How to export and backup your Google Hangouts chat history

TL;DR: I’ve written a web tool you can use to view and download your Hangouts chat history. Click this link and follow the instructions.

Google Hangouts as messaging platform has some advantages over other often used services. On my smartphone, I mainly use WhatsApp and Threema, but both lack other clients so far WhatsApp web can only be used from one device at a time, and Threema lacks a web/desktop client, so communication is limited to using the smartphone which is somewhat annoying for longer conversations. This is a thing I like about Hangouts, it happens on all my devices and I can hop in and out of a conversation wherever I am at that time.

The problem

However, a major downside for me is the inability to export your chat. Sometimes you want to re-read some conversation you’ve had, or search for something the chat partner has said, like a link to a website. Now I am used to using IRC (Internet Relay Chat), which is kind of oldschool but – depending on the chat client configuration – can log everything to text files. You can read them, grep them, search for links, nicknames, everything. Log files of conversations are great.

Since I do not have Gmail, I can’t tell how accessible or not the chat history is in the Gmail web interface, but in the Chrome app, Android app and the chat box on the Google+ website, you can only see the last 50 or so messages. If you scroll up more than that, it dynamically loads more messages from the server. Then again, scroll up, and it will load some more. If you had a couple of long conversations, this can take quite a while, and even when you do this, the output produced by selecting all and copy pasting the chat to a text editor is ugly and not useful. So I googled how to export the chat. WhatsApp for example lets you send conversation histories via e-mail, which is great. It seems, however, that Hangouts cannot do this – there is no export/archive function whatsoever.

Getting closer

Yet there is a way to access that data, it’s just not as trivial as clicking an “export to .txt” button. One of Google’s several tools, Google Takeout, allows you to download all your Google account related data, i.e. your g-mails, calendar data, contacts, Google+ posts… and Hangouts conversations. When you do this, it will create a .zip archive containing a file which contains the chat data, JSON encoded.

Google Hangouts Takeout JSON
What Hangouts.json looks like

This file is full of unnecessary rubbish, I estimate less than 10% of the file contents are actual chat messages, the rest is metadata such as participant IDs, conversation IDs, read status, timestamps, and lots of other things. This makes the file unreadable and messy (note that there is not even one actual chat message in the part I screencaptured).

My Solution

I spent some time analyzing the structure of that JSON and wrote a parser in PHP to turn the JSON into different useful formats. It offers the following views and download options:

  • HTML view, displays the chat nicely formatted in a messenger-like style so you can easily read through it (features clickable links, embedded images etc.)
  • Text view, shows the chat in an IRC-like format that you could copy paste to a text editor.
  • XML view, in a textbox, to be copy-pasted somewhere.
  • XLSX download, all conversations in a single Excel 2007 (Office Open XML) document
  • CSV download, this can be opened in Excel, LibreOffice Calc etc.
  • ZIP with CSVs, all conversations as single CSV files, bundled in a .zip archive to download

In order to use the parser, you have to…

  1. download your chat history from Google Takeout
  2. (optional: extract the JSON file from the .zip archive you get from Google)
  3. upload it to the parser (zip or extracted JSON).

It will then show you a list of all your Hangouts conversations, be it group or one-to-one chats, and you can then view or download single conversations.

Screenshots

conversation list
conversation list
HTML view
HTML view
text view
text view
XML view
XML view
CSV view
CSV view
CSV view
Print view

Don’t worry, your text will not be all blurry

Caveats

Google switched from Google Talk to Google Hangouts on May 15th, 2013, and the file you get from the Google Takeout export only contains Hangouts chats. This means that there won’t be messages from before that date in your export.

Older chat messages can be found in the “Chats” folder in Gmail. My tool can only work with Hangouts data – if you want to export Google Talk chats too, there’s a python script by Clint Olson (@coandco) here.

Click here to use my parser

If you have a suggestion or found a bug, please do leave a comment below! You can also chat with me in #JayCorner on freenode and QuakeNet.

FAQ

Privacy notice aka What happens to my file when I upload it to your server?

The uploaded file will be stored on the server for 24 hours (there is an hourly cron job that deletes uploads older than 24h), so you have enough time to review your conversations and work with the data. After that, you’ll have to re-upload. I am the only person with access to the server, and I promise I won’t read your chats, you’ll have to trust me on that though There is now (as of 2015-03-15) also a “delete immediately” button at the bottom of the conversation overview, so you can delete your upload when you’re done.

Why does the parser show “unknown_102900492317555965172” instead of the name for some people?

I don’t know. Every person has what Google calls a “gaia_id”, it’s just a long number like 102900492317555965172. This is what identifies that person. In most cases, the person’s name is given in the Hangouts export file too, but sometimes it’s missing. I don’t really know why, maybe they have some stricter privacy settings than most of the people, or maybe they don’t have a Google+ profile, or a private one, or changed their name, … I could only guess. I couldn’t find out the reason so far. Sorry.

How can I save the HTML view with all the images?

Just open the HTML view and use your browser’s “File -> Save as…” function. Make sure to choose “Complete page” or “HTML with all images” or something like that as format, to avoid only saving the html page but nothing else.

Will you publish the source code so I can run the parser on my own server?

Yes and no. I will not publish the source code of the whole parser, and by that I mean the website layout, the uploader, all the methods for exporting/viewing a CSV, XLS, HTML etc. – what I did publish though is the very PHP method that actually parses a Hangouts json file into a PHP array of conversations. You are free to build your own parser around that.

Updates

Update #1 2014-12-29: the CSV link now generates a file download instead of showing a large text box with comma separated text.

Update #2 2014-12-30: I have made some more improvements to my parser and moved the actual parsing code to a separate function, which I published here.

Update #3 2015-01-02: Memory optimizations, fancy HTML5 uploader, view as XML, proper error messages, date picker in HTML view, subtle CSS improvements, bugfixes

Update #4 2015-01-04: Button to download a .zip containing CSVs of all convos.

Update #5 2015-01-10: Added XLSX export (1 conversation per sheet)

Update #6 2015-03-15: Added “delete my upload now” button to the conversation overview after being asked by someone to delete their upload

Update #7 2015-03-21: Added sortable “time of last message” column to conversation list, added expand/collapse to members column when there are more than eight members in a conversation, added message date range filter (makes the conversation list show only conversations with at least one message in the given date range), added selection checkboxes to conversation overview so you can select one, many or all conversations to download as XLSX or zipped CSV. Updated the screenshot of the conversation overview to reflect the changes. Also, the message order in the HTML view can now be reversed (newest message at the top, oldest at the bottom). Some of these changes were based on suggestions by @JMG, kudos to him!

Update #8 2015-04-26: You can now upload the zip file directly instead of first extracting the Hangouts.json file from it and uploading that, this will make uploads much faster and reduce traffic. Thanks @HIM357 for the suggestion.

Update #9 2015-05-29: Fix for chat timestamps being in GMT+1 instead of the user’s local timezone. Thanks @SC for the bug report and @amh for his help with testing the fix.

Update #10 2015-06-13: Added .txt download for single conversations and zipped .txt download for multiple conversations. Thanks @Tomcat for the suggestion.

Update #11 2015-07-06: The hangout parser is now SSL encrypted! Requests to http://hangoutparser.jay2k1.com will be redirected to https://hangoutparser.jay2k1.com. Shoutout to StartCom for providing the certificate!

Update #12 2015-08-07: In the HTML view, the current date is now always visible at the top. It took some CSS fiddlery to make it the way I wanted it to be, and now I’m quite satisfied with it. Thanks to @Ray890 for joining me on IRC and suggesting it!

Update #13 2015-09-23: I made a secondary CSS stylesheet for printing, so if you print the HTML view now, it will look kind of good. I also added a screenshot above to show what it looks like.

Update #14 2015-10-15: Wooooo, 10,000 uploads! I’d never have expected this to be so successful and useful to so many people. Thank you guys! Having coded something that many people use feels great!

Update #15 2016-04-30: Wooooo, 20,000 uploads! This is great. The second 10,000 uploads just took about six and a half months, that’s about half the time of thefirst 10,000. It’s really great to know something I coded is useful to so many people!

339 Comments

  1. Dear Jay! It is a fantastic tool. Not only is it functional, it also is very polished and pleasant looking.

    I have a question though. For some reason date selection is not working. No matter what date range I choose I get the whole thing every time. Any ideas?

    Thanks!

    Jerry

  2. My friend accidentally deleted our conversation thread of 7 years! Thanks to you i’ve been able to pull off from my side. You did a good thing. Thanks man. Appreciate it.

  3. I’d love to use the tool but my JSON file is 615 MB and your app is limited to 500 MB! I guess I am out of luck.

    1. You can zip your Hangouts.json file and upload that zip. But please don’t directly upload the zip file you got from Google Takeout, it probably contains a lot of images next to the JSON file.

  4. It worked well, but the conversation I wanted is missing!! I don’t know why is it so : (

  5. Have uploaded the archive file but nothing happened? Please do tell me what went wrong?

    Thank you

    1. Sorry, yes it worked. I was wondering if there was a search function. But in fact, it’s easiest just to click on one of the chat threads to view as HTML and then search in the browser. Thanks … it’s great.

  6. Jay, this is pretty cool. Is there a way to now import the json into a different google account?

    1. Mark, I haven’t ever seen (or heard of) a way to import data into a Google account, sorry…

      1. In that case, is there simply a was to search through all of the chats for a keyword? That actually what I am interested in.

  7. Thank you soooo much !

    I did not expect there a still guys like you to offer something for free. I hope you didn´t snatch our nude pictures

    (just joking – there were none – GOOGLE has them already)

    My phone got stolen, so all the Hangouts were lost I thought

    My future wifes phone crashed several times. Because she usually forgets the passwords, for reinstalling she always had to create a new hangout and google acount. With your instruction and parser I could rebuild ALL our hangouts starting from 2015.

    There will be a lot of tears of happiness when she gets the html files to read back, how our relation started. We are in a long distance relation and you made us very, very happy. I am in Germany, she is in Philippines until I retire there.

    Alexander Steipe & Richelle Alburo

  8. i mean, this is really awesome. but i just have some privacy concerns. is the data really safe?

    1. There’s a point about that here.

      Generally spoken: The data is only stored on my own physical server in a datacenter I work in, it is excluded from the daily server backups and each upload older than 24 hours is automatically being deleted (if the user doesn’t choose to delete it using the “delete now” button anyway).

      However, if you feel it is too risky and you don’t like the idea of uploading your entire chat history, then simply don’t

  9. I need help with this, I really need a copy of the chat for legal purposes. All I get when I open with the app is a tree of stuff, no actual chat. An occasional line from a chat, but nothing like the pics above. Truly if anyone can help, please let me know.

      1. Jay, is there a way to buy you a beer without PayPal. We just had a parting of ways after 20+ years due to their politics.

  10. Great, it works! Can I also make it work to link to the locally saved photos instead of the external Google internet source?

  11. This sounds pretty excellent! Looks like a great way to save the diary of the first 3 years of our son’s life. however the zipped jason file is still 5364 kb… Is there a solution?

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