Originally Published: Thursday, 21 December 2000 Author: Tom Dominico Jr.
Published to: learn_articles_firststep/General Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

Introduction to IRC

Ok, so you have heard something about this "IRC" thing, yet really don't quite understand it? Our very own, Mr. Tom Dominico Jr., is going to give you a quick walk around the block, so maybe you can add IRC to your arsenal of methods of communication!

IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is a great resource for everything from meeting friends to getting help with your Linux system. However, to the uninitiated, it can seem a bit daunting. Sure, there are graphical IRC programs such as X-Chat, but to get the most out of your experience, you'll need to know some basic commands and concepts. So, if you're an IRC newbie, read on...

IRC Concepts

First, let's go over a few basic concepts. An IRC "network" is a collection of IRC servers, such as EFNet, or the OpenProjects network. They are "linked" together so that users on a particular network can be spread out among a series or servers, but still talk to one another, etc. When you want to use IRC, you connect to a server in the network of your choice. Depending on the network, you might be automatically assigned the best server. Or, you may find a particular server that seems fastest for you.

Within an IRC network are "channels." Channels are the places you go to in order to talk with others. Channels are often set up around a certain subject or "topic," and their name always begins with a pound sign. For example, on the OpenProjects network, the channel for help with Linux is #linuxhelp. Channels are basically the same as "chat rooms."

A channel has one or more "operators." These are the people who have authority over the channel. By default, the first person to create a channel is given operator status. Operators have the right to perform special functions such as "kicking" or "banning" a user from the channel because of poor behavior. "Kicking" means being forced out of a channel. "Banning" means not being able to enter that channel at all. These actions are usually taken as a result of bad behavior. However, since operators have almost absolute authority over their channels, you may come across people who will kick or ban you from a channel for no real reason. Unfortunately, there may not be much you can do in this case.

Getting Started

Every IRC user is defined by a unique nickname, or "nick." You'll need to choose one in order to join an IRC network. A word of advice - most people find nicks with strange characters in them to be annoying. For example, you may think that "-={xTrEmE}=-" is a cool nick, but others probably won't, and it's difficult to type. You can certainly come up with a cool nick, but try to use normal characters.

You'll also need to know what IRC network you would like to join. I recommend the OpenProjects network. There, you'll find help with Linux, channels relating to open source projects, and even our very own Linux.com channel (#linux.com). You can use the server name "irc.openprojects.net," which will automatically send you to the best server available in your area.

Now, you're ready to join the network! The procedure will vary, depending on your IRC client. For example, X-Chat has a list of servers, from which you can choose irc.openprojects.net. It also has a place for you to type in a new server. With a console-based IRC client such as BitchX or EPIC, you can either specify the server name on the command line, or create an environment variable called "IRCSERVER" that contains your servername. You'll specify your preferred nick in a similar way, depending on your client (in the server list window for X-Chat, and on the command line or via an environment variable for console clients).

For example, say I want to connect to the OpenProjects network and use the nick "Linus," with BitchX as my client. At the command line, I would type:

BitchX Linus irc.openprojects.net
Pretty simple, right? You'll now see a bunch of information scroll by as you are connected to the server, which will include a welcome message. If your nick was already taken, or you need to use a new nick for some other reason, simply type "/nick ." Repeat this until you find a nick that no one else is using. You're in...but now what do you do?

Basic IRC Operations

Now that you've joined the network, you'll want to join at least one channel so that you can talk to others. Let's say that you have a question about getting something to work in Linux. You've checked the HOWTOs and man pages, but you're still unsure. Sounds like #linuxhelp is the place for you! Simply type "/join #linuxhelp" (without the quotes). You'll note that all IRC commands begin with a forward slash, to separate them from text that you send to the channel. If you want to join a different channel, substitute its name in place of #linuxhelp.

Once you're in a channel, you simply type the message you want to send to the channel, and press "enter." If you wanted to send a private message to a particular user, you can type "/msg ". WARNING: DO NOT randomly message people, as it's considered rude and obnoxious. You shouldn't be sending private messages to anyone unless you have their permission. It is only to be used for consensual private conversations. If you choose to ignore this warning, you'll become very unpopular quite rapidly, and may find yourself banned from some channels as well. People will eventually just add you to their list of people to ignore, so your messages will never even be read. You've been warned!

To leave a channel, you can type "/leave ." There are ways of being in multiple channels at once, but it is dependent upon your IRC client. For example, X-Chat allows you to have multiple tabbed windows, while BitchX allows you to have hidden windows that you can switch back and forth. Consult your IRC client's documentation for more information. IRC Etiquette

We've already covered many bits of IRC etiquette above. Generally speaking, don't be annoying when online. Here are a few things to keep away from doing:

The main thing to keep in mind is to be polite. Often times, it seems that people will say or do things on IRC that they wouldn't do in a face-to-face meeting. Please remember to keep things civilized when online. It's possible to be banned from an entire IRC network if you create enough of a problem.

At this point, you have enough knowledge to get started with IRC. It can be a great place to find new friends, get help with your system, and chat about a variety of topics. So, open your IRC client, log on, and have fun!