Screen Irssi Bitlbee

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Using GNU Screen, Irssi, Bitlbee, and SSH together allows you to have a persistent connection to IRC servers, AOL Instant Messenger, and MSN Instant Messenger. Via SSH, you can access this persistent chat suite from anywhere. Putting the pieces together is not difficult, and this page will guide you through it.


GNU Screen

First we'll introduce GNU Screen. Screen lets you keep shells open, even when you're not actively using them. We'll be using it here to keep our IRC session persistent so that we can reconnect to it from anywhere without having to close the IRC client. Read the wiki page and man page for GNU Screen for more information.


Irssi is a command-line IRC client. It's very flexible and scriptable. We'll be using it, obviously, as our IRC client.


Bitlbee is an interesting project. It sets up an IRC server on your local machine, which connects to various instant messenger protocols, and represents logged-in users as IRC users.


Everyone knows what SSH is. This will let us use our persistent chat suite from anywhere with web access.

Setting it up


First, update your system and install all of the required packages:

pacman -Syu
pacman -S openssh irssi screen bitlbee

Configuring SSH

Follow the directions on SSH's wiki page to set up SSH. It's far too involved to summarize here.

Configuring bitlbee

The only application which really requires you to configure is Bitlbee. You can follow the directions on Bitlbee's wiki page if you like. All you really need to do is go through /etc/bitlbee/bitlbee.conf and configure it how you like. Below are some modifications worth pointing out.

This will have Bitlbee run as a daemon, which forks a new process for each user that joins. This is simpler than running it through xinetd, so I suggest it.

RunMode = ForkDaemon

This will have the daemon drop root priveledges after it launches on boot. Do this for security; there's no reason for Bitlbee to run as root.

User = bitlbee

Be sure to change the password here.

OperPassword = 

Using Irssi in Screen

Open up a terminal and run screen. After the copyright message (read the wiki to disable that message), you should find yourself at a plain terminal. Launch irssi in this terminal.

Irssi is a full-fledged IRC client, so we can't list a complete tutorial here. Use Google to find more information on what irssi can do for you. Now's the time to connect to whatever IRC networks you like.

Connecting to Bitlbee

Bitlbee sets up an IRC server on your local machine. To connect to it, run this in irssi:

/connect localhost <optional port>

You should immediately join a channel called &bitlbee. Here you'll see a brief introduction to Bitlbee. Type help to get started. Set up Bitlbee to connect to your instant messenger accounts. You'll see your contacts join the channel.

Using It

Now that we've got Irssi, Bitlbee, and Screen all running, what can we do with it?

First, the whole point of this excersize was to create a persistent chat session that can be accessed from anywhere. From another computer, SSH into your server. Type in `screen -raAd` and watch as irssi, with all of your channels and IM connections, pops up. Any messages left for you while you were away are visible, just as if you were at your server.

Launching the Setup

Since it's a pain to manually connect to each IRC network, join channels, connect to Bitlbee, and have Bitlbee connect to your IM accounts every time you you log in, set up some scripts to help you out.

First, create a Screen initialization file. Here's mine:

# ~/irc_screen
source ~/.screenrc
screen -t IRC 1 irssi

This will launch irssi in window 1 and title the Screen session 'IRC'.

I then set up a short bash script to launch Screen with that config file:

screen -d -m -c ~/irc_screen

The command line switches: "-d -m" starts screen in detached mode, so that it launches in the background. "-c ~/irc_screen" uses ~/irc_screen as the rc file for this session.

To launch and connect to the Screen session:

screen -raAd

Doing More

Look into configuring irssi to behave more like you want: