Internet Relay Chat, better known as IRC, is a distributed client-server system in which users can communicate with any number of other users in real time. IRC servers host channels that are dedicated to discussion forums on specific topics. These topics aren’t fixed other than by convention and the whims of the IRC operators (more on that). If you are old enough to remember CB radio (i.e.: mid-30s and up), you pretty much understand IRC-at least in the human sense of the experience. The younger crowd can think of IRC as a suped-up free version of text-messaging in serious steroids.
A number of IRC servers exist around the world, some with thousands of channels. IRC servers can also peer with other servers. IRC channels cover a plethora of topics, from purely social to politics to business or to high-technology. In the Linux world, there are channels devoted to programming in most of the popular languages, as well as your favorite Linux distribution, office applications, games, and so on.
IRC channels are great places to meet and exchange information, ask questions, answer questions, or just plain chat.All this chatting takes place via an IRC client such as Xchat, which I will discuss in the next installment of the WFTL Guide to IRC.
Note: It’s true that the majority of IRC servers tend to be vast collections of topics linked to others servers around the world. There are private IRC servers as well for more focused discussions. I run one of these servers myself to provide a meeting place for my readers on a channel called #wftlchat (more on this in the next installment). Users on #wftlchat can ask questions, help each other out, or just plain chat. If you’re itching to try out an IRC chat and you can’t wait for the XChat entry, the click this link to visit the #wftlchat channel using a nifty Java chat applet.
Learning To Talk IRC
IRC has some interesting commands that you might want to know about. IRC commands are fronted by a slash character (/) followed by the command name. Some commands can be used by all users while others are for channel administrators only. To find out what commands are available to you, type “/help” in the text field and press enter. The list of commands will appear in the chat window itself. Here are a few of the more common and useful commands.
/help List IRC commands /help command_name Get help on a particular command /nick new_name Change your nick name /join #channel Join a specified channel /part Leave the channel /list List the available channels /me Some_action Prints your nick followed by text of your action and highlights the message in a different color. Try it. It's fun.
Tip: Beware the /list command. On some servers, this can return a massive list of channels.
IRC is a fantastic resource and one I recommend highly but with a cautionary suggestion. This vast, distributed network of real time discussion groups has evolved a culture all its own, with its own rules of etiquette, rules that should be respected. Channels have operators who monitor traffic and requests from users. Operators can also send you packing if you don’t behave. There may also be bots, small programs designed to handle simple administrative requests so not every user you see is necessarily human.
It’s easy to get hooked on IRC when there is so much at your disposal, but it’s also good to take some time and read a little primer on what it’s all about. Check out this IRC primer for an in-depth introduction to the world of IRC.
Another great resource is the netsplit.de IRC information site where you’ll find a search engine for channels and topics, as well as a comprehensive list of IRC servers and networks.
I’ll see you online.