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Setting up IRC with soju and senpai

tags: irc privacy howto

Despite the rapid movement of many Free Software project communities to proprietary platforms like Slack and Discord, many communities continue to live on IRC. Notably, The Tor Project has several channels on OFTC. While many of these projects also have bridges to Matrix channels, I don't use Matrix, and there are many communities who continue to live only on IRC.

Thus, I wanted to set up a simple IRC bouncer and client combination. While I've used projects like TheLounge in the past, I wanted an IRC experience that could exist without a browser.

SourceHut is a project that I've been interested in for a while. They provide git hosting like GitHub or GitLab, but avoid locking in projects and communities with proprietary platform-specific features. They make heavy use of mailing lists, all of their software is completely Free, and, perhaps most importantly, the project is refreshingly human. In short, they value many of the things that make Free Software more than just Open Source.

Projects that are independent, make entirely Free Software, and design systems to protect user privacy are often difficult to fund, which is why SourceHut is so exciting to watch. They seem to have a relatively steady flow of income, and I'm optimistic that their model will prove itself, paving the way for more Free Software projects to become sustainable.

While not directly related to git hosting, they also operate an IRC bouncer. In short, an IRC bouncer maintains a connection to IRC networks and collects messages for you. You can then connect to the bouncer to read those messages and send messages in the channels that you've joined.

This has many benefits over operating a client on your own machine. For me, however, the two biggest advantages were the ability to register and connect over the Tor network and financially support SourceHut. Most IRC networks fight spam by blocking registration over Tor. By contrast, SourceHut is happy to accept registration without any JavaScript; all it needed was a username, email address, and password. While the chat.sr.ht project requires a paid account, this was a perfectly acceptable compromise for me, as anonymity was never my goal.

soju, a project by SourceHut, is the software underlying the chat.sr.ht bouncer. It's written in Go, financially supported by SourceHut, and seems relatively simple to interface with.

Normally, I would self-host a service like this. Actually, for a while, that's what I did. What compelled me to try the hosted solution was the inherently public nature of how I plan to use IRC. I won't be using IRC for one-to-one communication, or even within small groups. That's what messaging platforms like Signal are for. I intend to use IRC for interacting with public communities, where all of my messages can (and should) be readable by everyone.

SourceHut Account Setup

As mentioned previously, SourceHut's hosted https://chat.sr.ht instance of soju requires a paid account. This seems fairly reasonable, especially given the very generous and flexible pricing.

signup

Registration is incredibly simple. All I needed to do was provide a username, email address, and password. They even let me include a PGP key to both encrypt emails sent from their service and be presented on my profile.

Upgrading to a paid account was just as simple. Heading to my profile page, I clicked on billing:

profile

The billing page provided clear information on who needed to sign up for a paid account and transparency into the payment processor. I particularly appreciate the notice that non-free JavaScript would be required for payment, along with an invitation to find an alternative for those who wish to avoid using Stripe.

billing

senpai client setup

For my IRC client, I've chosen to go with senpai. While there are a few other clients listed in the soju docs, senpai is, like soju, written in Go, and explicitly designed to work well with the bouncer. Documentation for connecting clients, including senpai, to chat.sr.ht can be found on the official quickstart guide.

First thing's first, we need to create a Personal Access Token for our chat. A Personal Access Token gives SourceHut API access to your account for third-party applications and scripts. This is done very simply in SourceHut by returning to the profile page and selecting oauth.

oauth

Fortunately, senpai supports SourceHut's experimental OAuth 2.0 API. Proceeding to the OAuth 2.0 Dashboard:

oauth2

We can generate a new token. Thanks to the experimental API, we can limit the permissions of this token so that it doesn't have access to other SourceHut services, like git hosting or profile management. As of writing, the permission that it needs is the meta.sr.ht/PROFILE:RO permission. This seems like a strange permission for access to the chat.src.ht service, so I'd venture to guess that this permission will change as the chat.src.ht service improves, or the OAuth 2.0 API comes out of beta. I strongly recommend checking the official quick start guide to see if this is still the case. As of writing, the direct link to generate a new token is https://meta.sr.ht/oauth2/personal-token?grants=meta.sr.ht/PROFILE:RO:

oauth2-direct.png

Finally, we need to install and configure the senpai client. You can install it from the official SourceHut repository. Your system's software repository may have a pre-existing package for it. Otherwise, it can be installed relatively simply from source by cloning the repository and calling go install ./cmd/senpai. Make sure that your $GOBIN is in your $PATH.

The configuration file for senpai is located at ~/.config/senpai/senpai.scfg. To use it with chat.sr.ht, it should look something like this:

nickname your_irc_nickname
address chat.src.ht
username your_sourcehut_username
password "your_sourcehut_personal_access_token"

Note the quotation marks around your password, those are required. More configuration options and examples can be found on the senpai man page. The default settings send typing indicators, so I also disabled those with typings false.

You can finally launch senpai with the senpai command. Type /HELP to get usage instructions for senpai, or view the man page. Below is an example of adding irc.libera.chat as a network. I switch to the automatically-created BUFFER 1, which is an IRC chat with the chat.src.ht BouncerServ interface, which allows you to configure your bouncer. This is essentially an interface to configure your soju user. Details can, of course, be found by looking at the soju man page.

> /MSG BouncerServ help
> /BUFFER 1
> network create -addr ircs://irc.libera.chat:6697 -name libera -nick your_irc_nickname
BouncerServ	created network "libera"

Great! Now, I'll check the status of the network:

nickzana	network status
BouncerServ	libera (ircs://irc.libera.chat:6697) [connected as your_irc_nickname]: 0 channels

Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to open a buffer to a network without quitting and re-launching senpai. It seems like some of the bootstrapping is undocumented without the web UI, or I'm just misunderstanding the senpai man page. Regardless, after relaunching, I can switch to the newly-created libera buffer.

/BUFFER 1

To secure my nickname, I'll generate a CertFP self-signed certificate for the libera.chat network. Details on CertFP and how to use it can be found on the libera.chat guide.

/MSG BouncerServ help
/BUFFER 1
nickzana	certfp generate -key-type ed25519 libera
BouncerServ	certificated generated
BouncerServ	SHA-1 fingerprint: ...
BouncerServ	SHA-256 fingerprint: ...
BouncerServ	SHA-512 fingerprint: ...

Then, I'll register my nickname (in the libera.chat buffer):

/msg NickServ REGISTER your_password your_email@example.com

Don't forget to verify your email!

And, per the libera.chat guide, register my certificate fingerprint with my account:

/msg NickServ CERT ADD
NickServ:	Added fingerprint ... to your fingerprint list.

Finally, I'll join a channel in the libera buffer:

/join #sr.ht

This shows up as a new buffer in senpai.

Closing Thoughts

This process ended up being a bit more difficult than I had initially thought it would be. Most of the issues would've been solved by just using the chat.sr.ht web client. However, senpai is less than two years old, so there's plenty of room to improve. Maybe I'll try another client sometime soon. Overall, though, I'm quite happy with how it turned out!