Encrypting messages with OMEMO



OMEMO (XEP-0384) is an adaption of the Signal protocol for XMPP. It provides an important set of cryptographic properties including but not restricted to

Contrary to OTR it is capable of multi-end-to-multi-end encryption and message synchronization across multiple devices. It also allows the sender to send a message while the recipient is offline.

It does NOT provide a server side message archive, so that a new device could fetch old chat history.

Most implementations of OMEMO use the signal-protocol libraries provided by OpenWhisperSystems. Unlike Smack, those libraries are licensed under the GPLv3, which prevents a Apache licensed OMEMO implementation using those libraries (see licensing situation). The module smack-omemo therefore contains no code related to signal-protocol. However, almost all functionality is encapsulated in that module. If you want to use OMEMO in a GPLv3 licensed client, you can use the smack-omemo-signal Smack module, which binds the signal-protocol library to smack-omemo. It is also possible, to port smack-omemo to other libraries implementing the double ratchet algorithm.

Understanding the Double Ratchet Algorithm

In the context of OMEMO encryption, a recipient is a not a user, but a users device (a user might have multiple devices of course). Unlike in PGP, each device capable of OMEMO has its own identity key and publishes its own key bundle. It is not advised to migrate OMEMO identities from one device to another, as it might damage the ratchet if not done properly (more on that later). Sharing one identity key between multiple devices is not the purpose of OMEMO. If a contact has three OMEMO capable devices, you will see three different OMEMO identities and their fingerprints.

OMEMO utilizes multiple layers of encryption when encrypting a message. The body of the message is encrypted with a symmetric message key (AES-128-GCM) producing a payload. The message key is encrypted for each recipient using the double ratchet algorithm. For that purpose, the sending device creates a session with the recipient device (if there was no session already). Upon receiving a message, the recipient selects the encrypted key addressed to them and decrypts it with their counterpart of the OMEMO session. The decrypted key gets then used to decrypt the message.

One important consequence of forward secrecy is, that whenever an OMEMO message gets decrypted, the state of the ratchet changes and the key used to decrypt the message gets deleted. There is no way to recover this key a second time. The result is, that every message can be decrypted exactly once.

In order to provide the best user experience, it is therefore advised to implement a client side message archive, since solutions like MAM cannot be used to fetch old, already once decrypted OMEMO messages.

Server-side Requirements

In order to use OMEMO encryption, your server and the servers of your chat partners must support PEP (XEP-0163) to store and exchange key bundles. Optionally your server should support Message Carbons (XEP-0280) and Message Archive Management (XEP-0313) to achieve message synchronization across all (on- and offline) devices.

Client-side Requirements

If you are want to run smack-omemo related code on the Windows platform, you might have to install the Java Cryptography Extension. This is needed to generate cryptographically strong keys.

Storing Keys

smack-omemo needs to create, store and delete some information like keys and session states during operation. For that purpose the OmemoStore class is used. There are multiple implementations with different properties.

If you are unhappy with the (Signal)FileBasedOmemoStore, you can implement your own store (for example with a SQL database) by extending the (Signal)OmemoStore class.

It most certainly makes sense to store the data of the used OmemoStore in a secure way (for example an encrypted database).

Handling Trust Decisions

In order for a cryptographic system to make sense, decisions must be made whether to trust an identity or not. For technical reasons those decisions cannot be stored within the OmemoStore. Instead a client must implement the OmemoTrustCallback. This interface provides methods to mark OmemoFingerprints as trusted or untrusted and to query trust decisions.

In order to provide security, a client should communicate to the user, that it is important for them to compare fingerprints through an external channel (reading it out on the phone, scanning QR codes...) before starting to chat.

While not implemented in smack-omemo, it is certainly for the client to implement different trust models like Blind Trust Before Verification.

Basic Setup

Before you can start to send and receive messages, some preconditions have to be met. These steps should be executed in the order as presented below. In this example we will use components from the smack-omemo-signal module.

  1. Register an OmemoService

The OmemoService class is responsible for handling incoming messages and manages access to the Double Ratchet.


The setup() method registers the service as a singleton. You can later access the instance by calling SignalOmemoService.getInstace(). The service can only be registered once. Subsequent calls will throw an IllegalStateException.

  1. Set an OmemoStore

Now you have to decide, what OmemoStore implementation you want to use to store and access keys and session states. In this example we'll use the SignalFileBasedOmemoStore wrapped in a SignalCachingOmemoStore for better performance.

SignalOmemoService service = SignalOmemoService.getInstace(); service.setOmemoStoreBackend(new SignalCachingOmemoStore(new SignalFileBasedOmemoStore(new File("/path/to/store"))));

Just like the OmemoService instance, the OmemoStore instance can only be set once.

  1. Get an instance of the OmemoManager for your connection

For the greater part of OMEMO related actions, you'll use the OmemoManager. The OmemoManager represents your OMEMO device. While it is possible to have multiple OmemoManagers per XMPPConnection, you really only need one.

OmemoManager manager = OmemoManager.getInstanceFor(connection);

If for whatever reason you decide to use multiple OmemoManagers at once, it is highly advised to get them like this:

OmemoManager first = OmemoManager.getInstanceFor(connection, firstId); OmemoManager second = OmemoManager.getInstanceFor(connection, secondId);

  1. Set an OmemoTrustCallback

As stated above, the OmemoTrustCallback is used to query trust decisions. Set the callback like this:


If you use multiple OmemoManagers each OmemoManager MUST have its own callback.

  1. Set listeners for OMEMO messages.

To get notified of incoming OMEMO encrypted messages, you need to register corresponding listeners. There are two types of listeners.

Note that an incoming message might not have a body. That might be the case for KeyTransportMessages or messages sent to update the ratchet. You can check, whether a received message is such a message by calling OmemoMessage.Received.isKeyTransportMessage(), which will return true if the message has no body.

The received message will include the senders device and fingerprint, which you can use in OmemoManager.isTrustedOmemoIdentity(device, fingerprint) to determine, if the message was sent by a trusted device.

  1. Initialize the manager(s)

Ideally all above steps should be executed before connection.login() gets called. That way you won't miss any offline messages. If the connection is not yet logged in, now is the time to do so.

connection.login(); manager.initialize();

Since a lot of keys are generated in this step, this might take a little longer on older devices. You might want to use the asynchronous call OmemoManager.initializeAsync(initializationFinishedCallback) instead to prevent the thread from blocking.

Send Messages

Encrypting a message for a contact really means to encrypt the message for all trusted devices of the contact, as well as all trusted devices of the user itself (except the sending device). The encryption process will fail if there are devices for which the user has not yet made a trust decision.

Make Trust Decisions

To get a list of all devices of a contact, you can do the following:

List<OmemoDevice> devices = manager.getDevicesOf(contactsBareJid);

To get the OmemoFingerprint of a device, you can call

OmemoFingerprint fingerprint = manager.getFingerprint(device);

This fingerprint can now be displayed to the user who can decide whether to trust the device, or not.

// Trust
manager.trustOmemoIdentity(device, fingerprint);

// Distrust
manager.distrustOmemoIdentity(device, fingerprint);

Encrypt a Message

Currently only Message bodies can be encrypted. String secret = "Mallory is a twerp!"; OmemoMessage.Sent encrypted = manager.encrypt(contactsBareJid, secret);

The encrypted message will contain some information about the message. It might for example happen, that the encryption failed for some recipient devices. For that reason the encrypted message will contain a map of skipped devices and the reasons.

Encrypt a Message for a MultiUserChat

A MultiUserChat must fulfill some criteria in order to be OMEMO capable. The MUC must be non-anonymous. Furthermore all members of the MUC must have subscribed to one another. You can check for the non-anonymity like follows:


Encryption is then done analog to single message encryption:

OmemoMessage.Sent encrypted = manager.encrypt(multiUserChat, secret);

Sending an encrypted Message

To send the message, it has to be wrapped in a Message object. That can conveniently be done like follows.

Message message = encrypted.asMessage(contactsJid);

This will add a Message Processing Hint for MAM, an Explicit Message Encryption hint for OMEMO, as well as an optional cleartext hint about OMEMO to the message.


smack-omemo has some configuration options that can be changed on runtime via the OmemoConfiguration class:

Integration Tests

smack-omemo comes with a set of integration tests. Lets say you want to run the integration test suite for smack-omemo-signal. You can do so by using the following gradle task:

gradle omemoSignalIntTest