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Instant Messaging System

Written by Dave Houldershaw

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What is an Instant Messaging System?

    From the Wikipedia page on Instant Messaging :-

Instant messaging (IM) is a collection of technologies that create the possibility of real-time text-based communication between two or more participants over the internet or some form of internal network/intranet. It is important to understand that what separates chat and instant messaging from technologies such as e-mail is the perceived synchronicity of the communication by the user - Chat happens in real-time. Some systems allow the sending of messages to people not currently logged on (offline messages), thus removing much of the difference between Instant Messaging and e-mail.

IM allows effective and efficient communication, featuring immediate receipt of acknowledgment or reply. In certain cases Instant Messaging involves additional features, which make it even more popular, i.e. to see the other party, e.g. by using web-cams, or to talk directly for free over the Internet.

It is possible to save a conversation for later reference. Instant messages are typically logged in a local message history which closes the gap to the persistent nature of e-mails and facilitates quick exchange of information like URLs or document snippets (which can be unwieldy when communicated via telephone).

   The instant messaging system (IMS) we use is based on the open source Jabber protocol. For those interested the actual server software is Openfire 3.6.4.  There are a number of software clients that you can use to access our IMS and we will provide configuration instructions for a few of them below, but we can not provide instructions for all.

General Configuration Instructions

   The UserID and password you use for accessing the course material are reused to gain entry to the IMS.  The address of our IMS server is jabber.cryst.bbk.ac.uk . The form the userid, as specified by your chosen IMS client, can vary, some will ask for the userid and server as separate input boxes, some may ask for a JID (jabber ID) which is similar in form to an email address and simply put is your userid and the server name concatenated together with an @ in between e.g. :-


   Once logged into the IMS the you need to find your way to the Multi User Chatroom (or possibly simply called a ChatRoom) we have configured for your course. These rooms/services are also sometimes referred to as Conferences.  Some clients will automatically show the available Conferences.  For the PPS course the chatroom can be found listed under the Conference service pps.jabber.cryst.bbk.ac.uk and is called Course Room.  Once in the chat room all the previous chat will be available so you can catch up on what has been said.

Specific Configuration Instructions for a Small Selection of Clients

   There a range of IMS clients available, you may already have one installed on your computer.  Most are free to  download, hit here for a list.


 If you don't want to download and install a client or you are unable to (because you are on a computer you don't control) then you can use a web based client called SparkWeb and can be found here. The web based, flash client has been preconfigured so that you only have to enter your userid and password to log in.  Once logged in hit the 'conferences' tab at the bottom left and then the '+'  button to the right of it.

SparkWeb Conferences Tab

   This will generate a new prompt box into which you should enter px.jabber.cryst.bbk.ac.uk :-

conference server address

Hit the 'Add' button and the left hand panel will change to show the available chatrooms:-
available chatrooms

Click on the chatroom to open a dialog (which appears on the right) into which you can type your on messages (in the box on the right at the bottom) and see the messages of others, as well as a list of people in the chatroom (right most list).  This procedure has to be done every time you use sparkweb.


  Spark is a client which can be installed on Windows/Mac/Linux.  When first fired up the client will present a login box:-
spark login box

   Type your username and password into the appropriate boxes and for the server type :- jabber.cryst.bbk.ac.uk .  Once logged in, hit the conferences tab at the bottom:-
Spark Conferences Tab

  to see a list of available conferences.  Hit the px.jabber.cryst.bbk.ac.uk service and a new window will pop up with a list of the available rooms within that service.  Select a room and then hit the 'Join Selected Room' button.  A new window will pop up showing the selected chat room.

   iChat will be found on most up to date Macs.  To use iChat, start the program running and then go into iChat->preferences, Accounts and hit  the + (bottom left) to add a new account. Set the Account Type to 'Jabber Account' and for the account name use the JID form i.e. <userid>@jabber.cryst.bbk.ac.uk and then you password, finally hit 'done'.

ichat account

A new window will pop up called 'Jabber List'. 

jabber list window

    To get to a chat room first change you status in 'Jabber List' to available (if it isn't already) and then from the iChat menus select File->Go to Chat Room and a new window will pop up. In the 'Room Name' text box type px@px.jabber.cryst.bbk.ac.uk and hit the + at the bottom left.

available chatrooms
This will add the course room to your list of rooms and hitting the 'go' button will open a new window showing the messages already there and allowing you to add your own.

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