How do I prevent against the double withdrawal attack described in ERC20 API: An Attack Vector on Approve/TransferFrom Methods and initially posted here?

An example of the attack:

  1. Alice allows Bob to transfer N of Alice's tokens (N>0) by calling approve method on Token smart contract passing Bob's address and N as method arguments
  2. After some time, Alice decides to change from N to M (M>0) the number of Alice's tokens Bob is allowed to transfer, so she calls approve method again, this time passing Bob's address and M as method arguments
  3. Bob notices Alice's second transaction before it was mined and quickly sends another transaction that calls transferFrom method to transfer N Alice's tokens somewhere
  4. If Bob's transaction will be executed before Alice's transaction, then Bob will successfully transfer N Alice's tokens and will gain an ability to transfer another M tokens
  5. Before Alice noticed that something went wrong, Bob calls transferFrom method again, this time to transfer M Alice's tokens.

So, Alice's attempt to change Bob's allowance from N to M (N>0 and M>0) made it possible for Bob to transfer N+M of Alice's tokens, while Alice never wanted to allow so many of her tokens to be transferred by Bob.

1 Answer 1


EIP20 refers readers to the MiniMeToken implementation regarding this issue which works around it by adding the line:

require((_amount == 0) || (allowed[msg.sender][_spender] == 0));

EIP20 refers readers to two example token implementations (I've linked to the relevant line numbers):

  • OpenZeppelin - Brief issue description and link to the original issue comment. Mentions "[o]ne possible solution to mitigate this race condition", but doesn't implement it.
  • ConsenSys - no mention or attempt to work around the issue

The MiniMeToken function comment says:

This is a modified version of the ERC20 approve function to be a little bit safer

Given this is the reference implementation, I would like to be a lot more confident than "a little bit safer".

There is no backward compatible resolution to this problem, and the solution is still being discussed.

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