Mask generation function

A Mask Generation Function (MGF) is a cryptographic primitive similar to a Cryptographic hash function except that while a hash function’s output is a fixed size, a MGF supports output of a variable length. In this respect, a MGF can be viewed as a single-use Sponge function, it can absorb any length of input and process it to produce any length of output. Mask Generation Functions are completely deterministic. For any given input and desired output length the output is always the same.



“A mask generation function takes an octet string of variable length and a desired output length as input, and outputs an octet string of the desired length. There may be restrictions on the length of the input and output octet strings, but such bounds are generally very large. Mask generation functions are deterministic; the octet string output is completely determined by the input octet string. The output of a mask generation function should be pseudorandom, that is, if the seed to the function is unknown, it should be infeasible to distinguish the output from a truly random string.”


Mask Generation Functions, as generalizations of hash functions, are useful in all the same cases hash functions are useful. However use of a MGF is desirable in cases where a fixed-size hash would be inadequate. Examples include generating , producing or in symmetric key encryption, and yielding outputs for .

Padding Schemes

Mask Generation Functions were first proposed as part of the specification for padding in the algorithm. The OAEP algorithm required a cryptographic hash function that could generate an output equal in size to a “data block” whose length was proportional to arbitrarily sized input message.

“Salsa20 generates the stream in 64-byte (512-bit) blocks. Each block is an independent hash of the key, the nonce, and a 64-bit block number; there is no chaining from one block to the next. The Salsa20 output stream can therefore be accessed randomly, and any number of blocks can be computed in parallel.”

Random Number Generators

The NIST Special Publication 800-90A defines a class of cryptographically secure random number generators, one of which is the “Hash DRBG” which uses a hash function with a counter to produce a requested sequence of random bits equal in size to the requested number of random bits.


Perhaps the most common and straight forward mechanism to build a MGF is to iteratively apply a hash function together with an incrementing counter value. The counter may be incremented indefinitely to yield new output blocks until a sufficient amount of output is collected. This is the approach used in MGF1 shown below.


MGF1 is a Mask Generation Function defined in the Public Key Cryptography Standard #1 published by RSA Laboratories. The algorithm is described as follows:

  Hash hash function (hLen denotes the length in octets of the hash  function output)   Input:  Z seed from which mask is generated, an octet string  l intended length in octets of the mask, at most 2^32(hLen)   Output:  mask mask, an octet string of length l; or "mask too long"   Steps:   1.If l > 2^32(hLen), output "mask too long" and stop.   2.Let T be the empty octet string.   3.For counter from 0 to lceil{l / hLen}rceil-1, do the following:   a.Convert counter to an octet string C of length 4 with the primitive  I2OSP: C = I2OSP (counter, 4)   b.Concatenate the hash of the seed Z and C to the octet string T: T =  T || Hash (Z || C)   4.Output the leading l octets of T as the octet string mask. 

Example Code

Below is the python code implementing MGF1:

import hashlib  def i2osp(integer, size=4):  return ''.join([chr((integer >> (8 * i)) & 0xFF) for i in reversed(range(size))])  def mgf1(input, length, hash=hashlib.sha1):  counter = 0  output = ''  while (len(output) < length):  C = i2osp(counter, 4)  output += hash(input + C).digest()  counter += 1  return output[:length] 

Example outputs of MGF1:

Python 2.7.6 (default, Sep 9 2014, 15:04:36)  [GCC 4.2.1 Compatible Apple LLVM 6.0 (clang-600.0.39)] on darwin Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information. >>> from mgf1 import mgf1 >>> from binascii import hexlify >>> from hashlib import sha256 >>> hexlify(mgf1('foo', 3)) '1ac907' >>> hexlify(mgf1('foo', 5)) '1ac9075cd4' >>> hexlify(mgf1('bar', 5)) 'bc0c655e01' >>> hexlify(mgf1('bar', 50)) 'bc0c655e016bc2931d85a2e675181adcef7f581f76df2739da74faac41627be2f7f415c89e983fd0ce80ced9878641cb4876' >>> hexlify(mgf1('bar', 50, sha256)) '382576a7841021cc28fc4c0948753fb8312090cea942ea4c4e735d10dc724b155f9f6069f289d61daca0cb814502ef04eae1' 


See Also on BitcoinWiki