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  The Basics of IRC  

Using IRC Chat

This page is about your part in IRC, rather than the IRC phenomenon as a whole with its terms and protocols as discussed in the The Terms of IRC page. The two pages link back and forth in several places to describe both sides of things such as DCC links, etc.

Channels (chat rooms)

Almost all IRC chat servers maintain a range of channels (also called chat rooms). All IRC clients I know of have a function to request a list of the available channels. Chat begins when you select a channel and join it.

An IRC channel is a virtual room. You will see it as a window that you are sharing with the other occupants of the channel. A list of names, usually called a nicklist, shows you all the other users of the channel.

An IRC channel will almost always have either a theme or a topic that supposedly will appeal to people with similar interests or backgrounds. Almost all good IRC chat servers will have a channel called 'Beginners' or similar. This is usually a good room in which to start, since that title is an invitation to new users to come in and join the channel.

You will often find room topics that specify an age range. Channels called 'Teens' or '30somethings' are common to most servers. These are rooms for persons of those ages to 'hang out' in with people their own age. If you are not in that age range then it is obviously not an invite to you.

Now the above has always seemed perfectly obvious to me, and yet the 30 something rooms still get visited by teenagers who then seem surprised that they are the youngest in the channel, and the others are not interested in teenage issues and life-styles.

The reverse situation, where an adult arrives in the teen rooms, is an even worse matter. Unfortunately there are adults in this world who seek to exploit children in all sorts of ways. The teen channels are a fiercely guarded refuge and playroom. Adults are not welcome there and may even be viewed as perverts.

Apart from the 'teen' rooms, the ages are just guidelines on the whole, but even so, it is simple courtesy to ask if its okay for you to join in if you don't quite fit the invited range. In general, I have found this usually elicits a warm invitation to stay. Polite guests are welcome in almost any room.

IRC Server Networks are usually international, meaning people from all over the world, speaking many different languages, will be on the Chat Service. Check the channel name and topic to see what language it is in. If you don't speak that language then its sure to be a bad choice for you.


Its hard to say exactly what chat is and what its about, since a thousand different users may have a thousand different answers. It's like asking what a Bar is. For some its just a place to get a cool drink on a hot day, for others its a social club, for some its a place to meet new friends, and for others its a pick-up joint. Chat is like that. It is different things to different people. Chat is more like a venue for an event than like an event in itself.

One of the hardest things to adapt to for many users at first is the idea that you are effectively 'out in public' when on IRC chat. We all think and feel differently, and certainly react differently when in our own homes. With IRC everyone is in their own home, and you are as much a guest in their home as they are guests in yours.

If you can't remember that you are a guest in the homes of all the others in channel, at least try to picture it as neutral ground. Like being in that bar mentioned earlier. Don't be so 'at home' that you risk seeming boorish or arrogant to people. Your body is at home but your words are out on a public IRC chat server.

Also, try to be tollerant of others who may not have had the benefit of much guidance concerning 'nettiquette'. They may still be of the foolish opinion that they are at home and we are all guests in their house. Without the insight to see that they are thereby also guests in ours.

There will always be people who seek to gain attention of any kind. When they lack charm to gain positive attention they will seek to provoke hostile attention. Anything is better to such people than being ignored. The ultimate punnishment for such people is therefore to utterly ignore them.

If a person in IRC is abusive or offensive they will usually soon come to the attention of the Ops (the common name for Operators). The operators of various kinds are there to make things run more smoothly and to prevent abuse of the IRC server's services.

Operators and Ops

Sometimes employees of the company running the IRC server will be online. They are called server operators, sysops, or sometimes IRCops. A true server op or sysop has a significant degree of control over the IRC server itself. They have the power to disconnect people from the server, and even permanently ban them from connecting if they feel that the person in question is abusing their access.

Other Kinds of Operators, called Channel Ops, or hosts are often found in the channels. Most servers allow people who are not employees of the server to create and maintain channels. A channel op cannot disconnect a user from the server, but can eject and ban that user from that channel.

Channel Ops are not paid. They simply volunteer to host a channel on the server and undertake to abide by the server rules. Some channels impose additional rules and guidlines designed to better suit the kind of users they wish to appeal to.

If there is ever a user with the right to feel 'at home' in a channel then it is the channel operator, for it is effectively his/her room you are a guest in. The secret of being a good Op is to be a good host, but the secret of being a good chat user is to be a good guest.

Having covered what can be done in chat on an ethical and sociably acceptable level, lets now move on to what can be done in IRC on a technical level. That is, chatting in channel, chatting privately (one to one) and exchanging files.

IRC capabilities

The commands and controls used by IRC clients (the chat software) to perform the various things such as joining channels, chatting privately, and sending files varies a lot. Most clients provide a toolbar with icons which control these functions. The commands and icons to use in mIRC will be covered in the next tutorial, Basic mIRC use.

In this section I will list the things that IRC allows you to do, finding the button or control to do it with in clients other than mIRC is for you to find out.

Chatting to channel is usually just a matter of typing into the textbox or editbox provided at that window. Whatever you type will be displayed to the channel for everyone in the nicklist to see. Your text will be automatically prefixed with your nickname. When you type: Hello the Channel will display: < yourname > Hello.

Private Messages

IRC also allows you send private messages (also called Queries) or private chat to other users. Private messages can only be seen by the person you address them to, even though some clients show these messages in with the channel text only the sender and the person they were sent to can see them.

Usually Private messages can be opened into a seperate window, a private chat window. There will be no nicklist in a private chat window, since this window is shared only by you and the person you are speaking privately with. On some servers, such as Chatnet, private messages are known as whispers.

Private chat is not the same as direct chat however, and it does go through the IRC server, it just isn't displayed to other chatters in the channel. Only Direct Chat (DCC Chat) bypasses the server and is not logged by the servers. In all other respects Private Chat and Direct Chat are nearly identical.


The uses of Direct chat over Private Chat are many. DCC chats are not affected by server-lag or net-splits. DCC Chats are not subject to flood limits of the server nor other similar concerns. DCC Chats do not pass though the server after initiation and thus are totaly private.

Of course, DCC connections are far more widely used in the exchange of files. You can send or receive any kind of file via DCC link, though some file types may be refused unless there is a lot of trust between the two persons involved.

Never send any file to anyone without their agreement however. They might not wish to accept any files, they might not be on their own computer, and they might even think the file you are sending without asking is a hostile act, perhaps containing a virus.

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