OSCAR protocol

OSCAR protocol

OSCAR or Open System for CommunicAtion in Realtime is AOL's flagship instant messaging and presence information protocol. Currently, OSCAR is in use for AOL's two main instant messaging systems: ICQ and AIM.

Despite its name, the specifications for the protocol remain proprietary. AOL has gone to great lengths to keep competitors (namely Microsoft, XMPP, and Cerulean Studios) from implementing compatible clients for their proprietary messaging systems. In 2002, AOL signed a contract with Apple, Inc., allowing them to use OSCAR (as well as AOL's own code libraries) in their iChat application. This allowed iChat users to interact with ICQ and AIM users directly. The deal also permitted users of Apple's .Mac service to log into the AIM network using their .Mac email addresses. (This has carried over to Apple's MobileMe service.)

As of 2009 large parts of the protocol have been reverse-engineered and implemented by an ever-increasing number of 3rd party clients.

The OSCAR protocol can be used separately from AOL's network. In fact, AOL expands on the general concept of OSCAR, adding systems for service side buddy lists and icons, as well as features for file transfers (using Bonjour.)

On March 6, 2006, AOL released the AIM SDK and launched a developer website, allowing developers to build plugins for AIM Triton, and build their own custom clients, which connect over the OSCAR protocol. They had not, at that point, however, released any information about the protocol itself.

On March 5, 2008, AOL released portions of the OSCAR protocol documentation. Google also provides the ability to sign into AIM network via the Google Talk client built into Gmail.


Packet structure

All packets sent over OSCAR are encapsulated in the same manner. All 16-bit integers sent over the network are unsigned, and big endian (see Endianness.) This is the same for 32-bit integers, and 8-bit integers (or bytes.)

FLAP header

A special FLAP (Frame Layer Protocol[1]) container encloses every packet. It carries information about packet size, channel, and its number in sequence.

Offset (hex) Field Type/Size (in bytes) Remarks
00 FLAP ID byte/1 Always contains 2A. It is mark of packet start.
01 Channel byte/1 1 = login, 2 = SNAC layer, 3 = error, 4 = disconnect
02 Number in sequence int16/2 Incremented by 1 each time a packet sent. Wraps to 0 after FFFF.
04 Data size int16/2 Size does not include FLAP header

SNAC data

Within almost every packet sent over channel 2, packets contain a SNAC (Simple Network Atomic Communication). There is always either one or zero of these contained in a packet, and therefore they do not contain (nor do they need to) a length.

Offset (hex) Field Type/Size (in bytes) Remarks
00 Foodgroup int16/2 The general type of the packet
02 Type int16/2 The specific type of the foodgroup
04 Flags int16/2
06 Request ID int32/2 A request ID, this can be random but clients cannot send this with the Highest Order Bit set.

See also

External links

Protocol information


C libpurple
C# NOscar
C++ QOscar (Qt)
C# 2.0 OscarLib
Java joscar
Instant Messenger Lib
OCaml mlOscar
Python TwistedWords
Perl Net::OSCAR
PHP WebIcqPro


  1. ^ "FLAP - Frame Layer Protocol". AOL Developer Network. AOL. 2008-03-05. http://dev.aol.com/aim/oscar/#FLAP. Retrieved 2009-11-01.