david wong

Hey! I'm David, a security engineer at the Blockchain team of Facebook, previously a security consultant for the Cryptography Services of NCC Group. I'm also the author of the Real World Cryptography book. This is my blog about cryptography and security and other related topics that I find interesting.

How does the Mersenne's Twister work? posted February 2016

Someone asked that question on reddit, and so I replied with a high level answer that should provide a clear enough view of the algorithm:

From a high level, here's what a PRNG is supposed to look like:


you start with a seed (if you re-use the same seed you will obtain the same random numbers), you initialize it into a state. Then, every time you want to obtain a random number, you transform that state with a one-way function \(g\). This is because you don't want people to find out the state out of the random output.

You want another random number? You first transform the state with a one way function \(f\): this is because you don't want people who found out the state to be able to retrieve past states (forward secrecy). And then you use your function \(g\) again to output a random number.

Mersenne Twister (MT) is like that, except:

  • your first state is not used to output any random numbers
  • a state allows you to output not only one, but 624 random numbers (although this could be thought as one big random number)
  • the \(g\) function is reversible, it's not a one-way function, so MT it is not a cryptographically secure PRNG.

With more details, here's what MT looks like:

mersenne twister

the \(f\) function is called "twist", the \(g\) function is called "temper". You can find out how each functions work by looking at the working code on the wikipedia page of MT.

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