The FreeBSD 'zine

April 2000 : Talk in the Internet

by Eric De La Cruz Lugo <[email protected]>

In this days a lot of people are very excited about chatting in the Internet (Of course you can use the telephone if you don't mind paying a lot of money for talking with a friend in Australia while you are in Mexico ("ring, ring!...Hi, Jim! this is Eric from Merida in Mexico, I just called to say hello, and good bye! (here in Mexico the cost for a call like this is about $2.00 USD per minute!!).

Of course you can use an IRC client and connect to your nearest IRC server, or you can use the ICQ, but in both cases you need a client program, you need to know several commands, in order to find a friend, join a channel, send private messages and stuff like that. This is okay if you want to chat with people you don�t know that like the Italian fud, or Planes, or Rock music, and you don�t mind when you get annoying messages from annoying people that ask you annoying questions (you know what I mean).

But if you only want to talk in private with a friend in real-time, you can use the "talk" command on your FreeBSD system.

What it is and how does it works?

Back in time, when the 4.2 BSD was released, this command was supplied as another utility to communicate with other users. In fact, before that time the AT&T created the "write" command in order to have some way to communicate in real-time with other users. This utility could send one text line at a time but that text line showed up without any previous warning so if the destination user wasn�t there then some one else could read that line. The "talk" command avoided this problem with a very smart solution. Ring first and wait for the response. This way both parties can assure the communication (well just a little bit more).

The talk command works like a text based phone, it copies lines from your terminal to that of another user, the output is shown in 2 separate windows in the screen, the top window is always the user that is in front of the screen (that means you) and the bottom window is always the other user.

According with the "FreeBSD General Commands Manual" the format for the talk command is:

talk person [ttyname]

where person is defined as:

If you wish to talk to someone on your own machine, then person is just the person's login name. If you wish to talk to a user on another host, then person is of the form `user@host' or `host!user' or `host:user'.
And ttyname is defined as:
If you wish to talk to a user who is logged in more than once, the ttyname argument may be used to indicate the appropriate session.

In oder to obtain the ttyname you can use the finger command (read the man pages for this command).

There is another thing we need to do before we can talk, we need to make sure that we and the other person which we want to talk to are prepared for receive the talk request, we do this by typing the command:

labna:/export/home2/invitado/eric% mesg y

We need to do this because the mesg command controls whether other users on the local system or the Internet can send messages to you with either the write command or the talk command (read the man pages for the mesg command).

However in some cases and specially with old UNIX versions, the talk communication can't be made, the reason is that the talkd daemon uses the Talk 4.3 protocol, which is not compatible with 4.2 versions of the talk process. The subserver name for the 4.3 protocol is ntalk and this is the one used for FreeBSD.

Ok, now suppose that you want to communicate with a friend (in this case we will see a talk session between to users Eric in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, and, Eric in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, of course this session is in Spanish but i translate it for you) from the command prompt you type:

labna:/export/home2/invitado/eric% talk [email protected]

In the machine itesocci (in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico), appears something like this to the user eric:

Message from [email protected] at 12:09 ...
talk: connection requested by [email protected]
talk: respond with:  talk [email protected]

As we can see we only have to respond with "talk [email protected]", so we type it. talk [email protected]

An after that we get the next screen:

[No connection yet]
[Waiting for your party to respond]
[Connection established]

Hi eric :), how are you?

As we can see this tool its very simple yet very useful, this way we can have a conversation as long as we want, and with privacy like in a phone call (with out the long distance cost).

When you are done, you can interrupt the conversation pressing the interrupt key combination usually "ctrl-C", this will end the talk program and drop you to the command prompt again as shown below:

[Connection closing. Exiting]
Am fine, and you?
She is fine, and she is sending you an e-mail today in the night!
Well i have to go for now, see you at 5:00 PM ok?
(here you press [ctrl -C] and exit from the talk program)

Hi eric :), how are you?
Very well thanks, how is you sister?
Ok!, see you then!

And that's it, pretty simple isn't it? But what if you want to talk with two or more people, and you want the same privacy?, well in the next article, we will see another version of the talk command the "ytalk", this version has several features that the talk command don't, but as I say before, we will see this in the next article, keep in touch, and enjoy "talking in the Internet".


As always I strongly recommend to RTFM for the talk command.

Eric De La Cruz Lugo, works for the "CONSTRUCTORA KEPLER S.A. DE C.V." a Construction company in Mexico. Right know he is working on a project in Merida, Yucatan, building a Power Plant. He is a loyal FreeBSD user and admin since 1993 at ITESO University (Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico). He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected].

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Telephone, n.: An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance. -- Ambrose Bierce

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