Matrix is an open standard for interoperable, decentralized, secure, and real-time communication over the internet. It is a rather new technology that can be thought of as the successor to email. Indeed, in the background, it works very similarly to email, but the user experience closely resembles that of iMessage, Discord, or direct messaging on other social media networks. Matrix has proven itself to be a reliable communication tool over the last few years, and it has only gotten more user-friendly over the course of its development. Matrix is capable enough that it can—and should—totally replace all other means of digital communication. It also offers a much higher degree of security, simplicity, and functionality.
Strictly speaking, Matrix itself is just the protocal by which clients and servers communicate. In order to use Matrix, we need implementations of both clients and servers. Luckily, just like email, many such implementations and providers exist. As an end-user, you don't really have to worry about the server part at all. Just like you can pick your email provider, you can choose any of the publicly-available Matrix homeservers, all of which should be reasonably secure.
The most popular and well-known Matrix client is Element. This client is the one that has the widest system support, and also provides the most feature-complete experience.
Some of Matrix's features have been outlined above, but here's a direct answer to why you should use Matrix over any other communication protocol:
There are many different ways to use Matrix. The instructions shown here, however, are opinionated: they assume you want to use the Element client. Element offers the best end-user experience for those that aren't technically inclined.
The instructions here only need to be performed once. Once you have an account and have configured it properly, all you need to do on new devices is download the app and log in.
Screenshots are not provided here because although the procedure is the same across all platforms, the apps might look slightly different and have things located in different places.
Use your phone's app store to install the official Element app:
If you're on a desktop computer or laptop running Windows, MacOS, ChromeOS, Linux, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, or any other operating system that supports running a sufficiently modern web browser, you can access the Element web interface online: Element Web. Element also offers native desktop applications for Windows, MacOS, and Linux if you so choose.
Launch the Element app. It will look a little different on each platform, but the general sign-up process goes like this:
In order to safeguard against losing access to your encrypted messages, you should set up Secure Backup. Secure Backup stores your message encryption keys on the server in a secure manner so that you can log in on new devices and still have access to your messages, even if you lost your old device or are for some reason unable to use it to verify your new login and thus transfer the encryption keys.
There are other ways to save and load your encryption keys, but this is by far the most convenient and safe. To set up Secure Backup, follow these steps:
Even though the encryption keys are copied to the server in this process, the server still cannot read your encrypted messages. This is because the encryption keys themselves are encrypted and must be decrypted with the security phrase or key file. The key is not saved on the server, so if you lose your security phrase or key, then all your encrypted messages are lost.
You're now ready to start communicating over Matrix. You can invite
users to a conversation if you know their Matrix ID. Every user has a
Matrix ID in the following format:
username is the user name that was chosen at sign up time, and
homeserver.com is the hostname of the homeserver the user is
registered on. For example, my Matrix ID is
jordan is my username, and
bancino.net is my homeserver.
Since Matrix is federated, you can communicate with users on other homeservers than your own if you wish. You aren't just limited to the users on your homeserver. Provided you know someone's Matrix ID, you can talk to them, no matter where they live in the Matrix ecosystem. Think of Matrix IDs just like they are email addresses or phone numbers.
To invite a user, locate the + ("plus") button in Element. For Android and iOS, it is in the bottom right of the main screen. For the web interface, it is in the left panel. Then, just input the user's Matrix ID. You can try searching for users by username or display name, but Element may not handle this properly. For best results, it is recommended to type out or copy the entire Matrix OD. Users may also share their Matrix ID with you via QR code, which may make inviting them to a new conversation a little easier, depending on your client app.
If you get invited to a chat, Element will notify you at the top of the screen. You can accept or deny invitations directly from the main page.
If you have any questions about how to go forward from here, or spot an error on this page, please feel free to contact me via Matrix. If you were unsuccessful following any part of these directions and are thus unable to contact me via Matrix, the official Element user guide might be helpful. It provides screenshots of the web interface that may or may not also be helpful for the Android or iOS apps.
Please spread awareness of Matrix! Pass this message along to your friends and family, and try to convince them to use Matrix for all of their digital communication. Matrix works extremely well in both personal and business settings. You can use it to talk to friends and family, or internally at your work to communicate with coworkers. Talk to your supervisor about deploying a Matrix homeserver at your workplace as an alternative to Slack, Microsoft Teams, or other proprietary communication solutions.
Feel free to link to this page and share the link with others.
It is important to store your credentials somewhere safe and secure, such that you won't lose it, but nobody else will find it. Either write down, or digitally store, the following pieces of information:
© 2019-2023 Jordan Bancino.