How to Install and Set Up Rocket Chat, a Self-Hosted Alternative to Slack

When it comes to team chat, most people think of Slack. It makes it so that team members can easily interact with each other and collaborate. Slack has many benefits such as bots, video chat, stickers and ease of use. Still, it is a closed-source tool and costs money. As a result, it’s not everyone’s favorite app.

Luckily, there are great alternatives out there, including Rocket Chat, an open-source, self-hosted alternative to Slack with comparable features. In this guide we’ll go over how to get Rocket Chat working on your Linux server, how to connect to it, create new channels, etc.

  • A Linux server distribution that has the ability to run and install snapd
  • any moderately-powerful old desktop PC (DDR-2 era or better) that can stay on at all times and act as a server
  • a VPS or any other type of enterprise-grade server

Rocket Chat is only distributed via a snap package. As of today, all major Linux distributions have a way to run snapd on the server and desktop (the snap package toolkit). In this tutorial the focus will be on Ubuntu server, as it has snapd and snap packages right out of the box. The official download page for Rocket Chat has a link that instructs users how to get Snaps working on several distributions. Additionally, this tutorial can also help.

Install the Rocket Chat server via snap with:

sudo snap install rocketchat-server

With the “rocketchat-server” installed, it is time to start the configuration. Start by using ifconfig, then finding the local IP address. With the address known, open the address in a web browser via a tablet, smartphone or computer.

For example: ip-address:3000

rocket-chat-register

Like Rocket Chat’s server application, the chat desktop client has a Linux client distributed via snap. For those on other platforms, there are apps available. Android, iOS, Windows and Mac are supported, as well as the web interface via the server’s IP address.

sudo snap install rocketchat-desktop

To get started with Rocket Chat,  visit the local IP address and register a new account. The first account created on the Rocket Chat server will be automatically marked as the admin account.

rocket-chat-register-username

Out of the box, Rocket Chat does not need to be customized. However, users can infinitely customize it to make the service unique. To get to the vast amount of customization settings, click the arrow button next to the user. In the pane that is revealed, select “Administration.” This shows a lot of settings. Let’s go over some of the more important settings that can be changed.

Importing Data

Do you have a Hipchat server? Is your team currently on Slack? Those making the transition to Rocket Chat can easily import data via the Import section. Currently, the software supports data importing from Slack, Hipchat, Hipchat Enterprise, and CSV files.

rocket-chat-import

To start the process, click on “Start.” The user will then be asked to specify a source file, and the data import will begin. When finished, all data will be present in Rocket Chat.

IRC

Perhaps one of the most interesting features of Rocket Chat is the ability to integrate IRC. Though many will end up using Rocket Chat for collaboration with teams, this feature may prove to be useful, especially to developers with public IRC channels where users join to ask questions.

rocket-chat-irc

Enable IRC by finding the IRC option in Administration, and click the enable button.

Video Chat

Much like Slack, Rocket Chat supports video conferencing. To enable this feature on your server, go to the Administration section and scroll down to “video conferencing.”

rocket-chat-video-conference

Once there, click “True.” From here, start a video conference via private message. Just select the user, then click the video icon.

Creating Different Rooms

rocket-chat-new-channel

Like Slack, it is possible to create different rooms. Click the “+” sign, then fill out the information to create a new channel. Make the new channel public or private by clicking the slider and read only.

Other Settings

rocket-chat-settings

Rocket Chat has so many administrative settings and configuration settings that it would be tedious to go over every single one. Some settings include CSS, Layout, Emojis, Bots, Analytics, Logs, Oauth settings, LDAP settings, etc. Users can tweak and change every individual setting to their liking down to the code. Find all of them in the administration settings.

Slack might seem like the best choice to go with when setting up a group collaboration chat system, but it isn’t. Often times users find themselves paying more and more money as their needs expand. The right choice is Rocket Chat. It’s a server tool that has comparable, if not identical, features at zero cost. Since Rocket Chat is open source, new features are added all the time, at no cost to the user.

If you’re looking for a good platform for your team to collaborate with, do yourself and your team a favor and don’t use Slack. Instead, roll your own solution. Throw Rocket Chat on a spare server and save some money in the process!

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