What is Matrix? And how this open-source protocol wants to change messaging?

What is Matrix? And how this open-source protocol wants to change messaging?

Standards is a series explaining various tech protocols, looking at their practical implementation, and where we could find them in devices around us.

At the beginning of this year, WhatsApp debuted a new privacy policy that raised many eyebrows. The updated policy aimed to make the app work better with its other Facebook-owned cousins and facilitate business chat in a smoother manner.

But this displeased many users, and the mass exodus to platforms such as Telegram and Signal began. However, for a lot of folks, it was not entirely possible to shift to other apps as many of their contacts still used WhatsApp. Plus, there was a raging debate about which app has better security and privacy standards.

One name that came up in the discussion was MatrixSounds unfamiliar? That might be because it’s not a chat app, but an open-source protocol that aims. Before we learn more about the protocol, let’s take a brief look at how the encryption in today’s app works.

How does encryption work in messaging apps?

When you send a message to someone, there’s a server in the middle to facilitate that conversation. Those messages are secured and shielded from view in various ways, depending on the service that you use.

For instance, Signal and WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted. That means even the company won’t be able to read your chats. Telegram, on the other hand, provides encryption in transit, which means no one can intercept your message and read it, but the company could read themwhen they reach its servers, where they’re stored unencrypted.


What’s Matrix and how does it work?

Matrix is an open-sourced protocol developed in 2014 by a team then working for Amdocs — an Israeli communication company. The standard is based on HTTP (to facilitate messages) and WebRTC (to facilitate voice calls). It works on a decentralized model with any compatible client.

This means you move between different apps without having to give up on the core benefits of the standard.

What’s more, Matrix supports end-to-end encryption based on an open-sourced mechanism that works with rooms hosting thousands of users. That’s in contrast to public channels hosted on Viber and Telegram.

Matrix has APIs for web, iOS, and Android, so you have access to Matrix-based clients on all platforms.

What is Matrix’s advantage?

If you’re using WhatsApp or iMessage, you’re tied to that app. You and your friends can only participate on that platform of that platform if you use that particular app.

Matrix wants to be a communication standard like emails t that’s independent of the client you might use with it. An example of this is Gmail: you can use…, you can use any compatible app to receive email, and enjoy that app’s additional features without getting locked out of the system.

Plus, because of the decentralized nature of Matrix, your messages are replicated on all servers that are hosting participants, avoiding a single point of control or failure.

For plugging into other apps, such as Slack, Discord, IRC, WhatsApp, and Telegram, Matrix has something called Bridges. These are open-sourced plug-ins that let you connect with other apps.

Who’s using Matrix?

There are plenty of clients that use Matrix, the primary one being Element (formerly known as Riot). However, since Matrix is open source, you can create your own server with customization on top of the protocol for your specialized communication app.

Depending on your requirement and size of your Matrix network, you can run it on a Raspberry Pi-based machine at home, or Amazon Web Services in the cloud. According to Matthew Hodgson, founder of Matrix, the protocol currently has more than 30 million active users across various clients.

Many leading organizations such as Red Hat, Mozilla, Uber, Samsung, United States Armed Forces, TADHack, W3F, and UpCloud are using Matrix-based solutions for internal communication. This allows them to build custom communication apps with added security without being bound to an ecosystem.

How can you use Matrix?

Since Matrix is an open-source protocol, you can choose from an array of apps based on your requirements.

The most popular client is Element that has more than 85% of Matrix network’s users. However,   other apps such as cross-platform NeoChat, and the simple and clean mobile app FluffyChat are gaining popularity.