132. Internet Relay Chat (IRC)
By Andrew D. Wright
When most people think of the Internet, what they are really thinking
about is the World Wide Web. In other words, web pages, web browsers and
the HyperText Transfer Protocol, better known as http - the first part of
a web page address.
There are other protocols and other, less well-known parts of the
Internet. One of these is IRC, Internet Relay Chat.
You can think of IRC as a wild forefather of Instant Messaging. Less
polished, less user-friendly, more like life on the frontier than life in
the city. IRC can be a lot of fun.
IRC is used for many things, mostly chatting between people who are often
in different parts of the world. Chatting is done in channels, kind of a
big room where everyone can talk to everyone else. Channels are usually
dedicated to a particular topic and one IRC server will host lots of
Users can also engage in private chats with each other and can exchange
files with each other. There are a number of IRC games channels running
everything from trivia games to multi user dungeons, which are
fantasy-based role playing games.
Different IRC servers, and different channels on those servers will have
policies about what is and isn't acceptable there. These policies will be
administered frontier-justice-style by operators, also known as ops or
IRCops. Offenders can find themselves banned from connecting to the
channel, the server or that particular IRC network.
Some channels have content of a provocative nature where literally
anything goes while other channels are more restrained. Channels will
often have posted guidelines.
To use IRC you will need an IRC program. The most famous Windows IRC
program is mIRC, which is shareware free to try for 30 days, after which
it must be registered for $20 US. There are a number of free alternatives
including the Firefox web browser IRC plugin ChatZilla, and Instant
Messaging programs Trillian and Pidgin. There are also Java-based IRC
programs free for download. There are many IRC programs out there
available for all operating systems.
Some IRC servers require access to port 113 on your computer, the identd
port, for user authentication. Users running firewall software or behind a
router will have to make sure this port is open or forwarded to their
computer's IP address.
IRC is a text-based medium with well established commands. It's a good
idea to browse an IRC tutorial to get familiar with the basics. Of course
the best way to learn how to use IRC once you have covered the basics is
to just jump in and learn by doing.
Pick out a nickname for yourself, find an IRC server and connect up. Most
IRC programs have a list of popular IRC servers built in, so a user just
has to pick one out. IRC server names are also easy to find with a web
search for IRC servers.
IRC commands take the form:
/command. When you first connect to an
server you can make your nickname exclusively yours on that server with
and get the list of available channels on the server with the command:
/list. To join a channel, the command is:
/join #channel-name. To get help, type: /help.
IRC can become a very familiar environment and you can find yourself
making lots of new friends. There is an old joke that goes: on the
Internet, no one knows you're a dog. This can be particularly true on IRC.
While the vast majority of people are regular folks, not everyone is
necessarily who or what they say they are. Remember to use common sense
about revealing personal information and details about your life and virus
scan any files you might accept before opening them.
Some IRC Programs:
Trillian (Basic version is free):
ChatZilla (Firefox plugin, free):
IRC Networks Help:
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Originally published 16 May 2008