Using BitlBee to consolidate instant messaging into one client

Vincent Danen recommends gateway/proxy system BitlBee, which allows you to group together all the various IM protocols using your favourite IRC client. Here's how to set it up.

If you're a fan of instant messaging, be it IRC, Jabber, AIM, or others, then BitlBee may be of interest. It is a gateway/proxy system that allows you to chat with people on various instant messenger networks using your IRC client. Instead of running an IRC client and one (or more) IM clients, you can run the BitlBee daemon as a background service and use one application to do all of your chatting.

A number of distributions package BitlBee already, but if you want to compile it yourself or get the latest version, download the tarball from the site and compile it with:

./compile —prefix=/usr/local
sudo make install
sudo make install-et

This will install BitlBee into /usr/local/sbin/ with other supporting files in /usr/local, and configuration files in /usr/local/etc/BitlBee/. If building from source, you'll want an /etc/xinetd.d/BitlBee file as well, which will

start BitlBee on-demand. This file can be found in the doc/ directory of the expanded tarball; distributions providing BitlBee should provide this file by default. As well, the GnuTLS development files should be installed prior to compiling; OpenSSL can be used but doesn't seem to be as reliable in BitlBee as GnuTLS.

Now you can start or restart xinetd and connect to port 6667 on the server that you installed BitlBee onto with your favourite IRC client. When you connect, you will be joined to #BitlBee. The first step is to register your account. This can be done by typing the command register [password] in the #BitlBee channel.

Once you have set the password, it's time to set up accounts. BitlBee can proxy AIM, ICQ, Yahoo, MSN, and Jabber accounts. The following will set up a Google Talk account. Remember, all of this must be done in the #BitlBee channel.

account add password
account list
<@root> 0. jabber,
account set 0/server
account set 0/port 5223
account set 0/ssl true
account on 0

Each account you set up has a unique numeric account number which can be seen with the "account list" command. Here, we have configured our Google Talk account for with the password password. We also need to set some specific options such as the server, port, and SSL options, which are done with the "account set" commands. Finally, we connect to the account using the account on [number] command.

To obtain help on any command use "help account set" which will give you the various options available.

Finally, as people come online via whatever instant messenger accounts you have set up, you will see them "join" the #BitlBee channel. You can send them messages either using the /query command for private messages or by addressing them directly (such as "friend: hey there!"). Commands in #BitlBee not prefixed by a username are interpreted by BitlBee itself.

BitlBee is quite nice as it allows you to group together all the various IM protocols using your favourite IRC client. If you use IRC a lot to begin with, and also use instant messaging, using BitlBee makes sense as it allows you to run everything in one application. This approach is, at least for me, much more desirable than using an instant messenger client to try and do IRC conversations.

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About Vincent Danen

Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.

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