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Church Of The
Swimming Elephant


IRC - A Newbies Guide

What is IRC?

IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat. The global chat. The idea is just like any other chat... webchat, javachat and so on... You choose a nickname and joins a channel (room). But IRC is far more advanced then any other chat.
First of all you need a client (program) so you can connect to an IRC-network, an IRC-network is built up by many IRC-servers that are linked together. Often it can be up to 800 users on one server and 30 000 on one network. You can find clients here and a list of servers/networks here. After you have downloaded it you need to config some stuff before you can connect to the IRC-network. We start from the begining:


First, what is a nickname? On IRC you are known to others by a nickname. You are free to choose any nickname you like, up to 9 characters long. Do not use spaces and avoid unusual ASCII characters in your nickname. It is also very common to find people that use the same nickname and you may be asked or choose to switch nicknames to avoid confusion.


Now what exactly is a channel? A channel is a 'place' on IRC where group conversations occur. People can join the same channel and see each other. Depending on its topic and time of the day a channel can be VERY crowded. Channels can alsobe quite chaotic, or calm. Channels can be open to everyone but also closed and private and only open to friends. On the large IRC networks (EFnet) as many as 2000 channels can exist, on smaller networks (corporate or even one-node-nets) there will be fewer channels. Channels on IRC are dynamic in the sense that anyone can create a new channel, and a channel disappears when the last person on it leaves. Once connected to an IRC server, type /list to see all existing channels. All channel names start with a # or a &. The # channels are globally available while the & channels are restricted to users on your local IRC server. For this moment you can forget about the & channels. If people speak of 'the IRC' they refer to the use of the globally available channels with names starting with a #. Whenever you want to refer to a channel's name, it should be prefixed with a # or &. You also need to use the name, including the # or &, to join a channel, to leave it, to set its parameters, etc.

Ok so now that you've decided on a nice channel. How do you join that channel? And what do you type once you get there? And when you're done, how do you leave a channel?To join a channel, type /join #channelname. Try "/join #irchelp" or "/join #mirc" to give it a try. Once you get to the channel, you will see people talking. It will probably look like this:

Note that you will often come in during the *middle* of a conversation. Unless you're familiar with the channel you may want to sit and watch it for a minute or two to see what the conversation is about. Often the channel name (for instance, #Twilight_Zone) has nothing to do with what conversation goes on on the channel (#Twilight_Zone does *not* have discussion about the TV show "Twilight Zone"). So if you join #baseball, don't be surprised if you hear about the SuperBowl picks or even the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame Museum! To start talking, just type! And when you're done saying what you have to say, just hit the [return] key. You can start with something simple like "hello!". You don't have to type hello! because IRC will insert before all of your channel messages. In the channel window that opens once you join a channel you'll see an alphabetical list of people that are on the channel on the right side of the window. Some of them have a @ in front of their name to point out they are the channel operators. A Channel Operator is someone who has control over a specific channel. A Channel Operator can also decide if control is shared or not. The first person to join the channel automatically receives Channel Operator status. In the channel's title bar you will see the channel's name and perhaps its topic. If you choose to leave a channel, just type /part #channelname

So now you probably want to know how do you create a new channel? Well, a channel is automatically created as soon as the first person joins it. If you join a channel and you find your name as the only one there, you just created that channel. Channels on IRC are dynamic in the sense that anyone can create a new channel, and a channel disappears when the last person leaves it.


Now that you have your own channel, what are Channel and User Modes? Channels can have additional constraints, which can be set by the MODE command. To understand this, recall that the first person that joined a channel effectively creates it and is, at least initially, in charge of the channel. He or she becomes a Channel Operator or chanop or 'op'. He can set constraints to the channel and make other people chanops as his wishes. The command that allows channel operators to change channel modes, or any user to change their personal mode is :

/MODE {channel|nickname} [{+|-}{modechars} [{parameters}]]
A + or - sign determines whether the mode should be added or deleted.

Channels can be moderated, secret, private, with a limited number of users, anonymous, invite-only, topic-limited, with a list of banned users...

/mode {channel} +b {nick|address} ban somebody by nickname or address mask (nick!account@host)
/mode {channel} +i channel is invite-only
/mode {channel} +l {number} channel is limited, with {number} users allowed maximal
/mode {channel} +m channel is moderated, only chanops and others with 'voice' can talk
/mode {channel} +n external /MSGs to channel are not allowed
/mode {channel} +p channel is private
/mode {channel} +s channel is secret
/mode {channel} +t topic limited, only chanops may change it

/mode {channel} +o {nick} makes {nick} a channel operator
/mode {channel} +v {nick} gives {nick} a voice

The MODE command also allows you to modify your personal parameters, your "user mode". You can check your usermode with the command "/MODE {yournick}". Note that user mode +i may be the default on some servers, in order to protect privacy of users. This should not be seen as a problem, since any user can change his/her personal mode from whatever defaults a server may set.

/mode {yournick} +i makes yourself invisible to anybody that does not know your nickname
/mode {yournick} +o gives IRC-Operator status, can only be set by IRC-ops with OPER
/mode {yournick} +s lets you receive server notices
/mode {yournick} +w makes you receive wallops; messages to IRC-Ops (abused and deprecated)

What do these Channel and User Modes mean? A channel is PUBLIC by default. Anyone can notice a public channel, see its users and join the conversation. In a list of channels you can see a public channel's topic. When someone is on a public channel, he can be easily found by all other users as long as his personal user mode is not set to invisible (see below).

An INVITE-ONLY channel can only be joined if you are invited by one of its channel operators.

PRIVATE channels turn up normally in the channels list. People can see you are on a private channel somewhere, but they can never find out on -which- private channel you are unless they search all (private) channels by brute force. With the names command your nickname will not show up, but it will with the /who {channel_name} command unless you hide by setting your personal user mode to 'invisible'.

SECRET channels do not show up in a channels list and you cannot find out its topic unless you join it. If you are on a secret channel, someone who is not on the same channel can't see that you are there, regardless what your personal user mode is set to. Your name does not show up in a names list of people on IRC if you are on secret channels only.

Your user mode can be set to INVISIBLE meaning that other people cannot find you by searching on IRC unless they know your exact nickname. No (wildcarded) search on you by the /who command on your IP Address or real name will deliver your current nickname or other likewise info to others.


What is a channel operator and what is an IRC operator? A channel operator (ChanOp or Op) is someone with a "@" by their nickname in a channel's names list, or a "@" before the channel name in a /whois or /uwho output. Channel operators are the 'rulers' of a particluar channel. This means they can kick you out of their channel for any reason. If you don't like this, you complain to them or start your own channel and become a channel operator there yourself. An IRC operator (IRCop) is someone who maintains a server or part of the IRC network. They cannot fix channel problems. They cannot kick someone out of a channel for you. They also cannot /kill (disconnect a user from their IRC server temporarily) someone just because you gave the offender channel operator privileges and said offender kicked *you* off. IRCops have better things to do than interfere in channel affairs.


So what language should you speak and how do you behave on IRC? The most widely understood and spoken language on IRC is English. However, as IRC is used in many different countries, English is by no means the only language. If you want to speak some language other than English, (for example with your friends), go to a separate channel and set the topic to indicate that. Similarly, you should check the topic when you join a channel to see if there are any restrictions about language. On a non-restricted channel, please speak a language everybody can understand. If you want to do otherwise, change channels and set the topic accordingly.

It is not necessary to greet everybody on a channel personally. Usually one "Hello!" or equivalent is enough. Also, don't expect everybody to greet you back. On a channel with 20 people that would mean one screenful of hellos. It makes sense not to greet everyone, in order not to be rude to the rest of the channel. If you must say hello to somebody you know, do it with a private message. The same applies to goodbyes. Also note that using your client's facilities to automatically say hello or goodbye to people is extremely poor etiquette. Nobody wants to receive autogreets. They are not only obviously automatic, but while you may think you are being polite, you are actually conveying yourself as insincere. If somebody wants to be autogreeted when they join a channel, they will autogreet themselves. Remember, people on IRC form their opinions about you only by your actions, writings and comments, so think before you type. If you use offensive words, you'll be frowned upon. Do not "dump" (send large amounts of unwanted information) to a channel or user. This is likely to get you kicked off the channel or killed off from IRC. Dumping causes network "burps", causing connections to go down because servers cannot handle the large amount of traffic. Other prohibited actions include:

* Harassing another user. Harassment is defined as behavior with the purpose of annoying.
* Annoying a channel with constant beeping. (Therefore most clients cannot beep at all)
* Any behavior reducing the functionality of IRC as a CHAT medium.

Now what are the most basic commands?

Basic IRC-Commands

With most windows IRC clients an extensive help file is included. Dont hesitate to try the /help command.


The forward slash is the default command character. Commands on IRC are not case sensitive, and can be abbreviated to their first letters. Anything that does not begin with "/" is assumed to be a message to someone and will be sent to your current channel, or to a person you are chatting with in a private chat (see below).

HELP shows general help or help on the given command.
LIST lists all current channels.
JOIN to join a channel
PART to leave a channel (same as LEAVE)
QUIT exits your IRC session, (same as BYE and EXIT)
NICK changes your nickname
AWAY leaves a message saying you're away or not paying attention
WHOIS displays information about someone
INVITE sends an invitation to another user
KICK gets rid of someone on a channel
TOPIC changes the topic of the channel
ME sends anything about you to a channel or QUERY

/HELP [command] Shows general help or help on the given command.

/LIST [[{flags}] {channel mask}] Lists all current channels.
In the list you will see all channels (see below), except for those that are secret, with their number of users and the topic. The displayed list may be quite long, so you can limit it using flags. "/LIST -MIN n" for instance removes channels with less than 'n' users from the output.

/JOIN {#channel} Sets your current channel to the supplied channel.
Upon entering a channel, you are given useful details about it: a list of users talking in that channel, channel mode settings and the topic... Joining a channel does not cause you to leave your previous channel and you can normally join as many channels as your connection can handle or that the IRC server allows.
/JOIN #windows
*** Now talking in #windows

/PART [#channel] Makes you leave a channel. (same as LEAVE)
/PART #windows
*** You have left #windows

/QUIT [reason] Exits your IRC session. (Also BYE and EXIT.)
If a reason is supplied, it is displayed to other people on your channels.
/QUIT Lunch Time!

/NICK {nickname} Changes your nickname to whatever you like.
Everyone who wants to talk to you sees this name. Nicknames are limited to 9 characters max. If your intended nickname clashes with someone else's as you enter IRC, you will not be able to enter until you change it to something else. Duplicate nicknames are not allowed; this is enforced by the IRC servers. Under some circumstances, two individuals may temporarily have the same nick but once discovered, both of them will be killed; a nick collision kill.
/NICK Guru
*** Newbie is now known as Guru

/AWAY [away message] Sets your status as away with some info.
Sets a message explaining that you are not currently paying attention to IRC. Whenever someone sends you a MSG or does a WHOIS on you, they automatically see whatever message you have set. Using AWAY with no parameters marks you as no longer being away.
/AWAY Gone to get a cup of coffee.
*** You have been marked as being away
*** You are no longer marked as being away

/WHOIS {nickname} Shows information about someone.
*** Guru is (Nuclear free)
*** on channels: @#Windows @#Windows95 #mIRC
*** on via server (The best server)
*** Guru is away (making dinner)
/WHOIS Newbie
*** Newbie: No such nickname

/INVITE {nickname} {#channel} Invites another user to a channel you are on.
If you want a friend to join your channel you can invite him. He will see a message such as ***Guru invites you to #channel. This is required if your channel is 'invite only'.
/INVITE Friend #windows
*** Inviting Friend to #windows
If you receive an INVITE message, you can type "/JOIN {#channel}".

/KICK {#channel} {nickname} Kicks a user off a given channel.
Well, you guessed it, if there is a way to invite someone on a channel, there is also the ablility to KICK someone out of it. For example ,if a person is behaving in an offensive manner by annoying people or flooding the channel with unwanted information, they can be forced out of the channel. Only 'channel operators' are privileged to use this command.
/KICK #windows Lamer
*** Lamer has been kicked off channel #windows by Guru

/TOPIC {#channel} {topic for channel} Changes the channel's topic.
Channels have topics, that indicate the current topic of conversation. You can change this topic on a channel with the TOPIC command.
/TOPIC #windows Lets discuss OS/2
*** Guru has changed topic to "Lets discuss OS/2"

/ME {action description} Tells people about what you are doing.
At times, you may want to send a description of what you are doing or how you are feeling or just anything concerning you on the current channel or in a query.
/ME slaps Newbie with a large trout.
* Guru slaps newbie with a large trout.

The same goal can be achieved towards a specific nickname or channel using:
/DESCRIBE {nickname|#channel} {action description}

MSG sends a private message
QUERY starts a private conversation
NOTICE sends a private message
NOTIFY informs you when people logging in or out IRC
IGNORE removes output from specific people

/MSG {nickname|channel} {text} Sends a (private) message to specified nickname or channel.
Besides chatting on IRC Channels you can also have private conversations or queries with other people on IRC. On most clients these conversations will be handled by separate window. You can use the /MSG command to send someone a message that only that person can read. If somebody else sends you a message or that person replies to your message a query window icon will pop up informing you somebody wants to talk to you personally.
/MSG Desperado This message can be read by you only.
*Desperado* This message can be read by you only.

In Desperado's screen an icon will pop up with the message you typed; "This message can be read by you only."

If you cannot wait for a reply for someone to message you to open a private window you can use the query command to force your client to open a private conversation window.

/QUERY {nickname} [test] Starts a private conversation with {nickname} and forces a separate window to open.
This command differs from the MSG command only by the fact that it is used to start a private conversation. All text you type that would normally be sent to your chat partner if you used MSG now displays in an immediately opened private window 'to your chat partner' on your screen and is sent to the other person as well.

/NOTICE {nickname|#channel} {text} Sends a private message to the specified {nickname}or {#channel}.
The NOTICE command is just another way to send messages to other people. But, unlike MSG's, NOTICEs will never open a separate window 'to' the other person. It should be seen as a sort of whispering. It is recommended that robots or other automatons on IRC use notices (contrary to messages) to send information to people. You should never automatically (as by remote events or commands) send a message or notice in response to a notice sent to you.

/NOTIFY [nickname|on|off] Toggles the notify function or adds or removes {nickname} to the notify list.
As you start to meet people on IRC, you will want to add certain nicknames to your notify list such that you will be warned when they sign on or off IRC.
/NOTIFY wug marl
*** Added wug to Notify list
*** Added marl to Notify list
*** Maladjusted is on IRC
*** HawK is on IRC
*** Steve is not on IRC
*** Desperado is on IRC

/IGNORE [nickname|user@host] Ignore all contact from the specified people.
The day will come when you decide not (never?) to see or hear a specific person on your screen. This can be achieved using the ignore command. If people are flooding channels with useless text or they are otherwise harassing you, a wise response is to ignore those person. Ignore can be set to a nickname or by specifying a user@host format. You can use all kind of wildcards.
/IGNORE looser
*** Added looser to Ignore list
*** Ignore is ON
*** Ignoring: *.*@* *!*ap@ *!*fishy@* looser
/IGNORE looser
*** Removed looser from Ignore list


An IRC script is essentially a collection of IRC commands compiled to server specific commands and do specific tasks. These can be used to alias exsisting commands to shorter commands or to bundle a whole set of commands that carry out a specific procedure under just a single command. Most of all clients uses scripts written in TCL. The mIRC client has its own language.


A BOT (short for ROBOT) is basically a script that is written to respond to commands and events. Mainly BOTs are used to do some channel functions that you think are a lot cooler because a BOT is doing them. There are a couple of different types of BOTs: war BOTs, bar BOTs, and channel BOTs. War BOTs are written to cause havoc and trouble on most IRC users. Many people think war BOTs are the greatest thing around, but they are not. A channel BOT is basically what most BOTs are. It will do most channel commands, like op, deop, kick, and ban. A channel BOT is the best type of BOT to have. It doesn't have some of the annoying features that the next BOT, a bar BOT, has. A bar BOT does basically things like serve drinks, food, play games, etc. Some people like bar BOTs; some people don't. If you are in a technical channel like #mirc, #windows, #winsock, etc., a bar BOT would not be used for that type of channel. However, a bar BOT is great for channels like #mirccafe, #irccafe, #startrek, and role-playing games channels.

(DISCLAIMER) All of this text in not an original composition by me. Parts have been collected from all over the web, usenet groups, and IRC channels. If you feel you deserve credit for anything contained here, contact me, and I will be happy to acknowledge your contribution.


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