The Basics of Chatting
Internet chat has evolved quite a bit from its original inception, but the basic premise of chatting remains the same. Users at different computers are able to connect to each other, using either a web browser or a dedicated program to serve as a go-between for the chat participants' computers. Chatting often allows multiple users to connect at the same time, though some chat programs may limit the total number of users who can be connected at once. There are two main forms of chatting that you will find; browser-based chat rooms that don't require dedicated software to run, and those chat clients and instant messengers which are dedicated programs on their own.
Browser-Based Chat Rooms
Browser-based chat rooms come in a number of different forms. There are simple HTML chats that refresh themselves automatically in order to display messages that were posted since the previous refresh. Then you have Java or Flash-based chat rooms that update the conversation in real-time. Regardless of the type of update system that a chat room uses, the way that it functions remains basically the same. The chat room is hosted on a web server, and users connect to the server in a manner similar viewing a web page. The users don't connect directly to each other in most cases, but instead simply receive the updates from the server that show what everyone else has typed or posted in the chat. This allows users to interact with each other without opening up their computer to a direct connection with an unknown person. If an error occurs with the server that the chat room is hosted on, the room will be unavailable until the error is resolved.
Instant Messaging and Chat Clients
Instant messaging programs and dedicated chat clients work in a similar manner to chat rooms, though there is no web-based interface involved. Though these programs and chat clients may be focused on small conversations and occasional file transfers, there is still a server which acts as a go-between for the participants. Each message which is sent travels first to the server that the chat client or program is connected to, and from there it is sent to the appropriate recipient's computer. The server acts more as a routing agent than a host, with much of the functionality of the chat coming from the software installed on the users' computers. Should an error occur with the central server, users may be disconnected from the chat network or some messages may not be received.
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