Bonum Certa Men Certa

HexChat Looks for Successors to Keep IRC Growing

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Feb 28, 2024

HexChat

IRC (Internet Relay Chat) turned 35 last summer. I've used IRC since I was a child. It's still being used by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and HexChat had a new release just earlier this month. To quote the official site rather than some 'blogspam':

This week 2.16.2 has been released. It contains some small fixes and features that have accumulated over the past two years since the last release.

This will be the last release I make of HexChat. The project has largely been unmaintained for years now and nobody else stepped up to do that work.

I want to say thank you to all of the contributors, users, and chatters I’ve interacted with over the years. HexChat was a very important and formative project for me; I started contributing to it as a teenager, learned so much, met many great people, and it led to greater things in my life. It is hard to let go but the time has come for me to move on.

I am going to move all data that I can to be hosted on Github, so all documentation, installers, and dependencies will be there until the end of Microsoft.

Forks of the project are welcomed. Nobody can stop the code from living on.

That part about "until the end of Microsoft" overlooks the fact GitHub won't stay free. But set that aside for now...

Great opportunity!

HexChat was already derived from another program and it has "sibling" projects that we still use. HexChat is very, very important.

HexChat uses GTK+ (I've used that myself and developed in it) and as an IRC client written primarily in C (Python 1.7%, Perl 1.5%, C 93.3%) I suppose I too could fork it (I was primarily a C coder in my "prime") but I would rather focus on running the sites.

We certainly hope some people out there will step up and keep that program going. We depend on it for a bunch of our own programs, as we've used XChat and GNOME-chat since 2008. It's the default logging format for us.

There is a great opportunity here for people to enter the Free software community (GPL!) as productive developers with a very ample userbase and reasonably mature codebase (decades of refinement make better code). HexChat/XChat being continued would be a massive service to society!

But what about the future?

In case it's not obvious, Freenode is still stagnating further (we were there from 2008 until 2021; we have our own network for communication now, some of it with cross-country redundancy and hosted from several homes after many attempts to censor us) while Libera.Chat is doing OK. The following decrease is due to cutting off Matrix, i.e. not actual users of IRC:

Libera.Chat stats

There's still OFTC with Matrix users bridged over (marked with [m] in the username):

OFTC growing

Big communities, lots of them, not centralised

There are almost 500 different IRC networks of decent size and the total (across networks, with repetition) number of users is somewhere around 300,000. Sure, some networks aren't tracked, some are private etc. Some people have multiple usernames or are active in several networks at the same time, so let's say that the number of active IRC users is still hundreds of thousands of unique people.

IRC is far from dead. A week ago Joey Sneddon said: "Despite a declining popularity in an era of modern messaging platforms, IRC (Internet Relay Chat) remains a reliable, low-barrier way to engage in real-time communication with people across the world."

Among geeks there's not really "declining popularity", but in relative terms it has suffered from things like Signal, which are perceived to be more secure (even when they're not). IRCv3 has an extensive set of useful features that help it keep ahead, plus there's user-to-user encryption shall one require it.

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