I'm having difficulty on proving the fact that each round of DES algorithm is its own inverse. Can someone put a concise explanation for it please?

If a function, say $f$ ,is its own inverse than $f(f(x))= x$ right? I try to prove that, given a round function $Rd$, that: $Rd(Rd(L_1\|R_1))= L_1\|R_1$. Here $L_1$ and $R_1$ are the left and right portion of the input.

Then I get: $$Rd(R_1\|L_1 \oplus F(R_1,K_1))=L_1 \oplus F(R_1,K_1)\|R_1 \oplus F(L_1+F(R_1,K_1), K_2)$$ ... this must be equal to $L_1\|R_1$.

But I cannot see how this would be equal to $L_1\|R_1$? Where am I making a mistake?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Little tricks: use \$\$ around equations to have them horizontally centered in their own vertical space and use \| for concatenation (the lines are slightly closer to each other). $\endgroup$
    – Maarten Bodewes
    Oct 23, 2018 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Maarten Bodewes, thanks but as i ve posted a question on meta before, unfortunately my internet provider have some issues with showing math characters online too. So i cannot write down in math formats. Sorry for this and thanks for editting the question. $\endgroup$
    – esra
    Oct 24, 2018 at 10:00

2 Answers 2


There's a simple way by which "each round of DES algorithm is its own inverse". Consider round $n$ of DES as involving (almost only) a function $g_n$ with $$g_n(L\mathbin\|R)=\bigl(L\oplus f(R,K_n)\bigr)\mathbin\|R$$ where $K_n$ is the 48-bit subkey for round $n$, function $f$ is the "cipher function" (given in the definition of DES), and $L$ and $R$ are 32-bit bitsrings forming a 64-bit block.

That function $g_n(L\mathbin\|R)$ verifies $g_n(g_n(L\mathbin\|R))=L\mathbin\|R$, as thought in the question; or in other words $g_n$ is an involution; or in yet other words $g_n\circ g_n$ is the identity function. Proof: $$\begin{align} g_n(g_n(L\mathbin\|R))&=g_n\Bigl(\bigl(L\oplus f(R,K_n)\bigr)\mathbin\|R\Bigr)\\ &=\Bigl(\bigl(L\oplus f(R,K_n)\bigr)\oplus f(R,K_n)\Bigr)\mathbin\|R\\ &=\Bigl(L\oplus\bigl(f(R,K_n)\oplus f(R,K_n)\bigr)\Bigr)\mathbin\|R\\ &=\left(L\oplus0^{32}\right)\mathbin\|R\\ &=L\mathbin\|R \end{align}$$ That proof invokes the definition of $g_n$ (twice), associativity of $\oplus$, that $f$ is a function, that for all 32-bit $X$ it holds $X\oplus X=0^{32}$ (the bitstring of 32 zero bits), which is the neutral for $\oplus$.

DES encryption chains these 33 operations on 64-bit quantities: $$\mathsf{IP}\,,\,g_1\,,\,\mathsf S\,,\,g_2\,,\,\mathsf S\,,\,\ldots\,,\,\mathsf S\,,\,g_{15}\,,\,\mathsf S\,,\,g_{16}\,,\,\mathsf{IP}^{-1}$$ where $\mathsf S$ is the "swap" involution defined by $\mathsf S(L\mathbin\|R)=R\mathbin\|L$, function $\mathsf{IP}$ is some permutation of bits, and $\mathsf{IP}^{-1}$ is the inverse permutation.

DES decryption chains these 33 operations on 64-bit quantities: $$\mathsf{IP}\,,\,g_{16}\,,\,\mathsf S\,,\,g_{15}\,,\,\mathsf S\,,\,\ldots\,,\,\mathsf S\,,\,g_2\,,\,\mathsf S\,,\,g_1\,,\,\mathsf{IP}^{-1}$$

We see that DES encryption then decryption is the identity function: the $(34-j)^\text{th}$ operation of decryption cancels the $j^\text{th}$ operation of encryption:

  • For $j=33$, because $\mathsf{IP}$ cancels $\mathsf{IP}^{-1}$.
  • For $j=1$, because $\mathsf{IP}^{-1}$ cancels $\mathsf{IP}$.
  • For other even $j$, because $g_{j/2}$ is an involution.
  • For other (odd) $j$, because $\mathsf S$ is an involution.

Importantly, encryption and decryption use the very same structure, only the indexes (that, is, the order of the subkeys $K_n$) differ. That allow to use identical hardware or code for both encryption and decryption.

The usual definition of a round of a Feistel cipher includes the swap $\mathsf S$: $$\begin{align} g'_n(L\mathbin\|R)&=\mathsf S\bigl(g_n(L\mathbin\|R)\bigr)\\ &=R\mathbin\|\bigl(L\oplus f(R,K_n)\bigr) \end{align}$$ and this function is not its own inverse per the sense in the question.

With that notation, DES encryption and decryption are the 18 operations $$\mathsf{IP}\,,\,g'_1\,,\,g'_2\,,\,\ldots\,,\,g'_{15}\,,\,g_{16}\,,\,\mathsf{IP}^{-1}\\ \mathsf{IP}\,,\,g'_{16}\,,\,g'_{15}\,,\,\ldots\,,\,g'_2\,,\,g_1\,,\,\mathsf{IP}^{-1}$$ In that presentation, it is less apparent that decryption undoes encryption. But that still holds, and becomes obvious again if we expand the $g'_n$ into $g_n$ followed by $\mathsf S$.

When it is said that DES has 16 rounds, it is ignored $\mathsf{IP}$ and $\mathsf{IP}^{-1}$. And, for a strict Vulcan, only the 16th round (the one without swap) is its own inverse.

The DES specification, and many textbooks on Feistel ciphers, give indexes to $L$ and $R$ before and after round $n$ of encryption, with $L_0\mathbin\|R_0$ the plaintext after $\mathsf{IP}$. The above equation for $g'_n$ can then be written as: $$\begin{align} L_n&\gets R_{n-1}\\ R_n&\gets L_{n-1}\oplus f(R_{n-1},K_n) \end{align}$$

DES (which as $m=16$ rounds) and some textbooks consider the ciphertext (before $\mathsf{IP}^{-1}$) to be $L_m\mathbin\|R_m$, and specialize the last encryption round's equations: $$\begin{align} L_m&\gets L_{m-1}\oplus f(R_{m-1},K_m)\\ R_m&\gets R_{m-1} \end{align}$$

There are other conventions around: some texts use the same equations for all rounds. Then some add a final swap, or consider the ciphertext to be $R_m\mathbin\|L_m$; others consider $L_m\mathbin\|R_m$ as the ciphertext (that later kind does not obtain the same ciphertext as DES).

As to decryption, DES uses the same round equations for encryption and decryption except for the numbering of subkeys, that is for $1\le n<m$: $$\begin{align} L_n&\gets R_{n-1}&&&L_m&\gets L_{m-1}\oplus f(R_{m-1},K_1)\\ R_n&\gets L_{n-1}\oplus f(R_{n-1},K_{16-n})&&&R_m&\gets R_{m-1} \end{align}$$ with the decryption's $L_0\mathbin\|R_0$ defined as the encryption's $L_n\mathbin\|R_n$, from which it follows that for $1\le n<m$, the decryption's $L_n\mathbin\|R_n$ is the encryption's $R_{m-n}\mathbin\|L_{m-n}$ (notice the inversion), and the decryption's $L_m\mathbin\|R_m$ is the encryption's $L_0\mathbin\|R_0$.

Other texts use the same naming for equal variables in decryption and encryption, and define different round equations for decryption. For regular round structure that gives: $$\begin{align} R_{n-1}&\gets L_n\\ L_{n-1}&\gets R_n\oplus f(L_n,K_n) \end{align}$$

Footnote per comment: There is always some form of swap between rounds of a Feistel cipher, so that the fraction of the state that did not change in a round changes in the next round. That's essential for security (not for decryption to work). A round is its own inverse only if we exclude the swap as part of its definition.

  • $\begingroup$ thanks a lot for the detailed explanation. With the definition of the involution function S (which i did not see before in the textbooks) now everything makes sense. But in the textbooks they don't mention this invoution function S, when i check the definiton of feistel cipher i did not see it before? i m studying for my exam and is there a reference that you can advice me to see this involution or swapping function? Other than that i am crystal clear of the proof now😊 $\endgroup$
    – esra
    Oct 24, 2018 at 10:14
  • $\begingroup$ @esra: I have expanded the answer to include a presentation with indices for $L$ and $R$ as found in textbooks. That's a bit tedious, not all textbooks agree, and I tried to cover the three main variants, so that part is a bit hairy (read the small text only if the rest does not match your reference). Also I changed $i$ to $n$ in order to match the notation in the DES specification. $\endgroup$
    – fgrieu
    Oct 24, 2018 at 11:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @esra: Yes, most authors agree that a Feistel round includes a swap, except perhaps for the last round (or sometime the first decryption round). The definition of $Rd$ applied in the question includes that swap, and for this reason is not its self-inverse, as you found out. $\endgroup$
    – fgrieu
    Oct 24, 2018 at 15:10

The round function of DES is defined as;

For $n$ from 1 to 16

  • $L_n = R_{n-1}$

  • $R_n = L_{n-1} \oplus f(R_{n-1},K_n)$

so the inverse is;

$R_{n-1} = L_n$


$L_{n-1} = R_n \oplus f(R_{n-1},K_n)$

And the below diagram may help to understand.

enter image description here

No: it is not self inverse in the sense of $rd(rd(x))=x$; You can see that from the image; or below calculation.

At the end of the first $Rd(L_0,R_0)$, you will have

  • $L_1 = R_{0}$
  • $R_1 = L_{0} \oplus f(R_{0},K_1)$

let see by putting back to $rd$

  • $L_{out} = L_{0} \oplus f(R_{0},K_1)$
  • $R_{out} = R_{0} \oplus f(R_{0},K_1) \oplus f(f(R_{0},K_1),K_1)$

that is definitely different since $L_0 \neq L_{out}$

But two rounds are if you reverse the keys.

  • $\begingroup$ I have just edited the question can you please check it again for the exact point that confuses me? Plus i cannot see the image becase the imgur web site is restricted in my country $\endgroup$
    – esra
    Oct 23, 2018 at 18:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The image can be seen here as well. I guess we cannot blame StackExchange for using Imgur just because the Turkish government blocks it. $\endgroup$
    – Maarten Bodewes
    Oct 23, 2018 at 19:28
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The way the answer is worded, the result of a round's XOR is placed in an R register on encryption, and in a L register on decryption. If you look at a DES implementation in hardware, or at most software ones, that's simply not the case: the exact same code is used for encryption and decryption (except for computation of subkeys). This is because the last round has a different equations. This consideration of the last round's equations, and how they effectively reverse the role or R and L for decryption, is essential to understand how DES is really practiced. $\endgroup$
    – fgrieu
    Oct 23, 2018 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Maarten Bodewes i think you get me wrong,or may be i could not explain myself very well. actually i did not blame StackExchange for anything. There are a couple of bans here (such as wikipedia)of some websites which is very unfortunate. it is nothing to the stackexchange at all. i also cannot see any profile photos because of the ban too. Thanks for editting again. $\endgroup$
    – esra
    Oct 24, 2018 at 10:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @esra use tor and wikizero $\endgroup$
    – kelalaka
    Oct 24, 2018 at 10:06

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