Matrix Read Receipts & Notifications

Published on Thursday, January 5, 2023
Tags: matrix, notes

I recently wrapped up a project on improving notifications in threads for Matrix. This is adapted from my research notes to understand the status quo before adapting the Matrix protocol for threads (in MSC3771 and MSC3773). Hopefully others find the information useful!


These notes are true as of the v1.3 of the Matrix spec and also cover some Matrix spec changes which may or may not have been merged since. It is known to be out of date with the changes from MSC2285, MSC3771, and MSC3773.


Matrix uses “receipts” to note which part of a room has been read by a user. It considers the history for a room to be split into three sections1:

  1. Messages the user has read (or indicated they aren’t interested in them).
  2. Messages the user might have read some but not others.
  3. Messages the user hasn’t seen yet.

The fully read marker is between 1 & 2 while the read receipt is between 2 & 3. Note that fully read markers are not shared with other users while read receipts are.

Another way to consider this is2:

  1. Fully read marker: a private bookmark to indicate the point which has been processed in the discussion. This allows a user to go back to it later.
  2. Read receipts: public indicators of what a user has seen to inform other participants that the user has seen it.
  3. Hidden read receipts: a private mechanism to synchronize “unread messages” indicators between a user’s devices (while still retaining the ability from 1 as a separate concept). (See MSC2285.)

Fully read markers

They are stored in the room account data for the user (but modified via a separate API).

The API is:

POST /_matrix/client/v3/rooms/{roomId}/read_markers

The read receipt can optionally be updated at the same time.

In Element Web your fully read marker is displayed as the green line across the conversation.

Read receipts

Only is defined at the moment, but it is meant to be generic infrastructure.

Updating a read receipt updates a “marker” which causes any notifications prior to and including the event to be marked as read.3 A user has a single read receipt “marker” per room.

Passed to clients as an m.receipt event under the ephemeral array for each room in the /sync response. The event includes a map of event ID -> receipt type -> user ID -> data (currently just a timestamp). Note that the event is a delta from previous events. An example:

  "content": {
    "$": {
      "": {
        "": {
          "ts": 1436451550453
  "room_id": "!",
  "type": "m.receipt"

The API is:

POST /_matrix/client/v3/rooms/{roomId}/receipt/{receiptType}/{eventId}

In Element Web read receipts are the small avatars on the right hand side of the conversation. Note that your own read receipt is not shown.

Hidden read receipts (MSC2285)

A new receipt type ( to set a read receipt without sharing it with other users. It also modifies the /read_markers API to accept the new receipt type and modifies the /receipts API to accept the fully read marker.

This is useful to synchronize notifications across devices while keeping read status private.

Push rules

A user’s push rules determine one or more user-specific actions on each event. They are customizable, but the homeserver provides default rules. They can result in an action to:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Notify the user (notify action), which can have additional actions (“tweaks”):
    1. Highlight the message (highlight action)
    2. Play a sound (sound action)

By default, all new and events generate a notification, events with a user’s display name or username in them or @room generate highlights, etc.

Push rules for relations (MSC3664)

Augments push rules to allow applying them to the target of an event relationship and defines a default push rule for replies (not using the reply fallback).

Event notification attributes and actions (MSC2785)

A proposed replacement for push rules, the results are essentially the same actions (and presumedly would not change the data returned in /sync, see below).

Notification counts in /sync

The number of notification events and highlight events since the user’s last read receipt are both returned on a per room basis as part of a /sync response (for joined room).

Notification and highlight events are any messages where the push rules resulted in an action of notify or highlight, respectively. (Note that a highlight action must be a notify action, thus highlight_count <= notification_count.)

An example:

  "account_data": [...],
  "ephemeral": [...],
  "state": [...],
  "summary": {...},
  "timeline": {...},
  "unread_notifications": {
      "highlight_count": 0,
      "notification_count": 0

Unread messages count (MSC2654)

A new field is added under the unread_notifications field (unread_count) which is the total number of events matching particular criteria since the user’s last read receipt.

This replaces MSC2625, which adds a new push rule action (mark_unread) to perform the same task. In this rendition, notify implies mark_unread and thus highlight_count <= notification_count <= unread_count.

Push notifications

Push notifications receive either the number of unread messages (across all rooms) or the number of rooms with unread messages (depending on the value of push.group_unread_count_by_room in the Synapse configuration). Unread messages are any messages where the push rules resulted in an action of notify.

This information is sent from the homeserver to the push gateway as part of every notification:

  "notifications": {
    "counts": {
      "unread": 1,