Quick IRC Guide

Learn to IRC Like a Pro in 2 Minutes or Less*

  • …or more

Table of Contents

What is IRC? IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat. It’s the oldest, largest, and most well-established text-based chat system on the ‘Net. In fact, it’s one of the most popular services on the Net as a whole, just behind the Web and email.

First things first: To connect to IRC, you need an IRC client. An IRC client is to IRC as a web browser is to the web–it’s a program that lets you connect up and use the service. The most common client on Windows is mIRC, with the more powerful but less user-friendly pIRCh close behind. Unix users have a whole lot of choices: ircII, BitchX, XiRCoN, xchat, etc. The most prominent clients on Mac are ircle and ShadowIRC. The Mozilla internet suite project (which is the basis of Netscape 6+, Beonex, and Firefox) includes an IRC client called Chatzilla (Netscape 6+ doesn’t include it by default; NS6+ users have to install it separately from mozilla.org if they want to use it). If you don’t want to download a whole IRC client, there are also clients written in Java and available as applets on the web: OtherWorlders offers a pretty full-featured one called PJIRC here.

Most of what I’m going to cover are general IRC concepts that apply to all clients. However, when I get client-specific, I’m going to go with what I know and mostly cover mIRC, xchat, and
some jIRC. I don’t want to leave anybody out in the cold, but I really have no experience with Mac clients. Sorry.

Connecting to IRC: Now that you have a client, or are on a page with a Java client, you need to connect to IRC. There are several different IRC networks, each with their quirks. The one I spend most of my time on, and the one I have the most experience with, is the OtherWorlders network. OtherWorlders is at irc.otherworlders.org. Most of this howto applies to all networks–I’ll tell you when I’m talking about something specific to OtherWorlders.

In PJIRC, it’s pretty simple: type your preferred nickname into the text box labelled “nick”. Click the “Connect” button. Once connected you will have an option of which channel to join if you used the link listed in this tutorial. Some of our PJIRC pages will automatically connect you to a specific channel.

mIRC is a little more complicated. The first thing you should see after you’ve clicked past the splash screen (the window with a photo of a dorky-looking guy in the corner) is the options window. In the “Category” box, “Connect” should be highlighted. Go to the second pull-down menu from the top and select “OtherWorlders: Random Server” or “OtherWorlders: Random Server”, either one will work. Fill your info into the text boxes (note: you don’t have to use your real name in “Full Name”, a lot of people put quotes or dumb jokes in there), most importantly putting your preferred nick in the box labelled “Nickname” and a good alternate in the “Alternate” box. I would recommend clicking in the “invisible mode” box as well, but you don’t have to (I’ll explain why later). Click “Connect to IRC Server” and you should be in. If you have problems connecting, try typing “/server irc.otherworlders.org” in the Status window.

In xchat, when you start the program the first thing you see will be a list of networks, which can be expanded to show servers. Find the one called OtherWorlders, click on it, and click Connect. If you can’t find it, click New Server, and in the dialog that pops up fill in the server name (“OtherWorlders”) and server ( “irc.otherworlders.org”), and click OK.

Terminology note: what other chat services call “chatrooms” are called “channels” on IRC. It’s an older term that comes from CB radio. Channel and Chatroom are pretty interchangeable, but some people can get pedantic about it.

Now that you’ve connected: With mIRC, however, the first thing you do is click out of that silly list of channels that pops up. Almost none of the preset channel names in there are in use on OtherWorlders. I believe there’s a checkbox that says “Don’t show this again”–click it, that window is just an annoyance. Now that that’s over with, type “/join #concourse” and press enter to join the General Chat channel (the # symbol is how IRC tells channel names apart from user nicks–for example, “#dnd3e” is the EN World Gaming Chat, while “dnd3e” is the name of a users there sometimes. There are other symbols that also denote channels, but they’re rare and fairly unimportant). In xchat and PJIRC you don’t have to worry about a popup window, just type “/join #concourse”.

You’re in the channel, now what? Go ahead and talk! Anything you type in the channel is sent once you hit return. However, there’s one caveat: if you start the line with a slash (“/”), your IRC client will interpret that as a command.

The most common command is the action. If you start your message with the word /me, it will broadcast your message in the third person: for example, if I, Bynw, type “/me does jumping jacks”, it will show up in the channel as “* Bynw does jumping jacks”, sometimes in a different color depending on the client. (Note: be sure you write your actions in the third person, instead of falling back on the first person, since it’s supposed to be describing something you’re doing as if the other people in the channel are seeing it. It’s a common mistake to write something like “/me goes out to get myself a drink”, which would show up in-channel in my case as “* Bynw goes out to get myself a drink”, which sounds awkward)

To change your nickname, you use the /nick command. The next word after /nick becomes your new nick: e.g., if I want to show that I’ll be away from the computer for a while, I’d type “/nick Bynw-afk” to change my nick to Bynw-afk (AFK stands for “Away From Keyboard”).

If you want to join another channel, use /join. Put the channel name after /join, like this:
/join #concourse. If the channel doesn’t exist yet, it will be created and you’ll become its first op–I’ll tell you what that’s all about in the next section. Some active channels on OtherWorlders are:

  • #dnd3e (EN World’s Dungeons and Dragons chat)
  • #MyndWorks (IRC help),
  • #Deryni_Destinations (the official chat of NYT author Katherine Kurtz).

If somebody is bothering you, most clients have an /ignore command. To prevent any messages from a specific user from showing up in your client, type /ignore followed by the nick of the offending party.

If you ever want to leave a channel, you use /part. Put the name of the channel after /part: to leave #concourse, you’d type “/part #concourse”. If you want, you add a message after the channel name, which will show up as a “parting message”.

If you want to log off, you use /quit. You don’t have to type anything after /quit, but like /part you can add a message if you like.

Finally, /help is implemented in most clients as a way to access help pages. mIRC has very comprehensive help files. mIRC also allows you to specify what you want help on by adding parameters to /help: for example, to get help on the /ignore command, you’d type “/help ignore”.

Why do some people have an @, ~ or & sign in front of their names? In the list of users on the channel, some are prefixed with an @, ~ or & and usually show up at the top of the list. These are the channel operators, commonly called chanops or just ops. The ops run the channel–they can kick people out, ban people from entering, change the channel’s modes, and more. They’re there to keep the channel running smoothly. Those that have the ~ in front of their names are higher ranking channel ops, usually the channel owners. While those with the @ sign are channel hosts.

On some channels, you’ll see some users with a + sign in front of their nicks. This is called “voice”, and it’s really only meaningful on moderated channels (channels with the mode “m” set), where it means that they are allowed to speak. On unmoderated channels, it’s usually just there for show or destignate some special status about t he user. In #dnd3e, for example, it’s used to denote a bot (robot) connection.

Registering nicks: In general, on IRC, you are allowed to use any nick you’d like as long as no one else is using it at the same time. However, on OtherWorlders (and many other networks), it is possible to register your nick so that you are the only user allowed to use it. To do this, type:

  • /nickserv register <password> <email address>

with your preferred password in place of <password> and your true email address in place of <email address>. If you get a message saying that your client doesn’t understand the command, /join #MyndWorks and seek help from an IRC operator there.

Then, every time you log in with that nick, the first thing you should do is type:

  • /identify <password>

using the password you gave when you registered. If you’re using mIRC, you can set it up to do so automatically when you connect. Go into the “Options” window (the little icon in the upper left hand corner with a hammer and folder opens that window), and click on “Perform” under “IRC” in the Category box. In the large text box, type the proper identification command. Then click in the little checkbox that says “On connect, perform these commands:” and click OK. If you’re using xchat, you can also do this. Go into the Servers window (the one that appears when you start the program–if you’re already on a network, go into the X-Chat menu ad select Server List). Click on the server you will be using, and click Edit. In the text box labelled “Connect Cmd:”, type the identification command, and click OK. There are other ways of doing this as well if you encounter any difficulties.

Here’s the most useful thing about registering. Sometimes, due to certain conditions on the Internet, you get disconnected from the server, reconnect, and find that your nick is still in use. In other words, you got disconnected, but the server hasn’t found out yet and thinks your old connection is still active. If you haven’t registered the nick, you’ll have to wait for the old connection to die (which could take a while), but if you’ve registered your nick, you can take the initiative and have it killed. To kill off a “ghost” like that, use the ghost-kill command:

  • /nickserv ghost <nick> <password>

with the ghost’s nick and your password in the appropriate places. This will cause NickServ to force that connection to terminate, allowing you to change your nick back (with /nick) and go about your business.

Help! I forgot to identify, and NickServ changed my nick and won’t let me change back! If you forget to identify for your nick, NickServ may change your nick (on OtherWorlders, it will change your nick to Guest#, where # is some number). However, there is a time delay that prevents rapid nick changes, just wait a few seconds to change your nick again. Remember that you will still have to identify once you’ve changed the nick, otherwise NickServ will give you the boot again.

If you clicked the “invisible mode” checkbox in mIRC, it’ll have a “+i” in the list of modes next to your name at the top of the Status window. This prevents you from showing up in lists of all users on the network. So, to talk to you, somebody either has to join a channel you happen to be on or already know your nick. If you have this mode set, you are much less likely to get random messages from people you don’t know asking you if you want to chat. You can turn it on by typing “/mode +i” and off with “/mode -i”. It’s nice to have.

Other user modes exist, but some are reserved for admins and IRC operators (called IRCops, or opers, these folks help run the network, but unlike the admins they don’t have physical access to the servers). You won’t be able to set these on yourself, and they’re really not that interesting to anyone who isn’t running the show anyway. For a complete list of modes see the post here. LINK TO COME

So, what about the weird characters in the title bar when I’m in a channel? When you’re in a channel, mIRC shows a bunch of characters like “+nrtu” in the title bar along with the name of the channel and the topic. These are channel modes, which give the channel special characteristics. They can only be set by the ops

  • +i – invite-only. To enter this channel, an op has to have invited

you in with the /invite command.

  • +k – key. To enter this channel, you need to add a special password

after the channel name when using the /join command.

  • +l – limit. No more than a certain number of users are allowed into

the channel at a time. The number itself appears after the list of modes.

  • +m – moderated channel. Only ops and voices can speak, everyone else is muted.
  • +n – no outsider messages. Only users in the channel can speak on it.

Almost all channels have this mode set. Setting this mode is one of the first things most people do when they form a channel.

  • +p – private. The channel does show up in a list of channels

(the /list command) but the topic cannot be viewed from the list.

  • +r – registered. The channel has been registered with ChanServ. (

This can only be set by ChanServ, not normal users)

  • +s – secret. The channel doesnt show up in a list of channels (the /list command)

or in the /WHOIS <nick> info, which lists the channels a given user is in.

  • +t – topics set by ops. When this is set, only ops can set the channel

topic. If it’s not set, then any user in the channel can set the topic with the /topic command. Like +n, almost all channels have this.

As well as these general modes, there are a few that affect specific users. These don’t show up in the list of modes: +o gives a user op status, + v gives a user voice, +b bans a user (prevents them from entering the channel or, if they are in the channel, prevents them from speaking).

What is ChanServ? ChanServ, along with its partners NickServ and MemoServ, is a program that runs on the network with special priviledges. Its job is to maintain channels that have been registered with it. It automatically gives ops to the channel founder and other users designated by the founder.

MemoServ, for what it’s worth, allows you to send short messages to other registered users even if they aren’t logged in. It’s sort of like email, although the messages can’t be long. It is useful in certain circumstances, for example if you need to get in contact with someone but are rarely on at the same time as they are, and you don’t know their email address.

To get more info on the services, type /nickserv help, /chanserv help, or /memoserv help. The help files can also be accessed on the web: NickServ, ChanServ, and MemoServ.

Private chat: As well as chatting on channels, it’s possible to chat privately with individual users. mIRC and PJIRC both allow you to double-click on a user’s nick in the list of
names on a channel to open a new window for chatting with that person. You can also type “/msg <nick> <message>” on any client. On most clients, each private chat gets its own tab (window in PJIRC).

Pinging and lag: It’s possible to check out certain facts about another user through a feature called CTCP. The most basic CTCP command is the ping, which is used to check the network lag time between yourself and another user. Just type /ping followed by the nick of the person you’re pinging and you’ll receive a notice (in your status window if you’re using mIRC) with the target nick and the time it took for the ping to get there and back. It’s possible to ping everyone on a channel if you put the channel name as the target of your ping, which is a good way of comparing lag times to see how much lag is on your end. Some people are irritated by unannounced pings, especially pinging an entire channel or pinging repeatedly, so it’s best to ask unless you know the subject doesn’t mind.

There are other CTCP commands besides ping: TIME gets the time on the target user’s computer, and VERSION gets the name and version of the target user’s client. These don’t have their own commands (/time and /version do something else entirely), so you need to send them with the /ctcp command: /ctcp TIME and /ctcp VERSION respectively. There are other standard CTCP queries, like CLIENTINFO (lists CTCPs supported by the target), FINGER (almost never used), and USERINFO (user data–the target must be specially set up to respond to this), but they’re rare and not particularly useful. The /me command is actually the ACTION CTCP, but typing “/me does something” is faster and easier than typing “/ctcp #<channel name> ACTION does something”.

It’s also possible to make up your own CTCP commands, although you shouldn’t expect any sort of meaningful response: the /ctcp command can be used with any message.

Trading files: It’s possible to trade files over IRC using a feature called DCC (which stands for Direct Client Connection). mIRC has a nifty little menu just for this purpose. Just select “Send” in the DCC menu and a dialog box will pop up. Type the target nick in the “nick” text box and select a file to send just like in any other file dialog. The other user has to accept the file before it gets sent. DCC is fairly convenient and trustworthy for moderately-sized files like text, graphics, or short sounds–for longer files like movies, you’ll want to use another means of transmission.

You can also use DCC to chat. The main difference between regular private chat and DCC chat is that DCC chat, once started, is independent of the IRC network itself–even if the entire IRC network crashes, or one or both of the people chatting disconnect from the server, the chat will be unaffected.

WARNING!!! : DCC works by trading IP addresses, then creating a direct connection between the two computers that bypasses IRC completely. This means that it’s fairly easy for somebody to get ahold of your computer’s IP address this way. Do NOT accept any DCC file or request for DCC chat unless you are sure that you can trust the other person.

A bunch of people just quit without warning. What gives? Sometimes a bunch of users will seem to all quit at once with cryptic-looking quit messages. What happened is that their server has lost contact with your server. This is called a “netsplit”, since it splits the IRC network into two pieces. The strange quit message is actually the addresses of the two servers that lost contact.

IRC works through a group of servers. Each server is connected to one “hub” server. Any number of servers may share a hub. If a hub crashes, or two servers lose a connection, then any servers connected to each other through that hub (or connection) will no longer be able to see each other on the network.

Why did I just get cut off? A couple of things may have happened. One is that your computer may have lost contact with the server due to conditions on the Internet itself. Another is that the server you were connected to crashed (hey, it happens). When this happens, just try to reconnect. If you can’t, the server is probably down. If you can, it was just an Internet glitch.

Sometimes if you reconnect after being cut off, you’ll get a message saying that your nick is already in use. This means that the server hasn’t realized that you were cut off, and still thinks your old connection is active. In this case, use the NickServ Ghost command (see the intro to NickServ) if your nick is registered. If your nick isn’t registered, just use a different nick until the server drops your old connection.

What’s up with the quit message “Connection reset by peer”? This quit message comes up when the server can’t contact a connected client. See the previous section.

Common abbreviations and shorthand:

  • BRB – Be Right Back
  • BBL – Be Back Later
  • IRC – Internet Relay Chat
  • IRCer – IRC user
  • op (or chanop) – channel operator
  • IRCop – IRC network operator
  • helpop – assistant IRCop, whose duties center around helping users
  • lamer – annoying person