Basics of IRC : Internet Relay Chat

IRC or Internet Relay Chat is a widely used chat protocol over the Internet. From a birds-eye view, its just like any other chat application you use like Yahoo or Gtalk. It lets you talk to other people using text messages over the Internet. So then what’s so different about it?

Lets have a more closer look. IRC is a “protocol” like HTTP,FTP and not an “application” like Yahoo or Gtalk. Speaking in a technical way, IRC is a well-defined Application Layer Chat Protocol (RFC 1459) that uses port 6667 over TCP connection while chat messengers like Yahoo are applications that uses their own proprietary protocols. There are many advantages and some disadvantages of using IRC. Advantages being its an open-protocol means anyone can design his own IRC client. Its very simple, there are just list of rules which you have to follow to talk. Disadvantage is that it doesn’t support features like Video or Audio chat and other real-time multimedia applications. It can, at most, share text and files.

Also IRC is not meant for individual chat (although it is supported). Its developed for groups discussing development of open-source softwares, contribute to research-based discussions and take part in online debates, or just spend time fooling around and see other people talk! IRC have “nodes” or “channels” similar to “chat rooms”. As soon as you join a channel, you start receiving real-time conversations going on. You can just hop in then and say what you have to say to all the members in that channel. Be aware though, the @admin can kick you out anytime if he doesn’t like what you’re saying!

So as I said, its basically for chat related to open-source, discussions and debates, between people with great minds and less time, between old-fashioned geeks who hates twitter and facebook and between people who take inspiration from secretly hearing others talk. To be frank, I myself never used it before the Google Summer of Code 2010 which widely advertise the use of IRC with mentors. Since I’m participating in it, I had to talk to my mentor and for that I needed to learn IRC. It was very difficult to find a nice tutorial especially which deals with making a linux-based IRC client work behind the combo of a proxy and NAT firewall in my college, which blocks the port 6667 with extra-pleasure 😦 .

After some googling I found a solution to my problem. Since I needed to chat mostly in the freenode server, the web-based IRC chat client offered by freenode.net was perfect. Check it out here : http://webchat.freenode.net . You can pick any name and login to any channel. However, if that name is registered, you have to change it within 2 minutes or you will be automatically renamed to some random number. So lets start my actual tutorial on using IRC :

First of all, goto the link http://webchat.freenode.net and pick any username and set the channel as #freenode. When you login you will see all the online members in the right column and in the center a big chat window and below it a small text-field. In the text field you write commands and text messages.

Here are some popular notations in IRC :
# represents a channel name
@ represents an administrator (who can kick you out)
/ represent an IRC command

Just try typing “Hello World!” and see if it goes to the world. Probably, you will also get a reply or two.
Since you logged in with any username, remember that once you logout someone else can login with your username and establish him as yourself. You can prevent the misuse of your IRC “nickname” by registering your nickname with the NickServ (which is the server that handles nicknames). Here’s the command :

/msg nickserv register <password> <email>

If the nickname you are logged in with is unregistered, it will get registered with your EMAIL and you can be sure it won’t be misused. Now there are several channels in IRC you may wish to join. Even you can create your own channel or join a channel populated by like-minds discussing on something which may be of interest to you. To see the full list of channels, the command is :

/list

(Beware, there can be MANY channels!)

To join a channel :

/join #<channel-name>

Note that by default whatever you say, its global to everyone. To send a private message to someone :

/msg <your-friend-nickname> <message>

The above is a one-time private message. To establish a persistent communication with him, i.e. a new window where by default whatever you write goes to your friend without you having to write the above command everytime, the command being :

/query <your-friend-nickname>

To see the information about someuser :

/whois <nickname>

To leave a channel :

/leave #<channel-name>

To change your nickname :

/nick <new-nickname>

Note that the above will be notified to everyone! I think that’s all you need to know for a basic chat session in IRC. You can use more advanced options like cloaks, DCC and file transfer. I would suggest you to refer http://irchelp.org/irchelp/irctutorial.html as I myself learned a lot from this tutorial.

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