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.Dd June 19, 2020
.Dt IRC-SUITE 7
.Os "Causal Agency"
.
.Sh NAME
.Nm IRC suite
.Nd my own IRC software
.
.Sh DESCRIPTION
Over the past months
.Po
eight of them, according to
.Xr git-log 1
.Pc
I developed a new
.Dq suite
of IRC software
that I now use full-time,
consisting of a bouncer,
a new logging and search solution,
and a terminal client.
These new programs share some characteristics:
they are all TLS-only
and use the libtls API from LibreSSL,
they can all be entirely configured from the command line
or with equivalent configuration files,
they are all designed as
a one process to one IRC connection mapping,
and they all take advantage of IRCv3 features.
.
.Pp
For context,
I was previously running
the znc IRC bouncer
and using the Textual IRC client
with its plain text logs.
I also continue to use
the Palaver IRC client for iOS.
.
.Ss Background
A bouncer is a piece of server software
that stays connected to IRC at all times
and acts as a relay
between your client and the IRC server.
When the client is disconnected,
the bouncer buffers incoming messages
to send to the client when it reconnects.
.
.Pp
Aside from this,
bouncers have another advantage:
client multiplexing.
Several clients,
for instance on different computers
or a phone,
should be able to connect to the same bouncer,
and send and receive messages under the same nick.
Unfortunately,
znc does not handle this use-case well at all.
Out of the box it offers two options:
either any client connection totally clears the buffer,
causing other clients to miss chat history;
or the buffer is never cleared,
causing every client connection
to be repeatedly spammed with redundant history.
There is also a znc wiki page
that suggests one way to solve this issue
is to connect znc to itself multiple times over.
Yikes.
.
.Ss pounce
My dissatisfaction with
connecting multiple clients to znc
directly motivated me to start working
on a new multi-client-focused IRC bouncer.
The result is
.Xr pounce 1 ,
based on a rather straightforward
single-producer (the IRC server)
multiple-consumer (each IRC client)
ring buffer.
Each client has its own
independent position in the buffer
so can properly be brought up to date
whenever it connects.
.
.Pp
Additionally,
by assuming support for the IRCv3
.Sy server-time
extension,
all IRC events can be accurately
relayed to clients at any time,
and the internals of
.Xr pounce 1
can be kept very simple.
In fact,
it completely avoids parsing most IRC messages,
simply pushing them into the buffer
with an associated timestamp.
.
.Pp
The usernames sent by clients during registration
are used as opaque identifiers for buffer consumers.
This was chosen since most clients
can be configured to send an arbitrary username,
and those that don't often default
to the name of the client itself,
making it an appropriate identifier.
.
.Pp
Later,
I added a way for clients
to be informed of their own buffer positions
using a vendor-specific IRCv3 capability.
This means a client
can save the position
of the last message it actually received,
and request to set its position
when it reconnects,
ensuring no messages are lost
to network issues
or software crashes.
.
.Ss calico
Due to the simple design of mapping
one process to one IRC (server) connection,
it is necessary to run several instances of
.Xr pounce 1 .
Initially I simply used different ports for each,
but as I connected to more networks
and even ran some instances for friends,
it became less feasible.
.
.Pp
The solution I came up with
was to dispatch incoming connections
using Server Name Indication, or SNI.
This way,
multiple domains pointing to the same host
could be used with only one port
to connect to different instances of
.Xr pounce 1 .
For example,
I use a
.Li *.irc.causal.agency
wildcard DNS entry
and a subdomain for each IRC network,
all on port 6697.
.
.Pp
The
.Xr calico 1
daemon included with pounce
accomplishes this dispatch
using the
.Dv MSG_PEEK
flag of
.Xr recvmsg(2)
on incoming connections.
Since SNI is immediately sent by TLS clients
as part of the ClientHello message in clear-text,
it can be processed
without doing any actual TLS.
The connection itself is then
sent to the corresponding
.Xr pounce 1
instance
over UNIX-domain socket,
which handles TLS as normal.
This means that
.Xr calico 1
and
.Xr pounce 1
operate entirely independently of each other.
.
.Ss litterbox
Based on the multiple-consumer ring buffer design,
I realized it would be easy
to implement additional functionality
as independent purpose-built clients
which connect to
.Xr pounce 1
alongside regular clients.
This could allow dedicated OTR or DCC software
to operate in parallel with a basic client,
or for more passive software
to provide notifications
or dedicated logging.
.
.Pp
For the latter,
I wanted to do better than
plain text log files.
.Xr grep 1
over files works fine,
but search could be faster and smarter,
and the text format is
more lossy and less structured
than I'd like it to be.
Conveniently,
SQLite provides an extension
(actually two)
for full-text search.
.
.Pp
The litterbox project
is my dedicated logging solution
using SQLite FTS5.
It consists of three tools:
the
.Xr litterbox 1
daemon itself which connects to pounce
and logs messages to SQLite,
the
.Xr scoop 1
command line query tool,
and the
.Xr unscoop 1
plain text import tool.
The
.Xr scoop 1
tool constructs SQL queries
and formats the results for viewing,
with coloured nicks
and piped to a pager
by default.
.
.Pp
The
.Xr litterbox 1
daemon
can also provide a simple
.Dq online
.Pq over IRC
search query interface
to other connected clients.
The simplest way to allow different
.Xr pounce 1
clients to talk to each other
was to route private messages to self
internally without sending them to the IRC server.
So from any client
I can simply message myself
a full-text search query
and
.Xr litterbox 1
responds with the results.
.
.Pp
Along with routing self-messages,
.Xr pounce 1
also provides a vendor-specific IRCv3 capability
for passive clients such as
.Xr litterbox 1
to indicate that they should not influence
the automatic away status,
which is normally only set
when no clients are connected.
.
.Pp
An advantage of this architecture
of dedicated clients
rather than bouncer modules
is that they need not run
on the same host.
I run my bouncers on a VPS,
but I'd rather not store my private logs there,
so
.Xr litterbox 1
runs instead on a Raspberry Pi
in my apartment.
.
.Ss catgirl
There's not really that much to say
about the client,
.Xr catgirl 1 .
Of the three projects
it contains the most code
but is also the least interesting,
in my opinion.
It just does what I want a client to do,
and gets the details right.
.
.Pp
Tab complete is ordered by most recently seen or used,
and completing several nicks
inserts commas between them
as well as the colon following the final nick.
In the input line,
the prompt is updated
to reflect whether the input
will be interpreted as a command or as a message.
Messages are automatically scanned for URLs,
which can be opened or copied with commands
specifying the nick or a substring of the URL.
.
.Pp
Scrolling in a window creates a split view,
keeping the latest messages visible.
Nick colours are based instead on usernames,
keeping them more stable across renames,
and mentions in messages are coloured
to make the conversation easier to follow.
The visibility of ignored messages
can be toggled at any time.
Channels can be muted
so their activity is hidden
from the status line
unless you are pinged.
.
.Pp
.Xr catgirl 1
is configured entirely on the command line
or in equivalent simple configuration files.
There's no dynamic manipulation of state
using complex
.Ql /
commands like in some other clients.
.
.Pp
The major caveat is that
.Xr catgirl 1
connects to only one network at a time.
This keeps the configuration, the interface
and the code much simpler.
.Xr tmux 1 ,
.Xr screen 1
or a tabbed terminal emulator
are good options to run several instances.
.
.Pp
If you're interested in giving
.Xr catgirl 1
a quick (and necessarily limited) try,
you can
.Li ssh chat@ascii.town .
.
.Ss Future
I think I'm done with IRC software for now.
As mentioned above,
there are a few more pieces
that could fit in to this setup,
but I don't really want or need them right now.
One thing I definitely want to try
at some point
is adding a litterbox component
to index the contents of URLs
to make finding previously shared links easier.
.
.Pp
If you try any of this software
and have feedback,
let me know in
.Li #ascii.town
on freenode
or by email.
And of course,
patches are always welcome.
.
.Sh SEE ALSO
.Bl -item -compact
.It
.Lk "https://git.causal.agency/pounce" pounce
.It
.Lk "https://git.causal.agency/litterbox" litterbox
.It
.Lk "https://git.causal.agency/catgirl" catgirl
.It
.Lk "https://www.sqlite.org/fts5.html" "SQLite FTS5 Extension"
.El
.
.Sh AUTHORS
.An June Bug Aq Mt june@causal.agency