What's new in v0.4 - Multi-user Chat (MUC)

Feb 16, 2022

Version 0.4 of CoyIM is coming in February 2022. When you read this, it might already be out there! This release contains many important improvements and new functionality. And one of the largest additions is that for Multi-user chat.

CoyIM has traditionally been a chat client focused on chats between two parties. We have tried to be as secure as possible within that setting, including support for encryption and other privacy preserving measures. At the same time, we know that group chat is something that many people want, and not providing that in CoyIM is something that limits what you can use it for. Group chat is a part of the XMPP protocol, and not having support in CoyIM was becoming a glaring omission.

For all these reasons, we are very happy to announce that in version 0.4, CoyIM supports the most important aspects of the XMPP Multi-user Chat protocol. For the moment, this support follows the protocol quite closely, which means that it will sometimes look a little bit different than in other messenger applications. Specifically, the metaphor used in CoyIM is that of rooms. You create a room on a server, and then other people can join, administrate and moderate that room. The XMPP protocol supports many advanced features related to rooms, and CoyIM supports many of them as well.

Many chat clients with support for XMPP often end up with support for multi-user chat that is directly using the names, concepts and behaviors from the specification. This generally leads to an experience that works fine for technically minded people, but can be harder to come to grips with for non-technical users. The goal for CoyIM has always been that it should be easy to use even if you have no technical background, and with the work on Multi-user Chat we kept this focus. You will notice that our group chats does not necessarily look the same as other XMPP group chats. Throught the development of these features we focused on usability, simplicity and having a pleasant experience through the whole process. And we can say we are very proud of the result.

That all said, the support for Multi-user Chat is not complete. There are more features we would like to add in future versions. Much of this involves advanced features related to moderation and administration of different aspects of rooms. And while useful, these features are not as widely used as those we decided to prioritize for this release. Everything you need to create your own rooms or join and use existing ones is already there in CoyIM version 0.4. You can get started immediately.

It is important to mention one caveat. Multi-user Chat in CoyIM is not end-to-end encrypted. One of the important guidelines for CoyIM has always been interoperability. We want to use XMPP in order to give chat functionality using a protocol that already exists and works from other applications. And while we believe that CoyIM is a great client for XMPP, we know that some people make different choices. You should still be able to talk to them. An open standard based on interoperability and an ecosystem on top of this federated system is core to our beliefs about how technology should work. But that also means that we sometimes are limited in what protections we can give. And since the XMPP Multi-user Chat standards don’t have support for end-to-end encryption, we can’t add it either. What’s more, end-to-end encryption for group chats is actually a complicated problem, and we still don’t have a good solution to it in general. What this means is that rooms in CoyIM are not end-to-end-encrypted. However, our connection to the server is still protected. The connection between servers is still protected. And our implementation choices also reduces the risk of you being attacks. Our usage of Tor still means that your privacy and anonymity are protected. But at the end of the day, there are some things CoyIM can’t protect against when it comes to Multi-user Chats. For this reason, you will notice a warning when you enter such a room with CoyIM. You will also see other warnings for other potentially problematic aspects of Multi-user Chats.

It might seem weird to add a feature where encryption is not possible to CoyIM. But we believe that the addition of a well-designed implementation of Multi-user Chat in an application with the kind of security mentality that CoyIM has, is something that outweighs the risks. Frankly, we think that MUC is a great new addition - even with the limitations on security.

In summary - the latest version of CoyIM comes with many great new features, where group chat in the form of Multi-user Chat rooms is one of the largest and most important. We urge you to download the new version and try it out. We think it’s great, and hopefully you will too!