Briar Quick Start Guide
What is Briar?
Briar is a messaging app designed for activists, journalists, and anyone else who needs a safe, easy and robust way to communicate.
Unlike traditional messaging apps, Briar doesn’t rely on a central server - messages are synchronized directly between the users’ devices.
If the Internet’s down, Briar can sync via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, keeping the information flowing in a crisis. If the Internet’s up, Briar can sync via the Tor network, protecting users and their relationships from surveillance.
Create an account
When you open the Briar app for the first time you’ll be asked to create an account. Your account will be stored securely on your device, encrypted with your password.
Choose your nickname carefully as you can’t change it later. You can choose the same nickname as someone else, just like in real life.
Choose a password that’s hard to guess but easy to remember. If you forget your password there’s no way to regain access to your account.
If you need to delete your account in a hurry, just uninstall the Briar app.
After choosing your nickname and password, Briar will ask for permission to disable battery optimizations so it can run in the background. This is necessary because there’s no server to receive messages on your behalf while Briar is in the background: Briar needs to receive those messages itself.
On Huawei and Xiaomi devices you’ll be asked to take extra steps to let Briar run in the background. Please follow the instructions carefully.
Add a contact
After creating your account you’ll see an empty contact list. To add a contact, press the plus button (+). There are two options, depending on whether the person you want to add is nearby.
If the person you want to add is nearby, choose “Add contact nearby”. If the person you want to add is not nearby and you have Internet access, choose “Add contact at a distance”.
Add a contact nearby
When you choose “Add contact nearby”, Briar will ask for permission to use your camera so it can scan your contact’s QR code. Briar will also ask for permission to access your location so it can connect to your contact via Bluetooth. Briar doesn’t store, share, or upload your location, but this permission is needed for discovering nearby Bluetooth devices. Finally, Briar will ask for permission to turn on Bluetooth and make your device visible to nearby Bluetooth devices for a short time.
After granting all these permissions, Briar will show a QR code and a camera viewfinder. Scan your contact’s QR code and let them scan yours. After about 30 seconds your devices should connect to each other and your contact should be added to your contact list.
If your devices fail to connect to each other, both of you should go back to the contact list and start the process again.
Add a contact at a distance
When you choose “Add contact at a distance”, Briar will show a link that you should send to the person you want to add. You can send the link via another app such as Signal. Your contact also needs to send you their link. Paste your contact’s link and choose a nickname for them. If you and your contact are both signed into Briar and both have Internet access then your contact should be added to your contact list within a few minutes.
Send a message
After adding your first contact, tap their name in the contact list to send your first message. The circle next to your contact’s name will be green when Briar is connected to your contact via Internet, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
Introduce your contacts
You can use the introduction feature to introduce your contacts to each other so they don’t have to meet up in person to add each other.
Write a blog post
You can use the blog feature to write posts that all your contacts can see. You can also reblog other people’s posts to let all your contacts see them.
Bear in mind that you can’t delete blog posts after they’ve been sent.
Create a forum
You can use the forum feature to create group discussions and invite your contacts to join. Anyone who belongs to a forum can invite their own contacts to join.
The range of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi is around 10 metres, depending on obstacles. Clearly this isn’t enough for communicating across a city or even a large building. So when Briar receives a message from a nearby contact, it stores the message and can later pass it on to other contacts when they come within range (for example, when you move from one place to another).
Please note that Briar will only synchronize messages with your contacts, not with nearby strangers who are running Briar. And it will only sync the messages you’ve chosen to share with each contact. For example, if you invite your contacts X and Y to join a forum, and they accept, then messages in that forum will be synced with X or Y whenever they’re within range. So you can receive forum messages from X in one location, travel to another location, and deliver those messages to Y.
But this doesn’t work for private messages: they’re only synchronized directly between the sender and recipient.
Connect to your contacts offline
When you meet up with one of your Briar contacts you can use the “Connect via Bluetooth” feature in the conversation screen to make a Bluetooth connection between your devices. After doing this once your devices should connect automatically in future, but this may take a minute or two after your contact comes within range. If you don’t want to wait you can use the “Connect via Bluetooth” feature again to make a connection immediately.
If a group of people within Wi-Fi range want to communicate, it can be useful to create a Wi-Fi hotspot on one person’s phone. Even if the hotspot doesn’t have Internet access, Briar can use it to communicate with contacts who are connected to the same hotspot.
If it’s too risky to carry your phone from place to place (eg checkpoints), you can sync encrypted messages using a USB stick or SD card to carry them more discreetly.
Use a forum for offline communication
A forum is a good way for a group of people to keep in touch without Internet access. To make sure that forum posts are synced between all members of the forum, introduce all the members so they become contacts, and make sure that everyone invites everyone else to the forum and accepts the invitations, even if they already belong to the forum. This will ensure that whenever two members are within Bluetooth or Wi-Fi range they can synchronize the forum messages they’ve received.
Share the app
If someone in your group needs to install Briar and doesn’t have Internet access, you can share the app with them by choosing “Share this app offline” from Briar’s main menu. This creates a Wi-Fi hotspot without Internet access where they can download the app from your device.
Save battery and data
Briar uses a lot of battery and data for connecting to your contacts via the Internet. So if you’re on the move, especially if you have limited mobile data, you should consider whether you need to use Briar for online and offline communication, or whether it would be better to use something like Signal for online communication and use Briar when offline. You could agree a time of day when you and your contacts will be online in Briar and keep it offline the rest of the time.
You can control whether Briar uses the Internet by choosing “Settings” and then “Connections” from Briar’s main menu. There are also options to connect to the Internet only when charging, or only when connected to Wi-Fi, to save battery and data.
Is this guide useful? Is there anything that should be added, removed, or made clearer? Did the app work as you expected?
Please send feedback anonymously by choosing “Send feedback” from Briar’s main menu. If you don’t have Internet access, your feedback will be saved and sent next time you’re online.
You can also send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.