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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 Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does this provide public or private chat?

    Both. phpFreeChat can be customized for either public or private chat, depending on the needs of your organization and customers.

  • Are any themes included with the installation package?

    The installation package includes a choice of five different themes, all of which can be customized to fit your organization’s needs. phpFreeChat themes are also responsive to screen size, so they will adjust accordingly if your customer is trying to chat with you from a mobile device.

  • Can I use rich text in a chat?

    Rich text is available in the current stable version (1.7) but has not yet been added to the 2.x version. The phpFreeChat team is currently working on adding bold, underline, and colored text, as well as URL detection and emoticons to the latest version. These features should be expected in future releases.

  • Can users mark themselves as online or away, like with popular messaging platforms?

    This feature is currently being developed, and will be included in a future release.

  • Are saved chats stored by username or something else?

    Chats are stored by session IDs. When a user accesses chat, the server will verify them and send them a session ID. This will allow you to easily retrieve the chat record to review the interaction as necessary.

  • What is the LGLP license?

    The GNU Lesser General Public License (LGLP) allows anyone to use or copy the software but does not permit changes to the software. In addition, developers can include the LGLP software into their own projects, even if those are proprietary, without having to release the source code for their own sections.

  • Can I request a new feature be added to phpFreeChat?

    There are a few ways you can get new features added to phpFreeChat. The easiest and cheapest way is to check the coming soon section on their features list. If it includes the feature you’re looking for, sit back and wait for the future release. Otherwise, you can code the feature yourself, or hire someone to do it for you. If that’s not an option, you can also request a feature. The phpFreeChat team reviews each request estimates how long the project would take, and suggests a price to the requester. This option may or may not be more cost-effective than hiring your own developer.

  • Can I remove users from chat?

    Yes. The admin can easily manage users either via command line or select in-chat options. The channel admin can easily ban a user, kick a user off, and unban a user.

  • Is there any way to test it out before I commit?

    Yes. Working demos are available on the phpFreeChat website. The 2.x demo has very limited functionality, but does allow you to view a variety of themes. The 1.x version allows you to fully test the user experience, add rich text and emoticons, and test out command line codes.

  • How do I create my own theme?

    There is a complete tutorial for creating your own theme on the phpFreeChat website. The tutorial assumes a familiarity with HTML as well as the .less stylesheet structure.

  • Which version should I download?

    At the time of this writing, the latest stable release (version 1.7) was just over two years old. However, a newer, faster version (2.1.0) was available for download through the phpFreeChat website. While the 2.x release is not yet fully-featured, it is the recommended download due to its increased speed. If you expect to stick with phpFreeChat for a long term, it makes sense to go with the latest version for easier updates. However, if you need all of the features right away, version 1.7 might be for you.

  • How can I contribute to phpFreeChat?

    The phpFreeChat team welcomes financial contributions through the donate page on their website. Coders who would like to contribute bug fixes, patches, etc. can do so via GitHub.

  • What type of support is available?

    Free support is provided through a community forum. Commercial support is also available for a fee by contacting the phpFreeChat team directly.

  • Is phpFreeChat still being actively developed?

    At the time of this writing, the last release (version 2.1.0) was over two years old. The forums have also been fairly quiet over the past two years, so support may not be as readily available as it once was. However, historically, there have been a number of large gaps in releases, which is common with free software.

  • Is there a hosted version of phpFreeChat available, if I don’t want to manage it myself?

    Hosted versions are currently under development. Both free and paid versions are planned though release dates are currently unavailable.

  • Does phpFreeChat include a word censoring feature?

    Yes. If you are trying to host a family friendly, or business appropriate, chat, you can enable word-censoring via a command proxy. It can also be disabled using the same method.

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