Transactions and Instructions

On Solana, we send transactions to interact with the network. Transactions include one or more instructions, each representing a specific operation to be processed. The execution logic for instructions is stored on programs deployed to the Solana network, where each program stores its own set of instructions.

Below are key details about how transactions are executed:

  • Execution Order: If a transaction includes multiple instructions, the instructions are processed in the order they are added to the transaction.
  • Atomicity: A transaction is atomic, meaning it either fully completes with all instructions successfully processed, or fails altogether. If any instruction within the transaction fails, none of the instructions are executed.

For simplicity, a transaction can be thought of as a request to process one or multiple instructions.

Transaction SimplifiedTransaction Simplified

You can imagine a transaction as an envelope, where each instruction is a document that you fill out and place inside the envelope. We then mail out the envelope to process the documents, just like sending a transaction on the network to process our instructions.

Key Points #

  • Solana transactions consist of instructions that interact with various programs on the network, where each instruction represents a specific operation.

  • Each instruction specifies the program to execute the instruction, the accounts required by the instruction, and the data required for the instruction's execution.

  • Instructions within a transaction are processed in the order they are listed.

  • Transactions are atomic, meaning either all instructions process successfully, or the entire transaction fails.

  • The maximum size of a transaction is 1232 bytes.

Basic Example #

Below is a diagram representing a transaction with a single instruction to transfer SOL from a sender to a receiver.

Individual "wallets" on Solana are accounts owned by the System Program. As part of the Solana Account Model, only the program that owns an account is allowed to modify the data on the account.

Therefore, transferring SOL from a "wallet" account requires sending a transaction to invoke the transfer instruction on the System Program.

SOL TransferSOL Transfer

The sender account must be included as a signer (is_signer) on the transaction to approve the deduction of their lamport balance. Both the sender and recipient accounts must be mutable (is_writable) because the instruction modifies the lamport balance for both accounts.

Once the transaction is sent, the System Program is invoked to process the transfer instruction. The System Program then updates the lamport balances of both the sender and recipient accounts accordingly.

SOL Transfer ProcessSOL Transfer Process

Simple SOL Transfer #

Here is a Solana Playground example of how to build a SOL transfer instruction using the SystemProgram.transfer method:

// Define the amount to transfer
const transferAmount = 0.01; // 0.01 SOL
// Create a transfer instruction for transferring SOL from wallet_1 to wallet_2
const transferInstruction = SystemProgram.transfer({
  fromPubkey: sender.publicKey,
  toPubkey: receiver.publicKey,
  lamports: transferAmount * LAMPORTS_PER_SOL, // Convert transferAmount to lamports
// Add the transfer instruction to a new transaction
const transaction = new Transaction().add(transferInstruction);

Run the script and inspect the transaction details logged to the console. In the sections below, we'll walk through the details of what's happening under the hood.

Transaction #

A Solana transaction consists of:

  1. Signatures: An array of signatures included on the transaction.
  2. Message: List of instructions to be processed atomically.

Transaction FormatTransaction Format

The structure of a transaction message comprises of:

Transaction MessageTransaction Message

Transaction Size #

The Solana network adheres to a maximum transmission unit (MTU) size of 1280 bytes, consistent with the IPv6 MTU size constraints to ensure fast and reliable transmission of cluster information over UDP. After accounting for the necessary headers (40 bytes for IPv6 and 8 bytes for the fragment header), 1232 bytes remain available for packet data, such as serialized transactions.

This means that the total size of a Solana transaction is limited to 1232 bytes. The combination of the signatures and the message cannot exceed this limit.

  • Signatures: Each signature requires 64 bytes. The number of signatures can vary, depending on the transaction's requirements.
  • Message: The message includes instructions, accounts, and additional metadata, with each account requiring 32 bytes. The combined size of the accounts plus metadata can vary, depending on the instructions included in the transaction.

Transaction FormatTransaction Format

Message Header #

The message header specifies the privileges of accounts included in the transaction's account address array. It is comprised of three bytes, each containing a u8 integer, which collectively specify:

  1. The number of required signatures for the transaction.
  2. The number of read-only account addresses that require signatures.
  3. The number of read-only account addresses that do not require signatures.

Message HeaderMessage Header

Compact-Array Format #

A compact array in the context of a transaction message refers to an array serialized in the following format:

  1. The length of the array, encoded as compact-u16.
  2. The individual items of the array listed sequentially after the encoded length.

Compact array formatCompact array format

This encoding method is used to specify the lengths of both the Account Addresses and Instructions arrays within a transaction message.

Array of Account Addresses #

A transaction message includes an array containing all the account addresses needed for the instructions within the transaction.

This array starts with a compact-u16 encoding of the number of account addresses, followed by the addresses ordered by the privileges for the accounts. The metadata in the message header is used to determine the number of accounts in each section.

  • Accounts that are writable and signers
  • Accounts that are read-only and signers
  • Accounts that are writable and not signers
  • Accounts that are read-only and not signers

Compact array of account addressesCompact array of account addresses

Recent Blockhash #

All transactions include a recent blockhash to act as a timestamp for the transaction. The blockhash is used to prevent duplications and eliminate stale transactions.

The maximum age of a transaction's blockhash is 150 blocks (~1 minute assuming 400ms block times). If a transaction's blockhash is 150 blocks older than the latest blockhash, it is considered expired. This means that transactions not processed within a specific timeframe will never be executed.

You can use the getLatestBlockhash RPC method to get the current blockhash and last block height at which the blockhash will be valid. Here is an example on Solana Playground.

Array of Instructions #

A transaction message includes an array of all instructions requesting to be processed. Instructions within a transaction message are in the format of CompiledInstruction.

Much like the array of account addresses, this compact array starts with a compact-u16 encoding of the number of instructions, followed by an array of instructions. Each instruction in the array specifies the following information:

  1. Program ID: Identifies an on-chain program that will process the instruction. This is represented as an u8 index pointing to an account address within the account addresses array.
  2. Compact array of account address indexes: Array of u8 indexes pointing to the account addresses array for each account required by the instruction.
  3. Compact array of opaque u8 data: A u8 byte array specific to the program invoked. This data specifies the instruction to invoke on the program along with any additional data that the instruction requires (such as function arguments).

Compact array of InstructionsCompact array of Instructions

Example Transaction Structure #

Below is an example of the structure of a transaction including a single SOL transfer instruction. It shows the message details including the header, account keys, blockhash, and the instructions, along with the signature for the transaction.

  • header: Includes data used to specify the read/write and signer privileges in the accountKeys array.

  • accountKeys: Array including account addresses for all instructions on the transaction.

  • recentBlockhash: The blockhash included on the transaction when the transaction was created.

  • instructions: Array including all the instructions on the transaction. Each account and programIdIndex in an instruction references the accountKeys array by index.

  • signatures: Array including signatures for all accounts required as signers by the instructions on the transaction. A signature is created by signing the transaction message using the corresponding private key for an account.

"transaction": {
    "message": {
      "header": {
        "numReadonlySignedAccounts": 0,
        "numReadonlyUnsignedAccounts": 1,
        "numRequiredSignatures": 1
      "accountKeys": [
      "recentBlockhash": "DzfXchZJoLMG3cNftcf2sw7qatkkuwQf4xH15N5wkKAb",
      "instructions": [
          "accounts": [
          "data": "3Bxs4NN8M2Yn4TLb",
          "programIdIndex": 2,
          "stackHeight": null
      "indexToProgramIds": {}
    "signatures": [

Instruction #

An instruction is a request to process a specific action on-chain and is the smallest contiguous unit of execution logic in a program.

When building an instruction to add to a transaction, each instruction must include the following information:

  • Program address: Specifies the program being invoked.
  • Accounts: Lists every account the instruction reads from or writes to, including other programs, using the AccountMeta struct.
  • Instruction Data: A byte array that specifies which instruction handler on the program to invoke, plus any additional data required by the instruction handler (function arguments).

Transaction InstructionTransaction Instruction

AccountMeta #

For every account required by an instruction, the following info must be specified:

  • pubkey: The on-chain address of an account
  • is_signer: Specify if the account is required as a signer on the transaction
  • is_writable: Specify if the account data will be modified

This information is referred to as the AccountMeta.


By specifying all accounts required by an instruction, and whether each account is writable, transactions can be processed in parallel.

For example, two transactions that do not include any accounts that write to the same state can be executed at the same time.

Example Instruction Structure #

Below is an example of the structure of a SOL transfer instruction which details the account keys, program ID, and data required by the instruction.

  • keys: Includes the AccountMeta for each account required by an instruction.
  • programId: The address of the program which contains the execution logic for the instruction invoked.
  • data: The instruction data for the instruction as a buffer of bytes
  "keys": [
      "pubkey": "3z9vL1zjN6qyAFHhHQdWYRTFAcy69pJydkZmSFBKHg1R",
      "isSigner": true,
      "isWritable": true
      "pubkey": "BpvxsLYKQZTH42jjtWHZpsVSa7s6JVwLKwBptPSHXuZc",
      "isSigner": false,
      "isWritable": true
  "programId": "11111111111111111111111111111111",
  "data": [2,0,0,0,128,150,152,0,0,0,0,0]

Expanded Example #

The details for building program instructions are often abstracted away by client libraries. However, if one is not available, you can always fall back to manually building the instruction.

Manual SOL Transfer #

Here is a Solana Playground example of how to manually build the a SOL transfer instruction:

// Define the amount to transfer
const transferAmount = 0.01; // 0.01 SOL
// Instruction index for the SystemProgram transfer instruction
const transferInstructionIndex = 2;
// Create a buffer for the data to be passed to the transfer instruction
const instructionData = Buffer.alloc(4 + 8); // uint32 + uint64
// Write the instruction index to the buffer
instructionData.writeUInt32LE(transferInstructionIndex, 0);
// Write the transfer amount to the buffer
instructionData.writeBigUInt64LE(BigInt(transferAmount * LAMPORTS_PER_SOL), 4);
// Manually create a transfer instruction for transferring SOL from sender to receiver
const transferInstruction = new TransactionInstruction({
  keys: [
    { pubkey: sender.publicKey, isSigner: true, isWritable: true },
    { pubkey: receiver.publicKey, isSigner: false, isWritable: true },
  programId: SystemProgram.programId,
  data: instructionData,
// Add the transfer instruction to a new transaction
const transaction = new Transaction().add(transferInstruction);

Under the hood, the simple example using the SystemProgram.transfer method is functionally equivalent to the more verbose example above. The SystemProgram.transfer method simply abstracts away the details of creating the instruction data buffer and AccountMeta for each account required by the instruction.