Abstract The increasing amount of data exchange requires higher-capacity optical communication links. Mode division multiplexing (MDM) is considered as a promising technology to support the higher data throughput. In an MDM system, the mode generator and sorter are the backbone. However, most of the current schemes lack the programmability and universality, which makes the MDM link susceptible to the mode crosstalk and environmental disturbances. In this paper, we propose an intelligent multimode optical communication link using universal mode processing (generation and sorting) chips. The mode processor consists of a programmable 4 × 4 Mach Zehnder interferometer (MZI) network and can be intelligently configured to generate or sort both quasi linearly polarized (LP) modes and orbital angular momentum (OAM) modes in any desired routing state. We experimentally establish a chip-to-chip MDM communication system. The mode basis can be freely switched between four LP modes and four OAM modes. We also demonstrate the multimode optical communication capability at a data rate of 25 Gbit/s. The proposed scheme shows significant advantages in terms of universality, intelligence, programmability and resistance to mode crosstalk, environmental disturbances, and fabrication errors, demonstrating that the MZI-based reconfigurable mode processor chip has great potential in long-distance chip-to-chip multimode optical communication systems.