Software, Work

Comparing Jabber servers

I recently had a trawl around the available Jabber servers looking for something that was suitable for use as a messaging system for a website. My first job was to do a quick review of what is available out there. The first thing that was quite clear that is ejabberd has massive mindshare. There was a definite feeling of “why would you want to try other servers when you could just be running ejabberd?”.

Well there are kind of two answers; first there is inevitable Erlang objection. This time from sysops who felt uncomfortable with monitoring and support. It is a fair point, I feel Erlang can be particularly obtuse when it’s failing. The second was that ejabberd stubbornly refused to start up on my Fedora test box. Neither the yum copy nor a hand-built version cut the mustard. Ironically I was able to get an instance running in minutes on my own Ubuntu-based virtual machine (hand-built Erlang and ejabberd).

Looking a JVM-based alternatives I looked at OpenFire and Tigase. Tigase has lovely imagery but also seemed to have spam over its comments and the installation was a pig that I gave up on quickly. OpenFire is one of those old-school Java webapps where you are meant to manage everything via a web gui. This makes some kinds of  tasks easy but you have to write your own plugins to get programatic access to the server. I didn’t want to setup up an external database (why on earth would I want to do that?) but the internal HSQL store left me with no way of easily tweaking the setup of the server, a command-line tool would have been ultra-helpful because… OpenFire is annoyingly buggy, by this I mean it doesn’t have a lot of bugs but they are really annoying. After running through the gui setup process I tried to login. This was the wrong thing to do. What I needed to do was stop the server and restart it. Now the server was fucked and I needed to manually delete data and tweak config files to allow me to do the setup again.

Once it was running there was also some fun and games getting the BOSH endpoint to work. Do you need a trailing slash or not? I don’t remember but get it wrong and it doesn’t work. If you try to HTTP GET the endpoint then you get an error, this is technically correct but leaves you wondering whether your config is correct or not (if you know the error message you are looking for perhaps it is helpful but I didn’t so it wasn’t). ejabberd (when I got it working) is more helpful in giving an OHAI message that at least confirms you have something to point the client at.

OpenFire did what I needed but seems to make an implicit assumption that there is going to be an admin working at screens to configure and monitor everything. It feels more like a workgroup tool than a workhorse piece of infrastructure.

One oddity I found was Prosody, it sensibly used the same defaults, urls and conventions as ejabberd but is written in Lua and was gloriously lightweight. It absolutely hit the spot for development work and actually felt fun. I was able to script everything I needed to do via its ctl script. Of course if Erlang (a big, serious infrastructure language) is a bit of an issue the hipster scripting language might be too.

What the hell, if it was about doing what I need to do quickly and without fuss I would use Prosody and worry about any infrastructure issues later.

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