Originally Published: Thursday, 17 February 2000 Author: Jeff Alami
Published to: columnists/Jeff Alami Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Review: The Book of IRC

IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, is one of the most addictive uses of the Internet. It's also one of the most useful. IRC, and the #debian channel on the OpenProjects network, is what helped me learn most of the basics I know about Linux today. So maybe those late nights chatting weren't a total waste....

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IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, is one of the most addictive uses of the Internet. It's also one of the most useful. IRC, and the #debian channel on the OpenProjects network, is what helped me learn most of the basics I know about Linux today. So maybe those late nights chatting weren't a total waste.

IRC is used by many in the Linux and Free Software communities. Linux.com uses it for its support network (#linuxhelp on irc.linux.com) and for its staff members to communicate in real-time. Several Free Software projects, such as Stampede, Debian, and KDE, make IRC an integral part of their communication between developers.

Anyway, whole books can be written about IRC, how to use it, and its community. And this is exactly when No Starch Press did with its publication of The Book of IRC, written by Alex Charalabidis. While mostly emphasizing on learning how to use IRC, the book does discuss a bit about its culture and history.

The Book of IRC begins with an introduction to the Internet and a primer on the mechanics of IRC servers and networks. There's a bit on the history of the various networks, IRC netiquette, and basic client commands. This introduction is a great start for those people who may have heard of IRC but are not sure what is really is or how it works.

The book then goes into a discussion of the various IRC clients. Naturally, I skipped over the Windows and Macintosh chapters. The Linux/UNIX chapter explained in detail the various text-based IRC clients, including ircII, EPIC, and BitchX. It didn't mention any of the popular graphical clients such as KVirc or X-Chat.

A great deal of detail is presented in describing how to connect to an IRC server, how to join and create channels, and the problems that can be encountered in doing both. The book goes into each process step-by-step and is a good way for a newcomer to IRC to learn. For advanced users, the book does provide some information on scripting, being an IRC operator, and running your own IRC server.

I noticed that the author, being a well-experienced IRC operator himself, provided several, shall we say, "opinions" about various subjects. For example, about Java-based IRC clients: "To be honest, I don't like Java ... I think Java is too buggy, bulky, and insecure, and it is as excruciatingly slow as software can be." He also warns IRC beginners to avoid Microsoft's Comic Chat client at all costs. Bill Pollock, Publisher of No Starch Press, mentioned that there was a great deal of "this sucks, that sucks" comments in the original draft that they ended up removing. To be fair, a certain amount of opinionated talk is entertaining, and ends up differentiating the book from a dry manual.

Overall, the Book of IRC is great for readers at any IRC skill level. Because it can be so useful for people learning Linux or developing Linux software, I would heartily recommend such a book to anyone in the Linux community who has questions about IRC. It could have benefitted from some more Linux-specific content, such as a description of graphical clients and common Linux community channels. But all things considered, it's a much better read than some of the overly thick books I've read about Internet-related topics.

Jeff Alami (jeff@linux.com), the Editor-in-Chief of Linux.com, is no stranger to IRC, spending at least 10 hours a day on Linux.com's IRC server with the nick "Zagreus." But he still managed to learn a few useful tips from this book. What would life be like with IRC? He sure doesn't want to know.





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