Signal Desktop (without Chrome)

As unfathomable as i’m sure this is, i’m not a fan of the Chrome browser – don’t think i’ve ever used it. One of those ‘on principle’ things of which i seem to be so fond. Unfortunately the Signal Desktop application runs as a Chrome App… imagine their surprise when Big G declared that it would stop supporting Chrome Apps in the near future. Sorry, getting distracted.

If you want to run a Signal Desktop App there are now options. They most revolve around frameworks that provide a browser platform to applications without actually being a browser, and have names like Electron and Muon.

After a few failed attempts to create a working development environment for Election, and build the official Signal Desktop Electron branch i stumbled upon a Muon branch. This is obviously not at all official, and completely unsupported, but it works really well! If nothing else it will get me by until an official Electron build is produced by Whisper Systems.

My build environment for this was:

  • Xcode (think that’s where my git binaries come from…)
  • macports
    • nodejs7
    • npm4

As usual it was more of a pain to get the environment setup than it was to follow the build instructions. Make sure you install nodejs7 before npm4 otherwise you get stuck with an old version… i should probably move to Brew, etc.

The end result was a OS X Signal.app that paired perfectly with the account on my phone, and has been completely stable / trouble free for the last week. It doesn’t look like the branch is going to be maintained – at least nothing has been merged to it from upstream for nearly two weeks, so this isn’t a long term solution. However, if like me you’re moving more and more of your communications away from mail to signal, it’s a good way to save yourself from typing on a phone!

Edit: i’m an idiot. Building the Electron branch is simple.

$ git clone --recursive https://github.com/WhisperSystems/Signal-Desktop.git
Cloning into 'Signal-Desktop'...
remote: Counting objects: 22939, done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (241/241), done.
remote: Total 22939 (delta 333), reused 546 (delta 324), pack-reused 22373
Receiving objects: 100% (22939/22939), 49.29 MiB | 1.04 MiB/s, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (13362/13362), done.
$ cd Signal-Desktop/
$ git checkout electron
Branch electron set up to track remote branch electron from origin.
Switched to a new branch 'electron'
$ npm install

Now wait for a while… and eventually:

$ npm start

> signal-desktop@1.0.10 start /Users/<redacted>/src/Signal-Desktop
> electron .

Wait for app ready
setting AUMID
reading package.json
configuring
NODE_ENV development
NODE_CONFIG_DIR /Users/<redacted>/src/Signal-Desktop/config
NODE_CONFIG {}
ALLOW_CONFIG_MUTATIONS undefined
HOSTNAME undefined
NODE_APP_INSTANCE undefined
SUPPRESS_NO_CONFIG_WARNING undefined
userData /Users/<redacted>/Library/Application Support/Signal-development
app ready

signal desktop

Edit 2: Sven educated me further, and now i can package an application. This requires another exciting adventure with npm, and installing another tool, the ‘electron-packager‘:

$ npm install electron-packager -g

This let me run:

$ ~/.local/lib/npm/bin/electron-packager .
Packaging app for platform darwin x64 using electron v1.6.7
Wrote new app to /Users/<redacted>/src/Signal-Desktop/Signal-darwin-x64

Which outputs a macOS application bundle ‘Signal.app’. It is a little “heavy”:

$ du -sh Signal.app
156M Signal.app

But that’s the end of the trail. From git to a usable Signal Desktop application… it’s probably time i went outside.

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