I'm very excited to make this announcement today, approaching the one year anniversary of the Irdest fork from the previous project's leadership. In the past year a lot of things have happened. We have gotten funding via the NLnet  European research grant program, as well as participated in the Google Summer of Code for the first time (technically anyway).
But while these are amazing milestones in the life of this project, today's announcement is about something more technical.
The announcement ----------------
I'm extremely happy to announce the release of Ratman v0.3.0 , a _stand-alone userspace packet router_ for Linux, NetBSD, MacOS, and Windows (the latter three with only very minimal testing however). On the surface Ratman provides a TCP socket API, allowing applications to interact with a decentralised Irdest network. In the backend Ratman connects to a set of networking channels via specific drivers (called "net modules").
This architecture enables peer-to-peer connections between Ratman instances on a wide variety of platforms with implicit network roaming support. Currently the only net module included is a _TCP overlay_ but we are working on many others!
The reasoning -------------
I have been working on this project in some way or another since 2016 and in all that time we have gone through a lot of phases in the design of what Irdest (and it's predecessor) should, and could be. In many ways its identity in the last few years was still deeply rooted in the initial application written back in 2012: a phone app that allowed you to connect to people around you.
However as time went on, the more convinced I became that this approach to building mesh networks did not scale. Not only has mobile technology moved in a vastly different direction, the use-cases for these purely ad-hoc networks are so few and far between that focusing on it exclusively felt like the wrong design decision to make.
There are a lot of exciting prospects to mesh routing, with research papers of the last decade demonstrating many mechanisms by which mesh routing can be made more efficient and scalable. Irdest (meaning the fork) was born out of a desire to build a platform to implement and test these mechanisms in a real-world setting, while also providing easy access to these tools to anyone who was interested in them.
With this release we are officially departing from the goal of creating "an app" and instead focusing on the infrastructure that other applications can use to build their networking on top of.
Of course Ratman can still run on phones, and we do have a phone app on the roadmap which will act as a testbed to wireless peer-to-peer connection mechanisms (among other things), while also integrating with the Android and iOS VPN interfaces. The shift in focus here however is the building of infrastructure that other applications should use, not to create the next messenger or social network that people will have to install and ignore on their phones.
Our hope is that the technology we create can be re-used by other projects to improve the state of decentralised mesh routing projects overall.
What else? ----------
As I have mentioned we have funding from an NLnet grant to do work on Irdest. While this grant was initially meant for me to work on this project full time I have since found a day job and would like to extend the grant to anyone else who wants to contribute to the project. The current set of milestones will have to be revised (with this shift in project focus) but I'm hoping to release a set of milestones in the next month or so and work with NLnet to extend the scope to anyone else wanting to work on any of them. More details on this will follow!
I'm very excited about this step towards a new project identity and I hope that this announcement has made you at least a bit curious to try out Ratman in some way or another. The current daemon will very likely be most interesting to those already running and administrating networks and there is still a lot of work ahead of us to make this project more approachable and understandable to users without network administration backgrounds.
Nonetheless I think this is a big step in the right direction and I'm excited to see what the future may hold.
If you have questions or comments about this announcement, feel free to reply to this list, or join our Matrix chat room at #chat:irde.st.