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What is phpFreeChat Hosting?

Although live chat may sound passé in the age of social networking and mobile instant messaging, many websites still need a chat section. In an ironic twist, live chat is no longer used by teens as much as by businesses – ranging from e-commerce sites to hardware companies offering live tech support via chat boxes.

A fast and easy live chat solution is phpFreeChat, an open source platform with a negligible server footprint. As its name suggests, phpFreeChat is written in PHP and JQuery. It employs AJAX technology to refresh the chat box, for smoother rendering.

Hosting phpFreeChat sites

As a lean and free chat platform, phpFreeChat can be installed on even on inexpensive shared Web hosting plans. Many hosts offer a fully configured installation of phpFreeChat on many plans, so you are usually just a few clicks from activating it.

Server requirements are relatively conservative – phpFreeChat will run on Apache, Microsoft IIS and other major platforms. You will need write access via SSH or FTP.

In terms of PHP requirements, your server will have to support PHP 4.2.0 or later for 1.x versions of phpFreeChat.

You will not need a MySQL database to set up phpFreeChat, as it stores messages and nicknames in files. However, it is also possible to use a MySQL container that will allow phpFreeChat to tap into a database.

There are some limitations. Hosts with the ‘suphp’ Apache module enabled are incompatible, along with all hosts who automatically insert advertisements in all displayed pages.

Installing phpFreeChat on your current server

If you happen to use a host that does not offer one-click installation of phpFreeChat, you should be able to install it with relative ease, provided you have write access.

Your first order of business will be to head over to www.freechat.net and get the latest .zip or tar.gz installation package. The archive is then unzipped locally and uploaded into a browsable, public directory on your server.

This can be achieved using FTP or SSH and the phpFreeChat installation guide will take care of any ambiguities. All it takes is a few copy/paste lines of code and the chat will be up and running.

In case you wish to customise the script, you can tinker with it provided you have some basic HTML and PHP skills. Multilingual support should not be a problem, as phpFreeChat uses XML with UTF-8 to encode characters, so it supports a very wide range of languages and alphabets.

Licensing limitations, client side support

While its name implies phpFreeChat is free, it should be noted that the software is available under the LGPL license, with a range of caveats.

In case you plan to build a chat and leave the phpFreeChat logo intact, it is free under LGPL. If you intend to use a no-logo version on a non-commercial site with no advertising, it’s free. However, if you are building commercial sites or reselling the chat in your own package, you will need to pay a licensing fee.

As far as the client side goes, phpFreeChat requires a browser with JavaScript enabled (XMLHttpRequest). This is hardly a limitation nowadays, as all major browsers are supported, including Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer and others.

Customising phpFreeChat

Different themes can be used for the phpFreeChat web interface, which is also responsive, making it suitable for desktop, tablet and smartphone platforms. The modular authentication system is available with PHPbb3 integration and enables multi-user management.

In terms of customisation, phpFreeChat can be tweaked through the use of standard CSS style sheets. CSS allows you to completely change the appearance of your phpFreeChat implementation to perfectly match your site’s design.

Appearances aren’t everything, so it is possible to tweak a wide range of chat functionalities, such as refresh times, regulate username changes, ban certain users, create different storage routines to retain copies of the conversations in a database and so on.

You can also add new smileys, tweak themes, customise the nickname lists and ‘whoisbox’ – but you can also write entirely new commands or proxies. This of course involves some coding on your part.

To completely change the appearance of the chat, or create custom commands and features, you will need some PHP and CSS skills.

phpFreeChat Frequently Asked Questions

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