Creating Google Hangouts With Apps via URL

January 13th 2015

If you’ve tried to make a Google Hangouts app, you probably already know that it sucks pretty badly. Famously terrible documentation, crazy bloated JavaScript, and mandated UX requirements. You also might know that you can craft a URL to open a new hangout without any of the bloat like so:

https://plus.google.com/hangouts/_

But what if you want to make a hangout with your app and set its app_type to ROOM_APP so that your app is loaded for everyone by default?

Well, some digging on the internet suggests that you can write a URL of the form

.../_/?gid=YOUR_GID&gd=INITIAL_DATA

to open a new hangout session with your app loaded and data passed to it. Unfortunately, this does not set the app_type flag specified in Google’s initial app parameters API. The only way to do so at this time appears to be Google’s official platform.js API to render an “Official G+ Hangouts Button”.

Fuck that.

There’s a bunch of reasons you might not want to play nice, but before going further you should take note of the Google buttons policy. Yes, they have an official policy on buttons. It’s a bit murky about whether you are allowed to programatically generate links to create Hangouts sessions, but the thrust of the policy is mostly about not misleading users and not snooping their data, so I assume this is mostly fine.

Reverse Engineering the Hangouts Button

Google’s example for generating a hangouts button via the JS API is:

  gapi.hangout.render('placeholder-rr', {
    render: 'createhangout',
    initial_apps: [{
      app_id:     '184219133185',
      start_data: 'dQw4w9WgXcQ',
      app_type:   'ROOM_APP'
    }]
});

which renders a button that, when clicked on, briefly opens a window with this URL:

https://talkgadget.google.com/hangouts/_/?hl=en&hcb=0&lm1=1421214770979
&hs=92&hscid=1421214770977081840&ssc=WyIiLDAsbnVsbCxudWxsLG51bGwsW10sbn
VsbCxudWxsLG51bGwsbnVsbCxudWxsLDkyLG51bGwsbnVsbCxudWxsLFsxNDIxMjE0NzcwO
Tc5XSxudWxsLG51bGwsW10sbnVsbCwiMTQyMTIxNDc3MDk3NzA4MTg0MCIsbnVsbCxudWxs
LG51bGwsbnVsbCxudWxsLG51bGwsbnVsbCxbXSxbXSxudWxsLG51bGwsbnVsbCxbXSxudWx
sLG51bGwsbnVsbCxbXSxudWxsLG51bGwsW1siMTg0MjE5MTMzMTg1IiwiZFF3NHc5V2dYY1
EiLDJdXV0.

which then redirects to a normal hangouts URL where your app is embedded as a full room app. Let’s break apart what’s going on here. The params in that URL are:

param | value
------|------
hl    | en
hcb   | 0
lm1   | 1421214770979
hs    | 92
hscid | 1421214770977081840
ssc   | WyIiLDAsbnVsbCxudWxsLG51bGwsW10sbnVsbCxudWxsLG51bGwsbnVsbCxudWx
      | sLDkyLG51bGwsbnVsbCxudWxsLFsxNDIxMjE0NzcwOTc5XSxudWxsLG51bGwsW1
      | 0sbnVsbCwiMTQyMTIxNDc3MDk3NzA4MTg0MCIsbnVsbCxudWxsLG51bGwsbnVsb
      | CxudWxsLG51bGwsbnVsbCxbXSxbXSxudWxsLG51bGwsbnVsbCxbXSxudWxsLG51
      | bGwsbnVsbCxbXSxudWxsLG51bGwsW1siMTg0MjE5MTMzMTg1IiwiZFF3NHc5V2d
      | YY1EiLDJdXV0.

hl seems obviously to be locale, and lb1 and hscid both seem to be timestamp-related. A bit of experimentation proves that everything works as long as ssc is included, so we can drop the rest of the params. But what is ssc?

It looks suspiciously like a Base 64 encoded blob, so we decode it:

["",0,null,null,null,[],null,null,null,null,null,92,null,null,null,
[1421214770979],null,null,[],null,"1421214770977081840",null,null,
null,null,null,null,null,[],[],null,null,null,[],null,null,null,[],
null,null,[["184219133185","dQw4w9WgXcQ",2]]]

This looks like a big serialized protobuf or something like it to me. Most of the fields are unused, and even the obvious timestamp fields are unnecessary. The following blob works just as well:

["",0,null,null,null,[],null,null,null,null,null,0,null,null,null,
[0],null,null,[],null,"0",null,null,null,null,null,null,null,[],
[],null,null,null,[],null,null,null,[],null,null,
[["184219133185","dQw4w9WgXcQ",2]]]

We’ve removed the timestamps and the magic number “92” (I have no idea what it’s for). All that we have left is the app ID, the initial data, and “2” to signify ROOM_APP. Erego, to create a URL to open a hangouts session to an app with APP_ID, INITIAL_DATA as a ROOM_APP in Ruby:

BASE_URL = 'https://plus.google.com/hangouts/_'
ssc_blob = '["",0,null,null,null,[],null,null,null,null,null,0,null,'\
  'null,null,[0],null,null,[],null,"0",null,null,null,null,null,null,'\
  'null,[],[],null,null,null,[],null,null,null,[],null,null,'\
  "[[\"#{APP_ID}\",\"#{INITIAL_DATA}\",2]]]"
BASE_URL + '?ssc=' + Base64.strict_encode64(ssc_blob)

It works, but no promises on for how long. Good luck out there.