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There are many aspects involved in choosing an open source chat server. Issues such as the operating system on which the server will run and what features are included are important. Consideration also must be given to the intended future of the server, so it can be scaled, if necessary, or support new plug-ins and features that could be independently developed. As open source software, there also must be careful examination of the security features provided and the activity level of the development community. The best open source chat server will fill all of the needs of the owner and have a future that includes some community support.
Chat servers can range from a very simple relay server that does nothing more than broadcast text to everyone connected, to intricate systems that coordinate multiple complex connections between different devices. The exact definition of what a chat server is has broadened to include nearly any program that allows two or more people to exchange text in real time. This includes instant messaging servers and peer-to-peer type networks, where every client also is a server.
The choice of the best open source chat server needs to be framed within the context of how and who will be using it. There are many simple, small choices to be made if the user load is expected to be very low. For higher user loads where individual chat rooms, contact lists or other social features could be necessary, then the field will dwindle. Running a large chat server requires a fair amount of technical knowledge about networking, the Internet and operating systems.
Another choice to be made when selecting the best open source chat server is whether the program requires a client. Web-based and telnet-accessible chat servers do not technically require a client outside of what is on a normal operating system or most devices. Specialized servers, such as instant messaging services, will require a client that understands the protocol being used. Depending on who will be using the server, downloading a dedicated client may or may not be a problem.
Using an open source chat server raises two concerns specific to open source software. The first is the security provided by the server. The software is open source, so anyone has access to it and could discover loopholes to be used to bypass the security of the server.
The second thing to be aware of is that, as open source software, it is developed by a community of people who might be constantly tweaking the program and making changes or improvements to it. They develop and provide the software at no cost. This can mean that, at some point, the community could vanish through attrition and leave a program that has bugs and no development or support.