Backup and restore node keys with Hashicorp Vault

If you're running a validator node, it's important to backup your validator's keys and state - especially before attempting any updates or shifting nodes.

What to backup from a validator node

Each validator node has three files/secrets that must be backed up, in case you want to restore or move a node. Anything not in scope listed below can be easily restored from snapshot or otherwise replaced with fresh copies, and as such this list is the bare minimum that needs to be backed up.

$CHEQD_HOME is the data directory for your node, which defaults to /home/cheqd/.cheqdnode

Validator private key

The validator private key is one of the most important secrets that uniquely identifies your validator, and what this node uses to sign blocks, participate in consensus etc. This file is stored under $CHEQD_HOME/config/priv_validator_key.json.

Node key

In the same folder as your validator private key, there's another key called $CHEQD_HOME/config/node_key.json. This key is used to derive the node ID for your validator.

Backing up this key means if you move or restore your node, you don't have to change the node ID in the configuration files any peers have. This is only relevant (usually) if you're running multiple nodes, e.g., a sentry or seed node.

For most node operators who run a singular validator node, this node key is NOT important and can be refreshed/created as new. It is only used for Tendermint peer-to-peer communication. Hypothetically, if you created a new node key (say when moving a node from one machine to another), and then restored the priv_validator_key.json, this is absolutely fine.

Validator private state

The validator private state is stored in the data folder, not the config folder where most other configuration files are kept - and therefore often gets missed by validator operators during backup. This file is stored at $CHEQD_HOME/data/priv_validator_state.json.

This file stores the last block height signed by the validator and is updated every time a new block is created. Therefore, this should only be backed up after stopping the node service, otherwise, the data stored within this file will be in an inconsistent state. An example validator state file is shown below:

  "height": "3968024",
  "round": 0,
  "step": 3,
  "signature": "<signature>",
  "signbytes": "<sign-bytes>"

If you forget to restore to the validator state file when restoring a node, or when restoring a node from snapshot, your validator will double-sign blocks it has already signed, and get jailed permanently ("tombstoned") with no way to re-establish the validator.

Upgrade height information

The software upgrades and block height they were applied at is stored in $CHEQD_HOME/data/upgrade-info.json. This file is used by Cosmovisor to track automated updates, and informs it whether it should attempt an upgrade/migration or not.


Manual backup and restore

The simplest way to backup your validator secrets listed above is to display them in your terminal:

cat <filename>

You can copy the contents of the file displayed in terminal off the server and store it in a secure location.

To restore the files, open the equivalent file on the machine where you want to restore the files to using a text editor (e.g., nano) and paste in the contents:

nano <filename>

Backing up and restoring via HashiCorp Vault

HashiCorp Vault is an open-source project that allows server admins to run a secure, access-controlled off-site backup for secrets. You can either run a self-managed HashiCorp Vault server or use a hosted/managed HashiCorp Vault service.


Before you get started with this guide, make sure you've installed HashiCorp Vault CLI on the validator you want to run backups from.

You also need a running HashiCorp Vault server cluster you can use to proceed with this guide.

Setting up a HashiCorp Vault cluster is outside the scope of this documentation, since it can vary a lot depending on your setup. If you don't already have this set up, HashiCorp Vault documentation and Vault tutorials is the best place to get started.

Setting up Vault CLI environment

Once you have Vault CLI set up on the validator, you need to set up environment variables in your terminal to configure which Vault server the secrets need to be backed up to.

Add the following variables to your terminal environment. Depending on which terminal you use (e.g., bash, shell, zsh, fish etc), you may need to modify the statements accordingly. You'll also need to modify the values according to your validator and Vault server configuration.

export VAULT_ADDR=""
export VAULT_NAMESPACE="admin/testnet"
export CHEQD_HOME=/home/cheqd

Backup procedure for HashiCorp Vault

Configure Vault backup script

Download the script from Github:

wget -c

Make the script executable:

chmod +x

We recommend that you open the script using an editor such as nano and confirm that you're happy with the environment variables and settings in it.

Stop the cheqd service

Before backing up your secrets, it's important to stop the cheqd node service or Cosmovisor service; otherwise, the validator private state will be left in an inconsistent state and result in an incorrect backup.

If you're running via Cosmovisor (the default option), this can be stopped using:

sudo systemctl stop cheqd-cosmovisor

Or, if running as a standalone service:

sudo systemctl stop cheqd-node

Run the Vault backup script

Once you've confirmed the cheqd service is stopped, execute the Vault backup script:

./ -b true

We use HashiCorp Vault KV v2 secrets engine. Please make sure that it's enabled and mounted under cheqd path.

Restoring from HashiCorp Vault

To restore backed-up secrets from a Vault server, you can use the same script using the -r ("restore") flag:

./ -r true

Restoring secrets to a different machine

If you're restoring to a different machine than the original machine the backup was done from, you'll need to go through the pre-requisites, CLI setup step, and download the Vault backup script to the new machine as well.

In this scenario, you're also also recommended to disable the service (e.g., cheqd-cosmovisor) on the original machine. This ensures that if the (original) machine gets restarted, systemd does not try and start the node service as this can potentially result in two validators running with the same validator keys (which will result in tombstoning).

sudo systemctl disable cheqd-cosmovisor

Once you've successfully restored, you can enable the service (e.g., cheqd-cosmovisor) on the new machine:

sudo systemctl enable cheqd-cosmovisor

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