In the first part of this series, I introduced you to the concepts behind IRC. The second installment is somewhat more practical in nature and focuses on the default IRC client used by most distributions running the GNOME desktop. This is Peter Železný’s XChat. This program has been around for a long time, but to this day, XChat remains one of my two favorite IRC clients (I’ll tell you about the other one in another installment). These days, XChat is also available for people running Windows; yet another way to do a favor for those friends of yours who are trapped running that other operating system (see the image at the bottom of this article). The version I’ll cover in this article is, of course, the Linux version (screenshots and examples are from a system running Ubuntu).
To start XChat on a system running the GNOME desktop, click the Applications launcher on the top panel, navigate to Internet and click XChat IRC (the program name, if you would prefer to run it from the command line or via the Alt+F2 run dialog, is just xchat). When the program starts for the first time, you see a window with your username listed as a nickname (see Figure 1). There are also alternative nicknames listed on the off chance that someone else might be using that name already. Even though this defaults to your username, or your login name, you can choose whatever you like here. In fact, most people on IRC have some nickname other than their own names. On IRC, you’ll see me logged in as wftl. That is my nickname.
Figure 1: Even when running XChat for the first time, a large number of networks is already configured.
Click small images to see the full size screenshots.
If you know which network the channel you want to connect to is on (or if you just want to see what channels are available), click one of the choices in the list of Networks and click the Connect button. One that you might find interesting right off the bat is the Ubuntu Servers entry, which automagically logs you into the #ubuntu discussion channel, a great place to ask Ubuntu Linux specific questions. However, I do want to show you how to add other networks. Let’s add my own IRC server here (which I introduced you to in part 1) so you can see how it’s done.
First, click the Add button to the right of the Networks list. The words New Network are highlighted at the top of the Networks list. Change that to something that makes sense. In my case, I entered WFTL IRC Server. Now, this entry is just that—a placeholder for a list of servers within a network (there can be one or many). Click Edit and the Edit Server dialog appears (see Figure 2). At the top, there is one host listed, newserver/6667. This is just a sample entry and needs to be changed to something real. On my IRC server, that’s chat.marcelgagne.com/6667. You don’t generally need to worry about this, but 6667 is the TCP port that IRC operates on.
Figure 2: Each network can contain one or more servers. Furthermore, you can choose to have XChat log you into a channel when you connect.
Tip: It’s easy to find out which servers are part of which network. For instance, if you click the Ubuntu Servers entry and click Edit, you’ll see a server entry for irc.freenode.net, the host on which the Ubuntu discussion groups, not to mentioned tons of others, reside.
Each IRC server can have potentially hundreds of channels or it can have just one. If you happen to know what channel you want to connect to, you can add it here so that it happens automagically when you log in. Look a little further down under the Connecting section to the Channels to Join field. As that label indicates, you could join multiple channels, but for my server, #wftlchat is what you need. Click Close and you’ll find yourself back to the main XChat window Networks list. Make sure the WFTL IRC Server entry is highlighted, and then click Connect. The XChat conversation window appears with your nick name logged in to the appropriate channel (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: Chatting in IRC. To the right is a list of people currently logged in to the channel.
To ask a question or talk to the group, just type your message in the text field to the right of your nick name at the bottom, then press Enter. Notice the network name and channel name on the tab buttons at the bottom of the window. It is possible to join multiple channels at the same time when chatting on IRC. Each new network and each new channel will open it its own tab. To switch from one conversation to another, just click the tabs. Incidentally, the default channel view may be set to ‘tree view’ rather than tabs. You can easily switch back and forth by clicking Settings on the menu bar and selecting Preferences from the drop down menu. When the Preferences window appears, look for ‘Channel switcher’ in the left-and sidebar menu and click that. You can then change the layout over on the right.
Figure 4: Changing the layout of the channel switcher. The screenshot is actually from a system running KDE 4.0.
As you can imagine, there are plenty of other options you can change from the Preferences window. I’ll let you explore those on your own.
Just before I go, I did promise a screenshot of XChat running on Windows, so here it is.
Figure 5: Yes, it’s XChat running under Windows.
See you online!
Parts of this article are quoted from my book, “Moving to Ubuntu Linux“.