract addresses are deterministic and are calculated by keccack256(rlp([address, nonce])) where the address is the address of the contract (or ethereum address that created the transaction) and nonce is the number of contracts the spawning contract has created (or the transaction nonce, for regular transactions). Because of this, one can send ether to a pre-determined address (which has no private key) and later create a contract at that address which recovers the ether. This is a non-intuitive and somewhat secretive way to (dangerously) store ether without holding a private key. An interesting blog post by Martin Swende details potential use cases of this.

Level 18 - MagicNumber


provide the Ethernaut with a "Solver", a contract that responds to "whatIsTheMeaningOfLife()" with the right number.


pragma solidity ^0.5.0;

contract MagicNum {

  address public solver;

  constructor() public {}

  function setSolver(address _solver) public {
    solver = _solver;


Solidity Concepts

Contract creation bytecode

Smart contracts run on the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). The EVM understands smart contracts as bytecode. Bytecode is a sequence of hexadecimal characters:
Developers on the other hand, write and read them using a more human readable format: solidity files.

The solidity compiler digests .sol files to generate:

  • contract creation bytecode: this is the smart contract format that the EVM understands
  • assembly code: this is the bytecode as a sequence of opcodes. From a human point of view, it is less readable that Solidity code but more readable than bytecode.
  • Application Binary Interface (ABI): this is like a customized interpret in a JSON format that tells applications (e.g a Dapp making function calls using web3.js) how to communicate with a specific deployed smart contract. It translates the application language (JavaScript) into bytecode that the EVM can understand and execute.

Contract creation bytecode contain 2 different pieces of bytecode:

  • creation code: only executed at deployment. It tells the EVM to run the constructor to initialize the contract and to store the remaining runtime bytecode.
  • runtime code: this is what lives on the blockchain at what Dapps, users will interact with.

contract creation workflow diagram

EVM = Stack Machine

As a stack machine, the EVM functions according to the Last In First Out principle: the last item entered in memory will be the first one to be consumed for the next operation.
So an operation such as 1 + 2 * 3 will be written 3 2 * 1 + and will be executed by a stack machine as follows:

Stack Level Step 0 Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5 Step 6
0 3 2 * 6 1 + 7
1 3 2 6 1
2 3 6

In addition to its stack component, the EVM has memory, which is like RAM in the sense that it is cleared at the end of each message call, and storage, which corresponds to data persisted between message calls.


How do we control the EVM? How do we tell it what to execute?
We have to give it a sequence of instructions in the form of OPCODES. An OPCODE can only push or consume items from the EVM’s stack, memory, or storage belonging to the contract.
Each OPCODE takes one byte.
Each OPCODE has a corresponding hexadecimal value: see the opcode values mapping here (from pyevm) or in the Ethereum Yellow Paper - appendix H.
So "assembling" the OPCODES hexadecimal values together means reconstructing the bytecode.
Splitting the bytecode into OPCODES bytes chunks means "disassembling" it.

For a more detailed guide on how to deconstruct a solidity code, check this post by Alejandro Santander in collaboration with Leo Arias.


  1. Runtime code

    # (bytes) OPCODE Stack (left to right = top to bottom) Meaning bytecode
    00 PUSH1 2a push 2a (hexadecimal) = 42 (decimal) to the stack 602a
    02 PUSH1 00 2a push 00 to the stack 6000
    05 MSTORE 00, 2a mstore(0, 2a), store 2a = 42 at memory position 0 52
    06 PUSH1 20 push 20 (hexadecimal) = 32 (decimal) to the stack (for 32 bytes of data) 6020
    08 PUSH1 00 20 push 00 to the stack 6000
    10 RETURN 00, 20 return(memory position, number of bytes), return 32 bytes stored in memory position 0 f3

    The assembly of these 10 bytes of OPCODES results in the following bytecode: 602a60005260206000f3

  2. Creation code
    We want to excute the following:

    • mstore(0, 0x602a60005260206000f3): store the 10 bytes long bytecode in memory at position 0.
      This will store 602a60005260206000f3 padded with 22 zeroes on the left to form a 32 bytes long bytestring.
    • return(0x16, 0x0a): starting from byte 22, return the 10 bytes long runtime bytecode.
    # (bytes) OPCODE Stack (left to right = top to bottom) Meaning bytecode
    00 PUSH10 602a60005260206000f3 push the 10 bytes of runtime bytecode to the stack 69602a60005260206000f3
    03 PUSH 00 602a60005260206000f3 push 0 to the stack 6000
    05 MSTORE 0, 602a60005260206000f3 mstore(0, 0x602a60005260206000f3)0 52
    06 PUSH a push a = 10 (decimal) to the stack 600a
    08 PUSH 16 a push 16 = 22 (decimal) to the stack 6016
    10 RETURN 16, a return(0x16, 0x0a) f3
  3. The complete contract creation bytecode is then 69602a60005260206000f3600052600a6016f3

  4. Deploy the contract with web3.eth.sendTransaction({ data: '0x69602a60005260206000f3600052600a6016f3' }), which returns a Promise. The deployed contract address is the value of the contractAddress property of the object returned when the Promise resolves.

  5. Pass the address of the deployed solver contract to the setSolver function of the MagicNumber contract.


Having an understanding of the EVM at a lower level, especially understanding how contracts are created and how bytecode can be dis/assembled from/to OPCODES is benefetial to smart contract developers in several ways:

  • better debugging
  • possibilities to finely optimize contract runtime or creation code

However both operations, assembling OPCODES into bytecode or disassembling bytecode into OPCODES, are cumbersome and tricky to manually perform without mistakes. So for efficiency and security reasons, developers are better off leaving it to compilers, writing solidity code and working with ABIs!

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