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Guide to Matrix.org and Riot.im

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Guide to Matrix.org and Riot.im

If you are interested in open source messaging platforms, check out this developer's initial documentation for these solutions.

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NOTE: This guide is essentially me taking notes while I learn about the matrix.org/riot.im projects. Some of it is almost certainly wrong. And I'm trying to take notes for an end user uninterested in the technical underpinnings work. There is clearly much more to these projects than I imply here. If you have suggestions for improvements, please send a PR.

As anyone on the internet or a cell phone knows, there are very, very many different and competing messenger applications out there. I recently started using Matrix and Riot. I didn't find a good "getting started" guide to these systems, and so decided to write down my findings here in such a setup.

I'm not going to belabor this point too much, but I want to at least acknowledge the question: why should I start using a new system when so many other, more popular options exist? And especially one that apparently requires a guide to use correctly! Here is my quick list of reasons why I started using these systems:

  • Fully open source tooling and open protocols: no lock-in at all
  • Potential to use alternative, lighter-weight clients if desired
  • Encryption
  • Full decentralization

If these reasons don't seem important to you, you may want to stick with more mainstream tooling. I'm particularly interested in these options for open source project communication, which is also why I'm writing this blog post (to help others onboard more easily). More on that topic in a separate blog post.

Matrix.org vs. Riot.im

Matrix, hosted at matrix.org, is "An open network for secure, decentralized communication." It is a protocol people use to communicate with each other. There is a concrete server at matrix.org that speaks this protocol, but you're free to run your own server on your own machine. That's the "decentralized" aspect of things.

Riot is the "default" application for talking with Matrix. It's a web app, a Desktop app (via Electron), and a mobile app. Just like the server, the client has alternatives as well, including text-based interfaces.

Since I'm going for simple overview of the common use case here, I'm going to assume you're using the matrix.org server and the Riot.im client.

Identifiers/Entities

As you'd expect, there are users on Matrix. You can create an account with Riot and get a username. I did this myself, and created my standard username: snoyberg. If Matrix was a more standard system, you may think you could find me as @snoyberg. However, that's not the case. Remember, there are different servers in the network, and matrix.org is just one of them. Therefore, we need to state which server I'm a part of. Therefore, my identifier is @snoyberg:matrix.org.

There's a convenient site, matrix.to, which will allow you to create URLs linking to specific entities. When you visit these pages, you'll see links to communicate with those entities. If you enter @snoyberg:matrix.org on matrix.to, you'll get the URL https://matrix.to/#/@snoyberg:matrix.org.

Besides users, there are two other entities you can create and interact with:

  • Chat rooms, which begin with #
  • Communities (aka teams and groups), which begin with +

As two concrete examples:

Summary

You can use https://matrix.to to create links to entities. Entities must include the server they are a part of, which will usually be :matrix.org at the end. The @ prefix is for users, # is for channels, and + is for communitites.

Rooms

Rooms are places where multiple people can have a conversation. You can create a new room with the icon with a + sign in the bottom-left corner of Riot. You can give each room a name when creating it. Once you're in the room, you can invite people via the "Invite" icon in the bottom right.

You can invite via email address. If they aren't already on Matrix, they'll get an invitation email to sign up. You can also invite via ID. Remember, if you wanted to invite me, don't just use snoyberg; you need to use @snoyberg:matrix.org.

You can click on the gear icon in the top-middle of the screen to open a bunch of settings for a room. Changing the name and topic of the room are fairly self-explanatory. To me, the most interesting settings are around privacy.

You can change who has access to a room. By default, each person must be invited to the room. You can also allow people to join via a link. In order to do this, you need to create an address for a room. This would be something like #myroomid:matrix.org. For example, I created a room @commercialhaskell:matrix.org.

You can also choose whether a room will be listed in the Matrix directory.

Communities

Communities seem to be a relatively new feature, and not all clients support them yet. It seems to me that they are adding two nice things:

  • Create a description for a community
  • Add a bunch of related rooms

I'm still exploring this feature, but I think it will fill the exact niche I need for my open source project maintenance. If you're interested, you can check out the Commercial Haskell community I created.

Bridging

This seems to be a "killer feature" for Matrix. There are lots of apps available for it to bridge with other systems, including IRC and Slack. For example, #haskell:matrix.org is a bridge to the #haskell channel on Freenode (IRC).

For open source work, I'm hoping that this kind of bridging will allow people who prefer IRC to interact with those looking for clients with a different interface.

UPDATE May 15, 2018: I found a great guide that demonstrates how to get tighter integration with IRC:https://opensource.com/article/17/5/introducing-riot-IRC.

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Topics:
open source ,community management ,messaging ,open protocol ,community identifier

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