Signal tests usernames to avoid using phone numbers

Signal, the privacy-oriented messenger, has launched a limited public test of connecting with usernames instead of phone numbers to communicate with other users.

The new environment, which Signal’s VP of engineering Jim O’Leary called “pre-beta,” will allow users to set up usernames and use them to chat and invite people to groups. The key idea behind implementing usernames is to enable communication between anyone without the need to share one's phone number.

“[…] It’s no secret that we’ve been working on bringing usernames to Signal for a while now. After rounds of internal testing, we have hit the point where we think the community that powers these forums can help us test even further before public launch,” O’Leary said.

The staging environment is entirely separate from Signal, and anyone who’s inclined to test will have to download a separate build and register a new account. Only users who use the same build can communicate with each other.

Signal usernames
Testing ground for usernames on Signal. Image by Signal.

While Signal aims to launch usernames in 2024, the testing announcement reveals that swapping phone numbers for different forms of authentication will require Signal to make some significant changes.

“These early builds are designed to proactively crash if it appears that anything has gone wrong under the hood since we’re changing the fundamental way that accounts are identified in the Signal ecosystem,” O’Leary explained.

According to visual samples Signal shared on the company’s Mastodon account, the username functionality will employ a QR code, which, when shared, allows users to find a user on the Signal app.

“I’d like to emphasize that you should not get attached to any data on these staging builds. You’re running early pre-release stuff, and there may be classes of bugs that happen where we may fix something moving forward […],” Signal Android developer Greyson Parrelli said.

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