Free Code Chat Apps

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Most people are familiar with proprietary chat apps like Skype, FaceTime, FB Messenger, WhatsApp, Hangouts, WeChat, and so on. Chat apps differ from email in that they are designed mainly for use by two or more people who are online at the same time, having a back-and-forth conversation made up of short messages (1 or 2 sentences at a time). Most modern chat apps also support voice and video calling and voice mail. This page has information about chat apps whose code is available as a commons, under a free software license, allowing it to be audited by the community, or modified ("forked") to make new versions or new apps. --Strypey (talk) 16:34, 20 May 2019 (UTC)

Features: what they can do

Name Platforms supported Text/ Voice/ Video? Group chat End-to-End Encrypted Other features # of Languages Supported
Briar Android text only yes yes forums, blogs  ?
ChatSecure iOS text yes optional voice mail, file transfer  ?
Conversations mobile text, (voice messages) yes optional file transfer, short voice mails, message editing  ?
Jami desktop and mobile text, audio, video voice/ video only yes none  ?
Keybase desktop and mobile text, (audio/video?) yes yes signed file storage  ?
Linphone desktop and mobile text, audio, video yes in progress? file-sharing 32+ supported via Transifex
Meshenger Android audio  ?  ?  ?  ?
Mumble desktop and mobile text, audio yes No  ?  ?
qTox desktop text, audio, (video?) text: yes (audio/video?) yes  ?  ?
Riot web, mobile, desktop text, audio, video yes (audio and video via Jitsi Meet plug-in) optional (for now) file transfer  ?
Signal mobile, desktop text, audio, video yes yes image sharing, voice mails  ?
Silence Android text, multimedia messages  ? yes  ?  ?
TRIfa Android text, audio, video  ? yes image sharing, file transfer, video embeds  ?
Wire web, mobile, desktop text, audio, video yes yes message editing, image-sharing, file transfer  ?
Zom mobile text yes yes file transfer  ?

Structure: how they work

Name License Free Software Directory Topology Protocol(s) Used Network Transport(s)
Briar GNU GPLv3+ Listed distributed Tor internet, wifi, bluetooth
ChatSecure GNU GPLv3+ Mentioned federated XMPP internet
Conversations GNU GPLv3  ? federated XMPP, MUC, OMEMO, PGP internet
Jami GNU GPLv3+ Listed distributed SIP internet
Keybase Modified BSD  ? centralized internet
Linphone core library: GNU GPLv3, desktop, Windows 10, iOS clients: GPLv2, Android client: GNU GPLv3, flexisip server: GNU AGPL Listed centralized SIP, LIME internet
Meshenger GNU GPLv3  ? distributed IOTA local network, community network (internet?)
Mumble Modified BSD Listed centralized Own protocol, UDP internet
qTox GNU GPLv3 Mentioned distributed Tox internet
Signal clients: GNU GPLv3, server: GNU AGPLv3 Listed centralized Signal internet
Silence GPLv3  ? federated SMS, MMS GSM
Riot Apache 2.0 Under review federated Matrix internet
TRIfa GNU GPLv2  ? distributed Tox, Tor (with Orbot) internet
Wire GNU GPLv3 (clients) / AGPLv3 (server) Listed centralized (federation is planned) Proteus (own protocol) for text, DTLS and SRTP for voice internet
Zom Android: Apache 2.0, iOS ? federated Matrix internet

Notes on Network Topology

Network topology terms are used in the table above as follows:

  • Centralized: all connections between user apps must be made through a server (or cluster of servers) controlled by one operator.
  • Federated: all connections between user apps must be made through servers, but users can still communicate even if they are connected to separate servers, controlled by different operators.
  • Distributed: all connections are made directly between user apps, with no servers required.

A "distributed" network is commonly referred to as a "P2P" (peer-to-peer) network, or sometimes a "mesh" network. "Federated", as used here, is often referred to as "decentralized", following a convention established by the famous network topology diagram from Paul Paran's 1964 paper 'Centralized, Decentralized and Distributed networks'. However, in political writing, the term "decentralized" has commonly been used to refer to both networks of organizations, and networks of peers, while the term "federation" only applies to networks of organizations. --Strypey (talk) 13:50, 28 October 2019 (UTC)

Further notes on apps

Briar adding contacts requires in-person scanning of QR codes
Silence a fork of TextSecure - the app that later became the Android client for Signal - keeping only the support for SMS text messages and MMS multimedia messages.
Zom began as updated version of the old ChatSecure for Android code, using XMPP, but later moved to the Matrix protocol. The blog piece at that link describes a plan to begin a new ChatSecure for Android, as a fork of Conversations, making it also an XMPP client, but this effort was abandoned

See also