[JDEV] Server-side Message History

Al Sutton al at alsutton.com
Sat Jun 2 03:53:32 CDT 2001

I think message history location should be optional.

I see a world of difference between trusting my jabber admin not to snoop a
connection and having my message history on a server which could be hacked
by a third party and my messages obtained.

----- Original Message -----
From: Michael Brown
To: jdev at jabber.org
Sent: Saturday, June 02, 2001 9:10 AM
Subject: [JDEV] Server-side Message History

I am strongly in favour of moving the message history from the local hard
drive to the server.  Only being able to access message history from my home
PC but not from my work one seems to go against the overall design of
Jabber.  It should be stored on the server in the same way as my contact
list is.  I realise that this would take up more space on the server, but it
could be a good chance for ISP's to add value.

Comments/suggestions welcome.  My apologies to anyone who has seen all this

Is anyone willing to help me with coming up with a specification for this?

Do we need message history at all?

I think so.  Personally I find it very useful.  Also, since most of the
Jabber clients support message history in some form, I think that is a good
indication that there is some demand for it.  Do you ever keep copies of
your email?  I am quite happy for it to be optional, but I think it should
be in the Jabber design.

How would it be better on the server?

For a start, from the design of Jabber there is only one machine on the
Internet that is guaranteed to see every message that is sent to or from my
account, and that is the server.  This means that if the messages were to be
archived somewhere, the server (or a machine locally attached to it) is the
ideal place to store them from a bandwidth point of view.  Also from a
availability point of view the server again wins hands down.

There are also great advantages to the user.  No matter what client you have
logged in from, you would have access to all your message history.  At work,
at home, from your WAP phone, from a friends computer, from an internet
cafe - it makes no difference.  In the same way, you would be free to start
using a different client without having to worry if the new client will be
able to read the message history files written by your old client.  This
fits in nicely with Jabbers design philosophy I think.

Also, if you are using someone else's PC, you don't leave a message log on
their hard drive for anyone to look through later, however when you get home
you can still check your message history for anything you said while you
were using it!

Servers are generally backed up too, so this solves the problem of loosing
your entire message history if your local hard drive dies.

There are other benefits as well.  It will become much easier to support
message history in a client if the client doesn't have to contain any
database code to store and retrieve messages.  Code to request this
information from the server can be added to JabberCOM or some other library
and will be available to all clients to use.  The hard design and coding
work is done once on the server, and not one each client.  So, clients
become lighter (use less RAM), and easier to develop.

Won't it take too much disk space on the server?

Maybe.  Lets look at it:

I am what I would consider a very heavy of ICQ (I have about 100 people on
my list) and I use ICQ every day and have done since 1998.  I have never
cleared my history. My .dat file that stores my message history is currently
16MB.  Being text it is very compressible - zipping it brings it down to
under 4MB

So best case for a moderate/heavy user is, say 6MB uncompressed - or 1.5MB
of real space if it is stored on a compressed volume - per year.  Of course
add some space for indexing (lets double it at least).  Say 5MB compressed
per active user, per year.

Also have to factor:
- a large percentage of IM accounts are not active, so space usage will not
be increasing
- many people may not opt for message archiving or some or all contacts
- most people won't want to keep more than a years worth of history

I can't really see disk space being a big issue, especially with disk space
becoming cheaper each year.  Can anyone come up with any better estimates
than this?

What about security?

Security is always tricky.  Some people aren't going to be happy with all
their private messages stored on someone else's server.  But think about it
this way - you already have to trust your Jabber admin to not be reading or
logging your conversations.  Assuming you trust your admin, the additional
risk comes in if security on the server is compromised by a third party.
Rather than just being able to read what you are writing in real time, the
hacker may be able to grab your history file and read everything you have
ever said from that account.

Really it comes down to how much you trust your Jabber admin.  People trust
their money to banks, they upload their data to xdrive.com and they trust
their ISP's or Hotmail to store their private emails.  This is really no
different.  Obviously, you should be able to turn off logging for any or all
accounts if you do not want to take the risk.

Personally I won't be happy from a security perspective until each message
sent though Jabber is encrypted.  The messages can then be stored on the
logs in encrypted form.

As a Jabber admin I can't afford to supply extra disk space for message

That's fine.  It should be an optional feature that can be enabled or
disabled at the server.  Also the amount of disk space per user should be
configurable.  You could switch it off entirely. or you could (for example)
limit a free account to 5MB, but give all the paying users a 50MB limit.  As
users reach their limit, the older messages will drop off and be replaced by
new messages.  This could be used as a value added service to encourage free
account users to become subscribers.

What are the other disadvantages?

Obviously there are a few on top of disk usage and security.  The speed of
reading to the message log is going to be slower as each message has to be
retrieved from the server.  The server will be under a bit more load both
with disk access and bandwidth as it retrieves archived messages and sends
them to the client.  These problems will become less noticeable each year
however as bandwidth and server performance increases.  A poor design will
not fix itself in a similar way.


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