DID stands for Decentralized IDentifiers. DIDs are meant to be globally unique identifiers that allow their owner to prove cryptographic control over them. The owner(s) of the DID is called the controller. The identifiers are not just assignable to humans but to anything. Quoting the DID spec,

A DID identifies any subject (e.g., a person, organization, thing, data model, abstract entity, etc.) that the controller of the DID decides that it identifies.

DIDs differ from public keys in that DIDs are persistent, i.e. a public key has to be changed if the private key is stolen/lost or the cryptographic scheme of the public key is no longer considered safe. This is not the case with DIDs, they can remain unchanged even when the associated cryptographic material changes. Moreover, a DID can have multiple keys and any of its keys can be rotated. Additionally, depending on the scheme, public keys can be quite large (several hundred bytes in RSA) whereas a unique identifier can be much smaller.

Each DID is associated with a DID Document that specifies the subject, the public keys, the authentication mechanisms usable by the subject, authorizations the subject has given to others, service endpoints to communicate with the subject, etc, for all properties that can be put in the DID Document, refer this section of the spec. DIDs and their associated DID Documents are stored on the DID registry which is a term used for the centralized on decentralized database persisting the DID and its Document.

The process of discovering the DID Document for a DID is called DID resolution and the tool (library or a service) is called DID resolver. To resolve the DID, the resolver first needs to check on which registry the DID is hosted and then decide whether it is capable or willing to lookup that registry. The registry is indicated by the DID method of that DID. In addition to the registry, the method also specifies other details of that DID like the supported operations, crypto, etc. Each DID method defines its own specification, Docks's DID method spec is here. In case of Dock, the registry is the Dock blockchain, and the method is dock.

An example Dock DID.


Above DID has method dock and the DID identifier is 5CEdyZkZnALDdCAp7crTRiaCq6KViprTM6kHUQCD8X6VqGPW. Dock DID identifiers are 32 bytes in size.

An example DID Document

  "@context": "https://www.w3.org/ns/did/v1",
  "id": "did:dock:5CEdyZkZnALDdCAp7crTRiaCq6KViprTM6kHUQCD8X6VqGPW",
  "authentication": [
  "assertionMethod": [
  "publicKey": [
      "id": "did:dock:5CEdyZkZnALDdCAp7crTRiaCq6KViprTM6kHUQCD8X6VqGPW#keys-1",
      "type": "Sr25519VerificationKey2020",
      "controller": "did:dock:5CEdyZkZnALDdCAp7crTRiaCq6KViprTM6kHUQCD8X6VqGPW",
      "publicKeyBase58": "8bEsU4JWBVVFQCdd8du7Txo6L3JHdJYQByHBqzL1WXwy"

Note that Dock DIDs support only one key as of now. The key is present in the publicKey section. Note how that public key is referred to using its id in authentication and assertionMethod sections. The above document states that the DID did:dock:5CEdyZkZnALDdCAp7crTRiaCq6KViprTM6kHUQCD8X6VqGPW authenticates with public key under publicKey and also when it attests to some fact (becomes issuer), it uses that key. As there is only one public key supported for a DID, that public key is used for both authentication and assertionMethod. When support for multiple keys is added, the DID can specify which key(s) needs to be used for authentication and which ones for assertionMethod.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the keys associated with the Dock DID are independent of the keys used to send the transaction on chain and pay fees. Eg. Alice might not have any tokens to write anything on chain but can still create a DID and corresponding key and ask Bob who has tokens to register the DID on chain. Even though Bob wrote the DID on chain, he cannot update or remove it since only Alice has the keys associated with that DID. Similarly, when Alice wants to update the DID (public key or controller), it can create the update, sign it and send it to Carol this time to send the update on chain.