chat-archive: Easy to use offline chat archive

The Python program chat-archive provides a local archive of chat messages that can be viewed and searched on the command line. Supported chat services include Google Talk, Google Hangouts, Slack and Telegram. The program was developed on Linux and currently assumes a UNIX command line environment, although this is not fundamental to the program’s design (for example I could imagine someone building a GUI or web interface using the Python API).

When you add a new account the initial synchronization will download your full conversation history from the chat service in question, this can take quite a while. Later synchronization runs will be much quicker because only updates (new messages and conversations) are downloaded.

Chat messages are downloaded as plain text and when possible also with formatting (encoded as HTML). When viewing chat messages on the terminal the formatted text will be shown.

Python 3.5+ is required due to the asynchronous nature of some of the backends.


This is very young software, developed in a couple of sprints in the summer of 2018, so it’s bound to be full of bugs! The fact that it doesn’t have a test suite doesn’t help. However since creating this program I’ve started using it on a daily basis, so I may very well be the first one to run into most if not all bugs 😇.

There’s a lot of implementation details in the code base that I’m not proud of and there’s a ton of features that I would like to add, for example right now the command line is still rather bare bones (minimal). I’ve decided to nevertheless publish what I have right now, because in its current state this project is already very useful for me, so it might be useful to others.

I consider the first release to be representative of the functional goals I had in mind when I set out to build this, but I’d love to find the time to refactor the code base once or twice more 😋. Before publishing the first release I had already gone through three or four complete rewrites and each of those rewrites improved the quality of the code, yet I’m still not fully satisfied… Oh well, at least it seems to work 😉.


The chat-archive package is available on PyPI which means installation should be as simple as:

$ pip3 install chat-archive

Make sure you’re using Python 3.5+ because this is required by dependencies of the chat-archive program.

There’s actually a multitude of ways to install Python packages (e.g. the per user site-packages directory, virtual environments or just installing system wide) and I have no intention of getting into that discussion here, so if this intimidates you then read up on your options before returning to these instructions 😉.


The command line interface is documented below. For more details about the Python API please refer to the API documentation available on Read the Docs.

Command line

Usage: chat-archive [OPTIONS] [COMMAND]

Easy to use offline chat archive that can gather chat message history from Google Talk, Google Hangouts, Slack and Telegram.

Supported commands:

  • The ‘sync’ command downloads new chat messages from supported chat services and stores them in the local archive (an SQLite database).
  • The ‘search’ command searches the chat messages in the local archive for the given keyword(s) and lists matching messages.
  • The ‘list’ command lists all messages in the local archive.
  • The ‘stats’ command shows statistics about the local archive.
  • The ‘unknown’ command searches for conversations that contain messages from an unknown sender and allows you to enter the name of a new contact to associate with all of the messages from an unknown sender. Conversations involving multiple unknown sender are not supported.

Supported options:

Option Description
-C, --context=COUNT Print COUNT messages of output context during ‘chat-archive search’. This works similarly to ‘grep -C’. The default value of COUNT is 3.
-f, --force Retry synchronization of conversations where errors were previously encountered. This option is currently only relevant to the Google Hangouts backend, because I kept getting server errors when synchronizing a few specific conversations and I didn’t want to keep seeing each of those errors during every synchronization run :-).
-c, --color=CHOICE, --colour=CHOICE

Specify whether ANSI escape sequences for text and background colors and text styles are to be used or not, depending on the value of CHOICE:

  • The values ‘always’, ‘true’, ‘yes’ and ‘1’ enable colors.
  • The values ‘never’, ‘false’, ‘no’ and ‘0’ disable colors.
  • When the value is ‘auto’ (this is the default) then colors will only be enabled when an interactive terminal is detected.
-l, --log-file=LOGFILE Save logs at DEBUG verbosity to the filename given by LOGFILE. This option was added to make it easy to capture the log output of an initial synchronization that will be downloading thousands of messages.
-p, --profile=FILENAME Enable profiling of the chat-archive application to make it possible to analyze performance problems. Python profiling data will be saved to FILENAME every time database changes are committed (making it possible to inspect the profile while the program is still running).
-v, --verbose Increase logging verbosity (can be repeated).
-q, --quiet Decrease logging verbosity (can be repeated).
-h, --help Show this message and exit.

The ‘sync’ command

The command chat-archive sync downloads new chat messages using the configured backends and stores the messages in the local SQLite database. Positional arguments can be used to synchronize specific backends or accounts. For example I have two Telegram accounts, a personal account and a work account. The following command will synchronize both of these accounts:

$ chat-archive sync telegram

When I’m only interested in a specific account I can instead do this:

$ chat-archive sync telegram:personal

You can make this as complex as you want:

$ chat-archive sync hangouts slack:work telegram:personal

The command above will synchronize all configured Google Hangouts accounts, the Slack work account and the Telegram personal account. The following table shows the backend names you can use like this:

Backend name Chat service
gtalk Google Talk
hangouts Google Hangouts
slack Slack
telegram Telegram

The ‘search’ command

The command chat-archive search performs a keyword search through the chat messages in the local SQLite database and renders the search results on the terminal. Keywords are provided as positional arguments to the search command and trigger a case insensitive AND search through the following message metadata:

  • The name of the backend (see the table above).
  • The name of the account (default or a user defined name).
  • The name of the conversation (relevant for group conversations).
  • The full name of the contact that sent the message.
  • The email address of the contact that sent the message.
  • The timestamp of the message. Any prefix of the date format YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS should work, judging by the date/time searches that I’ve tried so far. So for example the keyword 2018 will match all messages from that year, 2018-08 will match all messages in a specific month, etc.
  • The text of the message. The plain text chat message as well as the HTML formatted chat message (when available) are searched, this enables searching for semantically meaningful HTML data like hyperlink targets.

The search results reported on the terminal include surrounding chat messages from the matching conversations, to provide additional context. You can control how many surrounding chat messages are rendered using the -C, --context command line option, the value 0 can be used to omit the context.

The ‘list’ command

The command chat-archive list renders a listing of all chat messages in the database on the terminal.

Due to the gathering of context the chat-archive search command can be rather slow and this is why I added the chat-archive list command early in the development of the project (it’s faster because it doesn’t have to gather context). Since then I’ve collected 226.941 chat messages, completely negating the usefulness of the chat-archive list command 😇.

In any case this can be considered a very simple form of export functionality, so I’ve decided to keep the chat-archive list command for now, despite its limited usefulness once one actively starts using the chat-archive program.

The ‘stats’ command

The command chat-archive stats reports some statistics about the contents of the local SQLite database. Here’s what that looks like for me at the time of writing:

Statistics about ~/.local/share/chat-archive/database.sqlite3:

 - Number of contacts: 284
 - Number of conversations: 5803
 - Number of messages: 226941
 - Database file size: 90.81 MB
 - Size of 226941 plain text chat messages: 18.7 MB
 - Size of 13409 HTML formatted chat messages: 4.25 MB

The ‘unknown’ command

The first time I synchronized the thousands of chat messages in my Google Hangouts account I was very disappointed to find out that all metadata about contacts whose accounts had since been deleted was lost (no names, no email addresses, nothing).

This is why I added the chat-archive unknown command. It searches the local database for private conversations that contain messages from an unknown sender and prompts you to enter a name for the contact. When you enter a (nonempty) name a new contact is created and the messages in the conversation which have no sender are associated to the new contact.

Weirdly enough the Google Mail archive of chat messages was able to show me names for most of the contacts for which the Google Hangouts API no longer reported any useful information, this is how I was able to (manually) reconstruct this bit of history.

If the Google Mail archive had not provided me with this information I still would have been able to reconstruct the senders of 90% of these conversations simply by the fact that quite a few conversations start with “Hi $name” and I still have “client side chat archive backups” (Pidgin) from 2011-2015.

Configuration files

If you’re going to be synchronizing your chat message history frequently you can define credentials for the chat services that you are interested in using a configuration file.

Configuration files are text files in the subset of ini syntax supported by Python’s configparser module. They can be located in the following places:

Directory Main configuration file Modular configuration files
/etc /etc/chat-archive.ini /etc/chat-archive.d/*.ini
~ ~/.chat-archive.ini ~/.chat-archive.d/*.ini
~/.config ~/.config/chat-archive.ini ~/.config/chat-archive.d/*.ini

The available configuration files are loaded in the order given above, so that user specific configuration files override system wide configuration files.

The special configuration file section chat-archive defines general options. Right now only the operator-name option is supported here. All other sections are specific to a chat account and encode the name of the backend and the name of the account in the name of the section by delimiting the two values with a colon. Here’s an example based on my configuration, that shows the supported options:

operator-name = ...

email-address = ...
password = ...
# Alternatively:
password-name = ...

api-token = ...
# Alternatively:
api-token-name = ...

email = ...
password = ...
# Alternatively:
password-name = ...

api-hash = ...
api-id = ...
phone-number = ...

api-hash = ...
api-id = ...
phone-number = ...
# Alternatively:
api-hash-name = ...
api-id-name = ...

When an account is configured but the configuration doesn’t define a required secret then you will be prompted to provide that secret every time you run the chat-archive sync command.

The values of the api-token-name, password-name, api-hash-name and api-id-name options identify secrets in ~/.password-store to use, this provides an alternative somewhere in between the following two extremes:

  • Always typing your secrets interactively (because you don’t want them to be stored in the chat-archive configuration file, which is understandable from a security perspective of security).
  • Storing your secrets directly in the chat-archive configuration files (so you don’t have to type secrets interactively) thereby exposing them to all software running on your computer.

Because pass can use gpg-agent you only have to type a single master password to unlock the secrets required to synchronize any number of chat accounts.

The local database

The chat-archive program uses an SQLite database to store the chat messages that it collects. Because the whole point of the program is to safeguard the long term archival of chat messages, SQLAlchemy and Alembic are used to support database schema migrations. This is intended to ensure a reliable upgrade path for future enhancements without data loss.

There’s one significant exception I can think of: The current version of the chat-archive program doesn’t synchronize images and other multimedia files, only text messages are stored in the local database. If support for images is added in a later release (I’m not committing to this, but I am considering it) and collecting these is important to you then you may have to rebuild your database if and when this support is added.

You can change the location of the SQLite database and other datafiles by setting the environment variable $CHAT_ARCHIVE_DIRECTORY. Making a backup of your chat archive is as simple as saving a copy of the database file ~/.local/share/chat-archive/database.sqlite3 to another storage medium. Please keep in mind that this database has the potential to contain a lot of sensitive data, so I strongly advise you to use disk encryption.

Supported chat services

The following backends are currently available:

Chat service Description
Google Talk At one time this was the primary chat service of Google. It was based on (or at least cooperated well with) XMPP. My personal chat archive of Google Talk messages ends on 2013-12-12.
Google Hangouts The successor to Google Talk. Interestingly enough my personal chat archive of Google Hangouts messages starts on 2013-10-30 (what’s interesting to me is the overlap with the date above).
Slack Love it or hate it, when all of your colleagues are using it you can’t really get around it. Actually now that I write it down like that I can’t help but think of WhatsApp (where the “peer pressure” comes from family instead of colleagues).
Telegram A popular alternative to WhatsApp from Russia, without the Facebook baggage 😇 (which is not to say that the company behind Telegram can’t be just as evil).

In the future more backends may be added:

  • I’ve been contemplating scraping “WhatsApp Web” using something like Selenium. It would get ugly and nasty, the resulting backend would be fragile at best, but having those messages available might just be worth it…
  • I’m considering writing a chat log parser for the HTML chat logs that Pidgin generated ten years ago (circa 2008) because I have megabytes of such chat logs stored in backups 🙂.


The fragmented nature of digital communication, where messages come to you via numerous channels (including multiple chat services), has bothered me for years now. Finding things back can actually become a challenge 😇. Tangentially related is the realization that these chat services come and go, taking with them years of chat history, lost forever. I’m looking at you Google 😉.

Given that I am a programmer by trade and heart, It’s been itching for several years now to try and solve both of these problems at the same time by creating a computer program that downloads and stores the chat message history of multiple chat services into a single local database, available for searching and trivially easy to back up.

For what it’s worth I didn’t start out with the goal of “full fidelity” chat history backup including images and other multimedia, although I may eventually decide to implement it anyway. What I initially set out to build was a local, searchable database of textual chat messages collected from multiple chat services, with an easy way to add support for new chat services.


The latest version of chat-archive is available on PyPI and GitHub. The documentation is hosted on Read the Docs and includes a changelog. For bug reports please create an issue on GitHub. If you have questions, suggestions, etc. feel free to send me an e-mail at


This software is licensed under the MIT license.

© 2018 Peter Odding.

Here’s a quick overview of the licenses of the dependencies:

Dependency License
Alembic MIT license
emoji BSD license
hangups MIT license
Slacker Apache Software License
SQLAlchemy MIT license
Telethon MIT license

Shortly before publishing this project I got worried that I had included a GPL dependency which (if I understand correctly) would require me to publish under GPL as well, even though I’ve been consistently publishing my open source projects under the MIT license since 2010.

After assembling the table above I can confidently say that this is not the case 😇. The dependencies that are not listed in the table above are projects of mine, all of them published under the same MIT license as the chat-archive program (assuming I keep this up-to-date as new dependencies are added).