Chat From The Linux Command Line With CenterIM

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linux chatChat from the command line. Whether you use Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Chat, AIM, Jabber or some combination of the above, CenterIM lets you talk with your buddies in your Linux terminal. We’ve previously highlighted a few instant messaging programs, but nothing quite like CenterIM. That’s because this Linux chat program runs entirely from the command line, but still gives you access to the features you expect.

Is this just a novelty? Perhaps for some, but there are other reasons to use command line software. It’s easy to use via SSH, for one thing. It’s also light on resources. It works in your full-screen terminal, allowing you to chat without the distractions provided by the web. And an efficient series of keyboard shortcuts makes chatting quick for those who dislike the mouse.

More than that, though, CenterIM is just plain effecient. Get to know this program’s keyboard shortcuts and you just might come to love it, even if you don’t usually go for terminal applications.

Setting Up

You can launch CenterIM from the command prompt by typing centerim and hitting enter. Of course, like all instant messaging programs, it doesn’t do much out of the box. You need to configure it to work with your various services.

First you will be presented with some general options:

linux chat

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Browse up and down with your up and down arrow keys, and change a particular setting by hitting enter and making the appropiate changes. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything here; the defaults all work well and you can change them later.

Press right to switch to the “Done” button, then click enter. You’ll be given the chance to enter your IM information:

linux command line chat client

It most cases all you need is a username and password. Configure as necessary.

You may notice there is no option here for Google Talk. Don’t worry, you can use Jabber to connect to Google Talk. CenterIM suggests you use these settings:

jab_pass yourPlaintextPassword
jab_prio 4
jab_ssl 1
jab_status o

You can add this information within CenterIM, or you can edit the “config” file in “~/.centerim” and add the above text manually. Both processes worked for me, but be warned – using CenterIM messed up the names of my contacts for some reason. I’m not sure why, but don’t add Google Talk to CenterIM if this is something you care about.

Using CenterIM

Using CenterIM is easy, if you know how to follow directions. I say this because at the bottom of every CenterIM window is a list of keyboard shortcuts:

linux chat

Follow these instructions to switch between conversations, start new ones and configure the software. It might seem clumsy at first, but use this for a while and you might wonder why you ever chatted any other way.

Installing CenterIM

As always, Ubuntu users can simply click here to install CenterIM. All Linux users can also check their package manager for “centerim” becuase it’s almost certainly in there.


I love learning cool command line tricks for Linux, like reading Google Reader from the command line. CenterIM is quickly becoming another command-line favorite for me. Will it for you? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

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