While deciding to build chat or a messenger application the developer often look for different options, at the end it's all about the requirements.
There are many commercial services and development tools to build chat/ messaging applications with different features set. However, it's difficult to find open-source and free options.
In this article we will explore open-source options that aid developers to build real-time chat apps.
Why would you choose an open-source tool for building a messaging app?
- Productivity: With these tools the developers can create a functional chat application in no time with little customization.
- Stability: a Supportive development environment is often more stable than building from scratch, especially with open-source community packed projects.
- Battle-tested: Open-source projects used with real-life for end-users products.
- Over all re-inventing the wheel is time and resources consuming, even though it has, it's educational values
- Community support
Open-source Chat & Messaging SDK and Development Tools
ChatSDK is our top pick not just because of its rich features list, but because it has a dual license and supports iOS and Android.
It allows users to add chat support to their existing app or build a complete new application.
Its features include: private and public groups, user profiles, basic login, social login (Facebook, Twitter & Google), Push notification, search support, anonymous login, multiple message types and messages history.
Though it is free and open-source to use the project in a commercial project you need to buy a commercial license.
Website - GitHub
Chat21 is an open-source SDK set for building or integrating messaging functionalities into Android, iOS or Ionic applications on top of Google's Firebase database.
In addition to the basic chat functionalities, Chat21 is packed with set of useful features as address book, push notification, group chat, direct messages,
Firechat is a complete web-based open-source widgetized chat application based on Firebase.
Features of Firechat include: direct messaging, multi-room chat support, authentication support, moderator options, user presence, full-text search for messages, private messages, invitations and easy to integrate with existing web application.
Firechat is built on top of jQuery, underscore.js, Bootstrap CSS framework. The source code is released under MIT license.
- Native Chat SDK for Android:
If you want to develop a messaging application for Android devices with native performance, This GitHub repo contains an open-source native Android chat SDK.
It's supported and maintained by active developers and gaining popularity among Android developers.
- iOS Native Open-source Messenger SDK:
This is a complete stable project that offers a rich iOS development set for creating iOS chat application.
It features private messaging, attachment support including audio messaging, calling, video calling, archive or block users, wallpapers, user last active, push notification, media message re-download, download media on Wi-Fi, advanced cache management and complete message media support.
In addition to the mentioned features, it offers complete integration with iOS share menu, extra fancy options like sending current location, stickers support, load old messages, typing indicator and save all media into the device.
iOS Messenger SDK supports Firebase for full real-time actions, a Realm database for local data with AES-256 encryption.
It works seamlessly with MessageKit chat user interface and supports iOS Dark Mode.
- MessageKit (iOS)
MessageKit is an open-source chat and messaging UI Kit for iOS. It's a community-driven project to replace the old obsolete JSQMessagesViewController.
It's highly customizable and supported.
Rocket.chat is self-hosted which means it can be installed anywhere, it also provides a rich API set to build applications over it. However, It offers open-source Android and iOS clients.
As a complete messaging platform, consider Rocket.chat as the open-source alternative for Slack and managed messaging system with a powerful back-end controls.
ZulipChat is another complete messaging platform similar to Rocket.chat and Slack. I listed it here because it's a pure open-source project with customizable Android and iOS clients.
ZulipChat is the best open-source alternative for Slack and enterprise work because it offers integration with dozens of enterprise tools and solutions like GitHub, JIRA, Zendesk, Sentry and Travis CI.
Matrix is an open-source project for secure decentralized communication. It features a rich SDK support for web (HTTP APIs), iOS and Android. The development tools start from creating messaging client to chatbots.
Matrix also offers End-to-End encryption, VoIP support, Bridging and WebRTC support for video calling.
With MongoDB for the backend, Meteor is the best platform for real-time applications.
I have used Meteor with Angular, Ionic, Blaze + Cordova and React, It's proven to be reliable and productive.
Ionic is a mobile development platform for iOS and Android. It has a rich ecosystem which contains extensions and templates.
There are many open-source commercial Ionic templates for building messaging application, also Ionic plays well with React, Angular and soon Vue framework as well as it integrates seamlessly with Google's Firebase.
One of the upsides of Ionic: it's packed with a large community of developers which ensures a quality end-product.
Parse is an open-source real-time platform which provides a backend and rich set of SDK for developers that include native iOS development (Swift, ObjectiveC) and Android. It also offers .Net (Xamarin), Unity, PHP and Arduino SDKs.
ParseServer is a server application that works directly with MongoDB. Parse offers a user authentication, push notification and control dashboard.
Parse is a well-established project to build real-time application especially messaging application, it's also free and supported by experienced developers and a large community.
As this article came to an end, I listed the best available options to build a messaging application, I recommend setting the requirement first and matching them with the items on this list before jumping into the development.
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels