Originally Published: Friday, 21 September 2001 Author: David Mckee
Published to: learn_articles_firststep/General Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Linux.com Beginners Week: How to Get Ahead on IRC

Linux.com regular volunteer "LinuxWolf" sends us this very nicely written piece on the basics of IRC chatting and use. Experts will know this stuff already, but if you are new to IRC or have yet to join us on, say Linux.com Live!, this is a great primer.

   Page 1 of 1  

Introduction to IRC and it's Etiquette

One of the greatest things about the internet is IRC. Through IRC people from all over the world can meet and chat in real-time. There are rooms on 100's if not 1000's of nets, dedicated to everything from sewing and cooking, to programming in Perl and network administration and, of course, everything related to Linux. If you can think of at subject, 10 to 1 there is a channel dedicated to it. IRC is also one of the most "international" places on the Internet, if your native tongue is English or Dutch, French, Spanish or Arabic, the chances are very good you will find a IRC channel where you can speak in your own native language. If, by some chance, you don't find one that suits you, I will show you here how to create your own.

Some Background on what IRC is

One of the first things I am asked from new users is what is IRC?

IRC is an acronym for Internet Relay Chat. Some people call it Internet real-time chat, but that's not correct. While chat does take place in real-time (instantaneous) to the user, it is not really, as the messages are relayed from one server to another until they appear on your screen. There are also JAVA based chats, like you see on Yahoo, and other "instant" chat programs, but we are going to focus on traditional IRC. I am going to show you some of the basics commands all users of IRC should know, like CHANSERV and NICKSERV.

Now, unlike how a lot of people may think, most IRC servers are not run by multi-million dollar corporations. Yes, Yahoo, AOL and others have their own chat networks and in some cases their own clients, but we are going to focus on "underground" IRC (like OpenProjects.net) and clients such as X-Chat, Kvirc, BitchX on Linux or Unix. There is Pirch and Mirc for Windows users and clients for almost any platform you can imagine, but for each the same kinds of instructions apply since IRC is client/server.

It's important to understand that on IRC, unlike Yahoo chat, a network like openprojects is not a huge corporation, but users just like you. They have decided to take a group of their computers and link them all together so you can chat. They are based all over the world, as a matter of fact most IRC server admins or IRCop's have never even met face-to-face. What is very important to understand about most networks on IRC is that they are about community, even if nobody knows what anybody else looks like.

Many IRC communities are very strong and offer a powerful "home" for those involved in them. This is why some respect is needed for both the servers OP's and guests. A lot of guests assume because they have a computer and connection, it is their right to be on a network or a channel. Well, I hate to burst the bubble but it is not your right. You, like me or many of your friends are operating on an individual's personal computer, the network operator. They have every right to say what and who is or is not allowed on their network, so a little respect and a very few rules are needed. I know that will upset some people, but it is the truth: we are not paying to use their services or bandwidth. So a little common courtesy is needed and expected when it comes to IRC.

Some Guidelines on Use

Most IRC servers have very simple rules, and some channels on their networks also have their own rules of conduct. It does vary as much from network-network as it does from channel to channel. Most IRC servers have some very simple rules. The rules of a server can be seen in what is called the MOTD or (message of the day). Your own computer at home, or in the office, may have a MOTD when you login. Now not all IRC networks have the same rules, what's taboo on one network is fine on another. This is why reading the MOTD when you join a server is a good idea. Yes I know it can be boring, or you do not care about rules, but believe me: it is in your best long term interests to pay attention to them. Failure to do so can result in not only you, but all other users of your ISP being banned from a network or a channel, as you will come to see later in this article.

How do I join a Channel and see the MOTD?

  1. Choose a server and network. There are two ways to connect to any IRC server or network. One, of course, is from the drop-down list of networks available in most IRC clients, often the first thing you see. The other is to type /join irc.server.domain. For OPN it would be /server irc.openprojects.net. You type that into what is often called the server window, or console window, or status window. You can add that server to your IRC client if you do not see it in your list manually, doing so is usually in the preferences or settings of the IRC client, and is fairly self-explanatory.

  2. Hit Connect. When you first connect to the network you will see a lot of things. Messages on the screen may fly by so fast you get dizzy, depending on your connection speed. The main message to look for is the MOTD, this is where the Administrators of the network have laid down the rules for that server dn network. If you missed it you can do two things: in a GUI based client like say X-chat or Mirc simply scroll back in the status window. It will display all the content that scrolled by when you joined the server in what is known as a "buffer". Or, if you use a text based client like say BitchX, you may type in the main window /MOTD. it will display the MOTD only and not all of the other connection stats.

Now as I mentioned all servers and even channels vary on rules (I will deal with channels in a later section) . Some of the most common activities servers will not allow are: Warez, heavy MP3 trading, HaXoR activity, this can include using Bots/war-scripts. PORN on some networks is prohibited period, some have rules just about child-porn, as they should have! The MOTD is where you will find this out. In closing this part of the tutorial let me remind you that there is no reason for saying "I didn't know the rules", and if you break the rules nobody will care if that's what you say. Always read the MOTD when you join a network, especially if it is your first time. But never take for granted that reading it once is enough, rules and networks change constantly. What is allowed today could be taboo tomorrow. That is how communities work in the real world, too.

Channels, and how do I join a channel?

You join a channel by typing

/join #channel_name

One of the best things about IRC is channels. You name it, there is a good chance you will find a channel dedicated to it. Here are some suggestions when joining a channel you are not familiar with.

  • Caps/Colors: Using Colors or caps while in a channel may seem like a small thing, but it is a big problem. Colors are a neat thing, you can do fun things with them. However, most channels will frown on them, may even ask you to leave if you insist on using them. The reason is not all IRC clients can handle colors, in those clients it appears as gibberish on the screen. Try to avoid colors; they not only are incompatible with many clients, some people just plain hate them. If that person happens to be the op (the person who controls the channel you are in) then you could be kicked from the channel or banned if you persist in using them.

  • When I am new to a channel, I always ask an op if they have a FAQ (Frequently asked questions) file. I also read the topic, and pay attention to the status window we spoke about earlier. The rules of a channel may be presented in any of those places, maybe even a bot that greets you on entering the channel, the topic, or a notice in the status window.

  • Typing in all caps is considered yelling at the other guests. It is very poor etiquette, and is frowned on in almost any channel.

Using /msg or /notice

Both commands are very similar, they both send a private message to the person you specify e.g: /msg nick <your message>. This would open a new window to that user, with your text message in it. /notice is similar, though in this case a lot of IRC-clients will display the message in that user's status window. Other clients like BitchX will display the message in that users channel window, but only they can see it. You can tell by the color of the text, it will be (perhaps) purple to indicate it is a private message.

A small note here on the use of these two commands. A lot of guests in channels do not like it when others use these commands. When you do this without asking the person first, it is like inviting yourself to a private party. Always ask in the channel first if you may msg the person. If they say sure, then fine, but if they say no, then respect their privacy and don't message them privately.

Stuff Really Not to Do

Flooding: Like the word implies, this is not a good thing at all. Of all the things I may encounter in IRC, flooding has to be the one thing that annoys me the most. Maybe the second thing after scripts/scans, but it is defiantly a tight second. A flood is when you paste to a channel line upon line of text. This can get you kicked from a channel in no time at all. While it may seem perfectly fine to you, try watching all that text fly by when using a Text based IRC client. So don't do it, period, unless you're in a private chat with a person, and even then ask if you can paste a lot of text at once. IRC is about talk, not reading a lot of pasted text.

Port Scans: This is frowned on in pretty much any channel, and most networks. While if a person you know asks you to do so, it is fine, running a NMAP, or other types of portscans on users in a channel can result in you being banned instantly. In a worse case scenario if you persist, you could risk being banned from that IRC network completely. I have seen entire domains banned from networks because of such activity by users of a particular ISP. Always remember that what you do on a server, also reflects on other people that share the same ISP as you.

Scripts and Bots: This is always a tough call when I have been asked about them. As a new person I do not suggest you run a bot or any scripts, I will explain why in a moment. Now some IRC networks have no problem with guests running a bot or a script in a channel. In #linuxhelp, for example, "Info" is what's called an information bot, "google" is also a bot. Both serve very useful information to guests in #linuxhelp. However, the bot's have the founder of the channel's permission to be there, and are run by them. Now some channels have no problem with a guest running their own bot, others are adamant you do not. If your just joining a channel ask one of the op's if you may bring your bot in. Never bring your bot into a channel without asking first, most have strict rules on this.

Scripts are the same really, as that is all a bot really is, but can vary widely. Like bots a user running a script in a channel can cause a lot of problems. Don't get me wrong, I have run many a script in my years on IRC, I even wrote a few I use for personal use. The biggest problem with scripts, especially for a person who is new to IRC is this: If you did not write the script yourself, you have no real idea of how it works, or what it is doing. You could be sending constant PING requests to all users of a channel, or perhaps blurting out useless information and almost flooding a channel. You may not even be aware it is doing it, and when questioned, you have no idea how to shut it off. So don't run bots or scripts unless you know how to control them, and have permission to use them in a channel.

Services of IRC.

Let me start by saying, as a friend reminded me: Not all IRC networks offer services, or they may have some but not others. Nor is this meant to be a complete list of all commands that a particular service offers. Also please remember that almost all IRC admins, and op's, are volunteers, so dont expect them to drop everything just because you forgot your password. The server administrators are there to help maintain the network, and deal with troublesome users. They are not personal tutors for people, so think before you decide to create a nickname or a channel. It is your responcability to make sure you remember the password for your nick and channel not theirs!

I am only going to deal with the very basic commands of the most used services. On a lot of networks that offer services you can get help with them by typing

/msg services_name help.

NICKSERV: In my opinion Nickserv is the most useful, and powerful of the services you will see. While CHANSERV controls a channel, who get's op'ed in it and so on, the fact is unless you have a registered nickname, you can't even have a personal channel that is always around. So technically you can't even attempt to register your channel till you have your nickname. NICKSERV keeps track of all registered nicknames on a given IRC network. You may have even seen NICKSERV in action when you first logged onto a new IRC network. If you try use a nickname that another user has registered and set Protection and Kill on. You probably where greeted by NICKSERV saying " This nick is registered, if you own it. Please type /msg nickserv identify password. If you don't know the password for that nickname then it is NICKSERV that drops your connection to that network. So how do you register a nickname and turn on that kewl function you may ask? Well here we go, these are the most basic commands you will use to interact with NICKSERV.

/msg nickserv register password

Yes nickserv knows what nick you're using and if it is taken, also don't use "password" as your password, heh. When you installed Linux you choose unique passwords for your users account and root account, here the same rules apply. Your password should consist of both uppercase and lowercase letters, mixed with numerals. An example of a good one is As#ht016P, a bad one would be 111770. But whatever you do, DO NOT use the user or root password for your computer: EVER! Make the password unique but something you will remember. There are numerous reasons for this, which go beyond the scope of this article. To make it so only you may use the nickname you have choose type the following:

/msg nickserv set secure on
/msg nickserv set kill on

this can vary from network to network. Remember you can get help by typing /msg nickserv help set as set is the command you want help with. As I said before, this also applies to any command with any service, you would just alter the services name and command.

Your nickname is now registered, and protected. If anyone, including you tries use that nickname and does not know the password, NICKSERV will drop their connection after 60 seconds.

CHANSERV: Chanserv works very closely with NICKSERV as I mentioned earlier. You cannot register a channel, or add people to your op's list, unless you have registered your nick. CHANSERV will not accept a request to register a channel unless your nick is registered. So here we go, let's register a channel.

We will call ours "#foo" Now pay attention to that STATUS window I mentioned at the start, this is where any error msgs will appear. Type:

/msg chanserv register #foo <a password> >description-of-channel<

Please note that each network is different, some also require an e-mail address, or a description of the channel, so watch that status window for error messages. Voila! You are now the proud owner of #foo, chanserv will de-op any person that enters the channel that's not an op you appointed, even when nobody is there. Like with nickserv you can get help the same way and with same syntax as before, all services use the same format for asking for help.

MEMOSERV: This will be short and sweet as few IRC networks offer this service, it also has few commands. Memoserv allows you to send a short message to anyone with a registered nick, even if they are offline. Most IRC networks that offer Memos have a limit of 256 characters including punctuation. So make your memo short and sweet. The syntax to send a memo is:

/msg memoserv send <persons_nick> your message for them"

Thats it. When they next log on to the IRC server they will be greeted by a message saying " You have a memo from" and they will get instructions on how to read it, delete it and so on. Some users disable the ability to get memo's. There is nothing you can do if that person has the memo option set to OFF.


This article gave you a very basic and newbie guide on how to use and interact with IRC servers and channels and the people within them. I hope you will get as much joy from IRC as I have over the years. Happy chatting!

David "LinuxWolf" Mckee: I am your stereotype WEB GEEK, though using Linux only about nine months. I have been using computers for about 10 yrs, 20 if you count my coCo2 days. I have used the web for about 10 years and IRC for over 7. I used to run a BBS in Vancouver, BC Canada. I became involved with IRC in its infancy. I can mostly be found in #Linuxhelp and #linux.com-live! I run a small home based business in Vancouver that focuses on the home-user, SO/HO people, and was a beta tester for the @home network when it was first released in Vancouver.

   Page 1 of 1