Nostr: What Is It and How It Works

A comprehensive Nostr review about its purpose, functionality, and potential as a decentralized publishing protocol. We assess its viability as the future of online communication while considering possible limitations.

What Is Nostr

Nostr means "Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays" and is a protocol for social media, which was created as a censorship-resistant alternative to Twitter.

It aims to address the issues of censorship and manipulation of user feeds that have been associated with mainstream social networks (e.g Twitter) policies and algorithms.

Nostr doesn't have any CEO or owner, as it is a decentralized protocol that gives users full control over their content. Unlike Twitter, which relies on algorithms, Nostr allows individuals to securely transmit messages through a distributed network of relays, ensuring data remains under their control.

Nostr combats the simplistic view created by social media algorithms, promoting diverse perspectives and freedom of expression without fear of censorship or being "canceled".

The protocol is completely open source, regularly updated on GitHub, and empowers users to exchange diverse perspectives. It has gained significant interest, and it's gaining more traction as mainstream social networks are struggling with several problems such as DDOS attacks and censorships events.

Nostr Terminology Definition
🔒 Event Object A simple and flexible JSON-based object used in Nostr for passing information
🔑 Public-Key Cryptography A cryptographic method utilized in Nostr for keys and event signing
📡 Relays Backend servers in Nostr that receive, store, and broadcast messages to connected clients
💻 Clients Interfaces used by users to interact with Nostr, such as web clients and mobile apps
🌐 Decentralization Nostr's aim to operate without reliance on a small number of trusted servers
🔍 Verifiability Easy verification of event authenticity in Nostr due to the use of public-key cryptography
🌐 Resilience Nostr's design allowing users to connect to multiple relays, ensuring data availability even if some relays go offline

How Nostr Works

Nostr Overview
Nostr Overview

Nostr is designed for simplicity, using standard public/private key cryptography for keys and signing.

At its core, Nostr consists of two main components: clients and relays. Clients serve as the interface for users to interact with the Nostr network, while relays act as backend servers that receive and store messages from clients. These relays can then broadcast the messages to other connected clients.

An example of Nostr network (source:
An example of Nostr network (source:

Key Technical Features of Nostr:

  1. Simplicity: The protocol is based on simple and flexible Event objects, which are passed around as plain JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). This design choice enables easy implementation of relays and clients and ensures the protocol's extensibility over time.
  2. Resilience: Nostr is highly resilient because it doesn't rely on a small number of trusted servers for data storage and transmission. Users can connect to multiple relays, which can be changed over time. This distributed approach ensures that even if some relays go offline, data remains accessible.
  3. Verifiability: Nostr accounts are based on public-key cryptography, making it easy to verify the authenticity of messages sent by users. The use of signatures allows clients to confirm that events were indeed sent by the specified user.


Nostr Private Relay
Nostr Private Relay

Relays are a pillar of the Nostr network, acting as the storage and transmission hubs. Users can connect to various relays (even hundreds at the same time), and these relays can either store and broadcast messages or simply forward them to other relays.

As the Nostr network evolves, the landscape of relays is expected to change, with a shift towards paid relays due to the costs associated with running them.

While the choice of relays impacts the user experience, including the speed of the Nostr client, users can connect to multiple relays to mitigate the risk of losing access to their posts if a particular relay goes offline.

Users who value absolute uncensorability can even run their own personal relays.

Relays in Nostr come in various types and can be hosted on different infrastructures, including both public and private relays. Among these options, the private relay stands out as the most censorship-resistant choice available.


Events are the most important of the Nostr network. They are the primary object type that circulates within the network, carrying information such as short text notes, recommendations, contacts, encrypted direct messages, reactions, and more.

Each event is assigned a specific kind, allowing clients and relays to handle them appropriately.


To ensure interoperability across different Nostr implementations, the protocol defines Nostr Implementation Possibilities (NIPs). These documents specify the required, recommended, and optional features that Nostr-compatible relay and client software should support.

Active participation in the Nostr community allows users to have a say in shaping the direction of the network by proposing and discussing changes through NIPs.

Nostr is 100% free and open-source software released under the MIT License, emphasizing its commitment to transparency, collaboration in a decentralized publishing environment.

Nostr Clients

Nostr clients are the applications used to access and interact with the Nostr protocol, similar to how the Twitter app allows you to engage with tweets.

Different clients have implemented various aspects of the Nostr protocol in their own unique ways, focusing on features such as user interface, lightning payments, or creative use cases like chess playing.

While many clients are currently centered around social media usage, there is a growing number of interesting use cases emerging.

It is possible to switch between clients or use multiple clients simultaneously. As long as the clients are connected to the same set of relays for data, the messages will remain consistent across all clients.

It is generally advised not to enter your private key into any client. Although most clients prioritize security, software vulnerabilities can potentially compromise your private key.

Your private key serves as your identity in Nostr, and if it is compromised, you would need to rebuild your identity from scratch, losing your followers and private messages.

Here are some recommended Nostr clients for different platforms:

Web: Primal

Primal Nostr
Primal Nostr

Primal is an elegant web client specifically developed for the Nostr protocol. It offers users advanced Nostr analytics and recently introduced a new search functionality.

The addition of the search feature to Primal allows users to easily find specific content within the Nostr platform. This feature enhances the overall user experience by enabling efficient navigation and retrieval of desired information.

Miljan, the developer of Primal, shared the announcement on Nostr, notifying users about the availability of the search feature. The inclusion of this feature demonstrates Primal's commitment to improving functionality and providing users with convenient tools to enhance their Nostr experience.

Primal has gained popularity among Nostr users due to its other notable features. The "Explore" section of the web client offers advanced Nostr statistics, such as global account count and personal network reach, providing users with valuable insights into the platform.

Additionally, Primal allows users to choose from multiple homepage feeds, catering to individual preferences and customization. The inclusion of "Trending (24h)" and "Most Zapped (4h)" side tabs further enhances the user experience by highlighting popular and engaging content within the Nostr community.

Overall, Primal serves as a comprehensive web client for Nostr, offering advanced analytics, customizable feed options, and now, a convenient search functionality to enhance user navigation and content discovery.

Primal, similar to other Nostr clients, requires a third-party application called Alby to log in using your private/public key. Alby is a browser extension that can be installed for this purpose.

iOS: Damus

Damus Nostr
Damus Nostr

Damus is a decentralized social software designed specifically for iOS devices. It has gained recognition as a "Twitter Killer" due to its unique features and functionalities. Damus operates on the Nostr decentralized network, offering users a social network that emphasizes user control and privacy.

One notable aspect of Damus is its elegant interface, providing a visually pleasing user experience. It is highly regarded for its reliability and strong security measures, ensuring the protection of user data and privacy.

A distinguishing feature of Damus is its login process. Unlike many other social networking apps, Damus does not require any additional add-ons or complex procedures to log in. Users can simply enter their private key, or if preferred, their public key in read-only mode, to gain access to the app and begin posting content.

Damus has received notable support and involvement from influential figures in the tech industry. Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, donated 14 BTC (Bitcoin) to the project, highlighting its potential and significance. Additionally, Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Ethereum, also participated in the testing phase of the Damus project, further emphasizing its credibility and potential impact.

Nostr has also received an endorsement from Edward Snowden, the renowned whistleblower and privacy advocate.

Damus recently encountered a significant incident of censorship by the Apple's App Store, resulting in the removal of its zap functionality, which allowed users to easily send or donate Bitcoin through the Lightning Network with a simple tap. In response to this restriction imposed by Apple, there is a strong indication that William Casarin, the developer of Damus, is considering expanding the availability of the app to alternative platforms, aiming to circumvent the limitations imposed by Apple's policies.

Android: Amethyst

Amethyst Nostr
Amethyst Nostr

Amethyst is a user-friendly Nostr client designed specifically for Android devices. It provides a wide range of features that enhance the overall user experience.

Amethyst offers seamless account management, a threaded messages home feed, notifications feed, global feed, and various reaction options including liking, boosting, and replying. One of its standout qualities is its smooth and fluid design, setting it apart from other Nostr clients.

One of the most important features of Amethyst is its native image uploading capability, powered by the integration of the Imgur image hosting service. Users can upload images directly from their devices, eliminating the need to navigate external websites and simplifying the content creation process.

Amethyst also introduces public chat rooms through NIP-28, enabling users to create and participate in group conversations. These chat channels resemble Telegram Channels and offer basic client-side moderation features, providing users with greater control over the content they see in the channels.

Furthermore, Amethyst supports Nostr links through NIP-21, allowing users to open nostr: based links directly within the app. This seamless integration improves navigation and enhances the overall user experience.

Nostr Tips & Tricks

Nostr, being a fresh and new platform, often brings forth surprising tips and tricks to customize your experience. Here are a few noteworthy ones:

  1. Exploring Nostr from Another User's Perspective: By utilizing the public key (npub) of any user (easily accessible from their profile), you can observe Nostr through their viewpoint. However, it's important to note that this read-only access prohibits you from creating new notes, likes, or reposts without the corresponding private key.
  2. Fun Hashtags in the Damus Client: The Nostr client Damus presents an array of amusing hashtags that unlock various emojis. Examples include #nostrplebs, #coffeechain, #plebchain, and #nostr, adding a playful element to your Nostr experience.
  3. Account Verification through NIP-05: Since the implementation of NIP-05, it is now possible to get your Nostr account verified. Services like offer this verification at no cost, while paid options are also available.

With the addition of NIPs each month, new features are continuously introduced as the protocol evolves and enhances.

Pros and Cons of Nostr

Nostr, being a censorship-resistant protocol, offers the advantage of accessing or switching to alternative relays if one is inaccessible or if a user is banned or cannot access from a particular relay.

Additionally, users have the option to set up private relays on their home servers to store their notes and data securely. However, there are critics who argue that Nostr faces scalability challenges.

The difficulty with scaling Nostr stems from its reliance on relays, which are often hosted on home servers, including devices like Raspberry Pi. Detractors argue that if a large number of users connect to the same relay simultaneously, it may experience functional limitations.

Damus Nostr Relay Server Costs
Damus Nostr Relay Server Costs

While some admins opt for cloud or dedicated hosting options for their relays, the primary concern is the cost associated with these solutions.

In the provided screenshot, the founder of Damus publicly expressed frustration on their Nostr handle regarding the escalating expenses of their custom relay server during a significant surge in Nostr's user base in the summer of 2023, attributed to a large influx of users from Twitter.

It is important to note that no relay is immune to censorship. A big number but still limited number of relays, which serve as communication points, might still be subject to closure or censorship.

This vulnerability highlights the potential for disruptions or limitations in the availability of relays within the Nostr protocol.

Pros Cons
✅ Resistant to censorship ❌ Relays cannot scale
✅ Notes are cryptographically validated ❌ Relays cannot communicate with each other
✅ Generate a private and public key to sign up and login ❌ Single relays are easy to censor
✅ Freedom to choose your own clients and relays
✅ Room for improvements, Nostr is still a young technology

Bottom Line

In summary, Nostr is a protocol designed for simplicity and censorship-resistant, globally distributed. It enables users to connect and publish through relays, which act as backend servers for the Nostr network.

Nostr is based on simple and flexible Event objects, passed as plain JSON, and utilizes standard public-key cryptography for keys and signing. Its design ensures that relays can disappear without compromising the functionality of the protocol.

Nostr offers resilience by not relying on a small number of trusted servers and allowing users to connect to multiple relays that can be changed over time. Messages sent through Nostr can be easily verified using public-key cryptography, ensuring the authenticity of the sender.

While relays are crucial for storing and transmitting data, they are subject to change and potential censorship. Users can choose between free and paid relays, with paid relays often offering higher signal quality and helping prevent spam accounts.

It is crucial to understand that despite Nostr's efforts towards decentralization and resilience, no relay within the network is completely immune to censorship. This means that there is still a possibility for relays to be subject to censorship or closure, which can impact the availability of content.

Additionally, scalability remains a significant challenge for the future of Nostr. As the user base and the volume of data transmitted through the protocol continue to grow, ensuring efficient scaling becomes essential. Overcoming scalability issues will be crucial for Nostr to effectively handle increased usage and maintain a seamless user experience.

Nostr Evaluation

Reputation: Nostr, a true alternative to Twitter, is known for being a platform that promotes anti-censorship. It has even gained endorsement from Edward Snowden. While Nostr enjoys a generally high reputation, it is not yet widely popular, leaving room for improvement in attracting billions of users. Rating: 4/5.

Technology: The Nostr protocol's code is designed to be simple, following the principle that less is more. This approach has contributed to Nostr's high growth rate and rapid adoption. The technology allows anyone, including those in censored countries like China, to set up a relay. Rating: 4/5.

Customer Service: The quality of customer service relies on the specific client or relay being used. Some paid relays may offer better support compared to the free ones. However, Nostr developers are always available to provide assistance and address concerns. Rating: 3/5.

Fees: Nostr is completely free of charge, making it highly accessible. Rating: 5/5.

Ease of Use: Initially, understanding that Nostr does not require a username and password, but instead uses a private key (similar to Bitcoin), can be challenging. However, once this concept is grasped, the onboarding process becomes relatively easy. Rating: 4/5.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How does Nostr ensure the authenticity and integrity of messages sent by users?

Nostr accounts are based on public-key cryptography. Each message sent through Nostr is signed using the user's private key, allowing recipients to verify the authenticity of the sender by validating the signature against the corresponding public key.

Can users connect to multiple relays in Nostr?

Yes, users can connect to multiple relays in Nostr. This is beneficial because it enhances resilience and reduces dependence on a single relay. If one relay becomes unavailable or experiences issues, users can still access their data and interact with the Nostr network through other connected relays.

What are some potential future challenges for Nostr?

One of the significant challenges for Nostr's future is scalability. As the user base and data volume grow, ensuring efficient scaling of the protocol becomes crucial to maintain a seamless user experience. Addressing scalability concerns will be essential for Nostr to handle increased usage effectively.