Writing Your First Instant Messaging Program

Okay, so assuming you have libpurple installed, you can now write your first instant messaging program. This will be written in C. If you’re not too familiar with C, don’t worry. I’ll guide you through it.

First things first, you’ll need to open your terminal. In this case, we’ll be using bash for the shell and nano (same as pico) for the text editor. CD to the directory where you want to run your program and create a file called hello.c (user is your username on this machine):

cd /home/user
nano hello.c

Now, I am going to jump straight into it and give you a fully working libpurple program. I could tell you what every single line does, but instead, I’m just going to show you which parts are necessary and which parts you can play with. The black parts are necessary, the green parts are suggested, and the blue parts are what you probably want to customize:

 * Sample libpurple program written by Michael C. Brook (http://libpurple.com/)
 * (Some fragments taken from libpurple nullclient.c example found at http://pidgin.im/)

#include "purple.h"

#include <glib.h>

#include <signal.h>
#include <string.h>
#include <unistd.h>

#include <stdio.h>

#define CUSTOM_USER_DIRECTORY  "/dev/null"
#define CUSTOM_PLUGIN_PATH     ""
#define PLUGIN_SAVE_PREF       "/purple/user/plugins/saved"
#define UI_ID                  "user"

 * The following eventloop functions are used in both pidgin and purple-text. If your
 * application uses glib mainloop, you can safely use this verbatim.

typedef struct _PurpleGLibIOClosure {
	PurpleInputFunction function;
	guint result;
	gpointer data;
} PurpleGLibIOClosure;

typedef struct
	PurpleAccountRequestType type;
	PurpleAccount *account;
	void *ui_handle;
	char *user;
	gpointer userdata;
	PurpleAccountRequestAuthorizationCb auth_cb;
	PurpleAccountRequestAuthorizationCb deny_cb;
	guint ref;
} PurpleAccountRequestInfo;

static void purple_glib_io_destroy(gpointer data)

static gboolean purple_glib_io_invoke(GIOChannel *source, GIOCondition condition, gpointer data)
	PurpleGLibIOClosure *closure = data;
	PurpleInputCondition purple_cond = 0;

	if (condition & PURPLE_GLIB_READ_COND)
		purple_cond |= PURPLE_INPUT_READ;
	if (condition & PURPLE_GLIB_WRITE_COND)
		purple_cond |= PURPLE_INPUT_WRITE;

	closure->function(closure->data, g_io_channel_unix_get_fd(source),

	return TRUE;

static guint glib_input_add(gint fd, PurpleInputCondition condition, PurpleInputFunction function,
							   gpointer data)
	PurpleGLibIOClosure *closure = g_new0(PurpleGLibIOClosure, 1);
	GIOChannel *channel;
	GIOCondition cond = 0;

	closure->function = function;
	closure->data = data;

	if (condition & PURPLE_INPUT_READ)
	if (condition & PURPLE_INPUT_WRITE)

	channel = g_io_channel_unix_new(fd);
	closure->result = g_io_add_watch_full(channel, G_PRIORITY_DEFAULT, cond,
					      purple_glib_io_invoke, closure, purple_glib_io_destroy);

	return closure->result;

static PurpleEventLoopUiOps glib_eventloops =

	/* padding */
/*** End of the eventloop functions. ***/

static void network_disconnected(void)

	printf("This machine has been disconnected from the internet\n");


static void report_disconnect_reason(PurpleConnection *gc, PurpleConnectionError reason, const char *text)

	PurpleAccount *account = purple_connection_get_account(gc);
	printf("Connection disconnected: \"%s\" (%s)\n  >Error: %d\n  >Reason: %s\n", purple_account_get_username(account), purple_account_get_protocol_id(account), reason, text);


static PurpleConnectionUiOps connection_uiops =
	NULL,                      /* connect_progress         */
	NULL,                      /* connected                */
	NULL,                      /* disconnected             */
	NULL,                      /* notice                   */
	NULL,                      /* report_disconnect        */
	NULL,                      /* network_connected        */
	network_disconnected,      /* network_disconnected     */
	report_disconnect_reason,  /* report_disconnect_reason */

static void ui_init(void)
	 * This should initialize the UI components for all the modules.



static PurpleCoreUiOps core_uiops =

	/* padding */

static void init_libpurple(void)
	/* Set a custom user directory (optional) */

	/* We do not want any debugging for now to keep the noise to a minimum. */

	/* Set the core-uiops, which is used to
	 * 	- initialize the ui specific preferences.
	 * 	- initialize the debug ui.
	 * 	- initialize the ui components for all the modules.
	 * 	- uninitialize the ui components for all the modules when the core terminates.

	/* Set the uiops for the eventloop. If your client is glib-based, you can safely
	 * copy this verbatim. */

	/* Set path to search for plugins. The core (libpurple) takes care of loading the
	 * core-plugins, which includes the protocol-plugins. So it is not essential to add
	 * any path here, but it might be desired, especially for ui-specific plugins. */

	/* Now that all the essential stuff has been set, let's try to init the core. It's
	 * necessary to provide a non-NULL name for the current ui to the core. This name
	 * is used by stuff that depends on this ui, for example the ui-specific plugins. */
	if (!purple_core_init(UI_ID)) {
		/* Initializing the core failed. Terminate. */
				"libpurple initialization failed. Dumping core.\n"
				"Please report this!\n");

	/* Create and load the buddylist. */

	/* Load the preferences. */

	/* Load the desired plugins. The client should save the list of loaded plugins in
	 * the preferences using purple_plugins_save_loaded(PLUGIN_SAVE_PREF) */

	/* Load the pounces. */

static void signed_on(PurpleConnection *gc)

	PurpleAccount *account = purple_connection_get_account(gc);
	printf("Account connected: \"%s\" (%s)\n", purple_account_get_username(account), purple_account_get_protocol_id(account));


static void received_im_msg(PurpleAccount *account, char *sender, char *message,
                              PurpleConversation *conv, PurpleMessageFlags flags)

	if (conv==NULL)
  	conv = purple_conversation_new(PURPLE_CONV_TYPE_IM, account, sender);

	printf("(%s) %s (%s): %s\n", purple_utf8_strftime("%H:%M:%S", NULL), sender, purple_conversation_get_name(conv), message);


static void connect_to_signals(void)

	static int handle;

	purple_signal_connect(purple_connections_get_handle(), "signed-on", &handle,
				PURPLE_CALLBACK(signed_on), NULL);

	purple_signal_connect(purple_conversations_get_handle(), "received-im-msg", &handle,
				PURPLE_CALLBACK(received_im_msg), NULL);


int main(int argc, char *argv[])

	GMainLoop *loop = g_main_loop_new(NULL, FALSE);

	/* libpurple's built-in DNS resolution forks processes to perform
	 * blocking lookups without blocking the main process.  It does not
	 * handle SIGCHLD itself, so if the UI does not you quickly get an army
	 * of zombie subprocesses marching around.
	signal(SIGCHLD, SIG_IGN);


	printf("libpurple initialized. Running version %s.\n", purple_core_get_version()); //I like to see the version number


	PurpleAccount *account = purple_account_new("YOUR_IM_ACCOUNTS_USERNAME_HERE", "prpl-IM_NETWORK_HERE"); //this could be prpl-aim, prpl-yahoo, prpl-msn, prpl-icq, etc.
	purple_account_set_password(account, "YOUR_IM_ACCOUNTS_PASSWORD_HERE");

	purple_account_set_enabled(account, UI_ID, TRUE);


	return 0;


Download hello.c

I know this might look like one big scrambled mess, but for the time being, let’s not concern ourselves with what the program actually does. First, let’s just see if it works. Copy the above program into the text editor in your terminal. Then, make sure to replace YOUR_IM_ACCOUNTS_USERNAME_HERE, YOUR_IM_ACCOUNTS_PASSWORD_HERE, and IM_NETWORK_HERE with your IM account’s username, password, and network, respectively. Here’s a list of networks that libpurple supports by default. You will need to insert the “prpl-whatever” part in place of the network in your program:

AIM		prpl-aim
Bonjour		prpl-bonjour
Gadu-Gadu	prpl-gg
GroupWise	prpl-novell
ICQ		prpl-icq
IRC		prpl-irc
MSN		prpl-msn
MySpaceIM	prpl-myspace
QQ		prpl-qq
SILC		prpl-silc
SIMPLE		prpl-simple
Sametime	prpl-meanwhile
XMPP		prpl-jabber
Yahoo		prpl-yahoo
Yahoo JAPAN	prpl-yahoojp
Zephyr		prpl-zephyr

After you have edited the necessary parts of the program, save and close it (hit CTRL+X, Y, and ENTER). Now, we need to compile the program. To do so, enter the following command:

gcc `pkg-config --libs glib-2.0` -I /usr/include/libpurple/ -I /usr/include/glib-2.0/ -I /usr/lib/glib-2.0/include/ -lpurple hello.c -o hello

This is where you will find out if everything is working properly or not. If you receive no output after running this command, congratulations! Everything is working fine. However, if you receive any errors, it is likely to be related to your installation of libpurple or glib. If you have already gone through the installation tutorial but you are still getting errors, feel free to leave a comment and we’ll see if we can sort it out.

(Note: the paths used to include libpurple and glib in the command may depend on your operating system and the paths you have chosen to install each library in. This is confirmed to work at least for Ubuntu and Debian Linux using the default installation paths. Also note that using the CC compiler instead of GCC will work as well.)

Now, it is time to run your program! Type in the terminal:


If all goes well, your account should be signed in through your program, and you should see something similar to:

libpurple initialized. Running version 2.6.2.
Account connected: "username" (prpl-network)

At the time this tutorial was written, version 2.6.2 was the latest stable version. And of course, you will see your own “username” and “prpl-network”. If you would like to exit the program, just hit CTRL+C. If your account was connected, it will be signed off.

For the time being, the program will only print messages when your account is connected, an instant message is received, the IM account is disconnected because of an error, or the machine is disconnected from the internet. These are just examples of events that you can track and perform any action from. You can actually track events anywhere from an account sign-on, to a buddy request being received, to when a buddy is typing to you, to pretty much anything else you can imagine. This is especially useful when you are working with databases and would like to update record values based on different events. You can also send out buddy requests, instant messages, programmatically show a buddy that you are typing to them, and all of the above. In short, you can programmatically do anything your instant messenger can do and more.

If you decide to go back and make any changes to your program, just remember to compile your program again afterwards, since the actual program is running from the compiled version (it is not automatically modified by simply saving the source code). For PHP developers (like me), this is something you need to remember.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the ride! Again, if you have trouble, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Next up: Capturing events

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