Original web version with over 100 links at http://www.irchelp.org/irchelp/irctutorial.html
Table of Contents
1. Introduction and Basics
2. Chatting on IRC
3. Beyond the Basics
IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is a multi-user, multi-channel chatting system. Imagine sitting in front of your computer and "talking" through typed messages with either one person or many other people from all over the Internet, all in real time! Best of all, once you get set up, chatting on IRC is totally free!
There are many help files designed to introduce you to the exciting and sometimes bewildering world of IRC. This tutorial that you are reading now is intended to walk you through the important commands one by one so that you can learn by doing. If you are brand new to IRC, you may wish to first read the very short IRC Prelude (or its many translations) to get yourself oriented. Then later you may check out one of the standard references, such as the alt.irc newsgroup's frequently asked questions (FAQ) list, or the long but extremely thorough IRC Primer which is organized like a textbook.
IRC is based on a client-server model. You run a client program on your own computer which connects you to a server computer on the Internet. These servers link to many other servers to make up an IRC network, which transport messages from one user (client) to another. In this manner, people from all over the world can talk to each other live and simultaneously.
To join in the fun, all you need is an Internet Service Provider to get you connected to the Internet (if you're able to read this web page, you're already connected), and an IRC client program. The most popular clients are mIRC for the Windows operating system, ircII for UNIX, and Ircle for Macintosh. A good provider should have installed one of these for you already, if not you can download them yourself for free. (Ircle and mIRC are shareware, meaning you get a one month free trial, then if you like it and keep it, you are bound by an honor system to pay the author a modest fee.)
Once you are set up with a provider and a client, you are in control. Choose a nickname you wish to be known by, then connect to one of the many different IRC networks catering to different geographical locations, interests, or philosophies. The largest networks have tens of thousands of people online at any given moment, drawn from an order of magnitude or more of regular visitors. These people create thousands of channels (sometimes incorrectly called "chat rooms") where people may meet and mingle. You may join these channels and participate in the group discussion, or you may elect to chat privately with individuals.
Conversations on a channel are like those at a party: everybody who is present hears everything that everybody else is saying. If somebody is late to the party or leaves early, however, they will not hear what is said in their absence. All channels on IRC have names starting with #, such as #irchelp where you can get technical IRC help, or #new2irc where new users are welcome to join and chat. Usually, the name of the channel shows what it's for, but not always.
We will assume you or your provider has installed one of the mainstream IRC clients already. If not, see the links in the previous section. Once installed, most clients have shortcuts for getting started quickly, using default nicknames, servers, and ports on those servers. (To help distribute the load better, each server permits connections on many different openings or "ports", usually leading to redundant connections to the same IRC network.)
For example, mIRC has a connection dialog that lets you pick your nickname and suggests some server choices. From the UNIX prompt, ircII may be launched just by typing irc which should connect you using your login name as your nickname and a default server. Ircle has a few icons in its folder such as #macintosh and all you need to do is double-click on them to join that channel, which happens to be on a network called Undernet.
If these quick starts don't immediately work for you, don't worry, they are just like teaser movie previews compared to the full IRC experience. In the next section, we will show you how to make a proper connection to a server, then how to list available channels and join them, as well as how to find your friends and like-minded people.
Every IRC client has an input area where you can type what you want to say or issue IRC commands. You issue IRC commands by typing on a new line something beginning with a / (forward slash) character. Anything that does not begin with a / is assumed to be a message you are typing to someone or some channel. In the following I will describe the more common commands used in everyday IRC life. Commands you are supposed to type will be shown in red, while text which you will see in response will be shown in blue.
In addition, the graphical clients such as mIRC or Ircle allow you to use a mouse to point and click your way around IRC, so that you don't have to type many of these commands manually. You should still learn the commands properly, because often they are the only way to specify precisely what you want done, and also they are often faster and easier than navigating through the labyrinth of buttons, menus, and dialogs that are supposed to make your life easier.
/HELP [optional command name]
The first and most useful command is the on-line help built into all good IRC clients just by typing /help where you normally type to chat. This should bring up a list of all commands. You can also get specific help for a command, such as /help who for the /who command.
You can get a quick introduction to IRC built into your client. mIRC users type /ircintro while ircII users type /help intro or /help newuser.
If you are not sure about the spelling of a mIRC command, just type in the first few letters. The help window, which shows commands arranged alphabetically, will open to approximately the right place so that you can choose to learn about a specific command.
If you are not sure about the spelling of an ircII command, type the first few letters and press the ESCape key twice. ircII will give you a listing of COMMANDS and ALIASes that start with that prefix. Don't forget the "/" in front of the command, though.
For example, you type the following:
*** Commands: *** WAIT WALLOPS WHILE WHO *** WHOIS WHOWAS *** Aliases: *** W WA WH WI
Each server is known by a "hostname" such as irc.ais.net, us.undernet.org, irc.dal.net, or irc.webbernet.net, which are sample servers for the networks EFnet, Undernet, DALnet, and IRCnet, respectfully. Just specify the hostname to connect or switch to that server. For example:
You then see the following messages indicating your client has successfully connected to that server.
*** Looking up your hostname... *** Found your hostname, cached *** Checking Ident *** Got Ident response *** Welcome to EFNet IRC - the Internet Relay Chat Network foo *** Your host is irc.psinet.com, running version 2.8/hybrid-5.3 [remaining server messages truncated]
Change the nickname by which you are known. Nicknames are usually limited to 9 characters. For example, if your default nick was "foo" and you want to change it to "YourNick":
/NICK YourNick *** foo is now known as YourNick
Lists IRC channels, number of users, and topic for each. This is how you find places to go meet people and chat.
/LIST *** Channel Users Topic *** #test 1 this is a test channel *** #IRChelp 18 Ask questions on the channel or see www.irchelp.org [remainder of list not shown]
If you're on a big network, this list may be very long, up to many thousands of channels! It may even cause you to flood yourself off so that you get disconnected from the server. If that happens, try using different servers on that network, or instead use the searchable EFnet channel list web page which is updated hourly, or the less frequently updated but more comprehensive Liszt channel list.
You can also search for specific keywords by using /LIST keyword in mIRC, or /LIST *keyword* in ircII. Note this may or may not be any faster or safer than a full list depending on the network. On networks like EFnet and IRCnet, for example, your client gets the full list first and then does the filtering internally before displaying matches to you. On Undernet, the server filters the list and sends only the matches to you, which can be much faster if you're on a slow modem.
Shows the nicknames of all users on that channel. While theoretically this is supposed to work whether or not you are on that channel, in practice most people these days are set to be "invisible" and thus do not show up on such queries unless you are in the same channel already.
/NAMES #demo Pub: #demo @YourNick +buddy DeepMpact @FunGuy PrettyGrl
The "@" symbols show that YourNick and FunGuy are "channel ops", and that buddy has been given a "voice". These terms will be described in more detail in the channel modes section later.
Shows information about the nick specified.
/WHOIS buddy *** buddy is firstname.lastname@example.org (Think different.) *** on channels: @#demo #test123 *** on irc via server irc.psinet.com (PSI Net EFNet IRC Server)
The "email@example.com" looks like an email address but actually abcd is buddy's identifying "username" on dialup-6.provider.com, which is the "hostname" of the computer buddy is using for IRC. One cannot arbitarily change the hostname, because it is the computer's address on the Internet, and it is required in order for the IRC server to communicate with one's computer properly. Next, in the parentheses, buddy shows a personal message instead of the real name which is supposed to go there.
The second line shows he is on the "public" channels #demo and #test123, and the @ symbol means he is an operator on #demo. It doesn't show other, "secret" channels he might be on. Finally the third line shows which IRC server he is using. We will discuss public/secret channels and operators later in part 3.
Leave a message explaining that you are not currently paying attention to IRC.
/AWAY getting coffee, be back in 5 mins You have been marked as being away
If your friend does /whois YourNick now, they will get the 3 lines as described in the /whois section above, plus a final line saying:
*** YourNick is away: getting coffee, be back in 5 mins
/AWAY without any additional argument will remove the away message.
/AWAY You are no longer marked as being away (or something to that effect)
/QUIT [optional farewell message]
Exits IRC (also leaves any channels you may be on).
/QUIT hasta la vista, baby! *** Signoff: YourNick (hasta la vista, baby!)
2. Chatting on IRC
The point of IRC is to chat, and as mentioned before, you may join in public discussions on channels or talk privately to one person at a time. We will show you how to do both here.
2.1. Public Conversations
We previously learned how to find channels using the /list command. Here will talk about how to join those channels and talk on them.
There can be many thousands of channels on the largest networks, each with anywhere from one to hundreds of people. Each channel is controlled by channel operators or "ops" who have absolute authority over their channels. We will discuss more about that later. You should always observe basic netiquette when visiting other people's channels.
Changes your current channel to the channel specified. If the channel does not exist already, it will be created and you will be in charge of the new channel and be a channel operator or "op" - more on that later.
/JOIN #new2irc *** YourNick (firstname.lastname@example.org) has joined channel #new2irc *** Topic for #new2irc: New users welcome! Questions answered with a smile! ;)) RC *** Topic for #new2irc set by Otiose on Sun Aug 16 10:28:06 1998 *** Users on #new2irc: YourNick FunGuy @pixE @MsingLnk @^Chipster [rest of list truncated]
When you join a channel, everything that everybody says is preceded by their nicknames so others can tell who is saying what. For some IRC programs, it doesn't show your own nickname, but don't worry, other people still see it!
but everybody else sees:
<YourNick> hello world!
/ME does something
Performs an action on a channel. Unlike talking normally, actions do not start with <YourNick>. Use /ME in the third person (verbs like "is", "does", "runs", etc.).
/ME is a pink bunny YourNick is a pink bunny
Leaves the specified channel, or if no channel is specified, leaves the current channel.
2.2. Private Conversations
/MSG nickname message
Use the /MSG command to send someone a message that only that person can read. Say you are "YourNick" and you want to talk to your friend "buddy".
/MSG buddy hello, how are you?
On your screen, you would see:
-> *buddy* Hello, how are you?
On buddy's screen, if he is using ircII he sees:
*YourNick* Hello, how are you?
To answer such a message using ircII, buddy would type:
/MSG YourNick Fine, thanks!
If buddy is using mIRC, he will instead get a new "query" window dedicated to this private conversation with you. Everything you /MSG him goes to that window. As soon as he responds to you in that window, if you are also using mIRC you will likewise also get a "query" window.
/QUERY nickname and /QUERY
In mIRC, if you initiate a /MSG you don't get a "query" window until the other person responds to you. You can set up a "query" window on your side right from the beginning by using the /QUERY command:
In ircII, you can have a private conversation by using /MSG nickname repeatedly, but that can get cumbersome. That's where the QUERY command comes in handy. When you issue the above command, all subsequent text will be send as private messages to that nickname, except for "/" commands. Use /QUERY with no nickname to end a private conversation.
Here's an example of a private conversation between you as "YourNick" and your friend "buddy", as seen from your point of view. Statements from your IRC client program start with "***", outgoing messages from you to buddy start with "-> *buddy*", and incoming messages to you from buddy start with "*buddy*".
/QUERY buddy *** Starting conversation with buddy Good morning -> *buddy* Good morning, buddy. *buddy* Hi, YourNick. How is life ? Pretty good. I have to get back to work, bye. -> *buddy* Pretty good. I have to get back to work, bye. *buddy* OK, talk to you later. /QUERY *** Ending conversation with buddy
/CTCP nickname PING
/CTCP #channel-name PING
Sometimes you are talking to your friend and suddenly it seems like he's not paying attention. This may be due to server "lag" on either end, which is the roundtrip delay between when you say something and your friend sees that message. Normally lag is less than a few seconds even when you are talking to people on the other side of the planet, but sometimes the servers temporarily suffer from serious lag. If you suspect this is the problem, you can test your lag with a sonar-like ping signal under the Client-to-Client Protocol (CTCP). If you are just talking to one person, ping that person. If you suspect you are generally lagged to a lot of people, ping a channel with say 10 people which is the same as pinging each person on that channel separately. The range in ping response times will tell you if you are lagged in general.
/CTCP buddy PING *** CTCP PING from YourNickemail@example.com to buddy: 903330542 *** CTCP PING reply from buddy: 1 second
The last line is the part you care about. It says you are lagged less than 1 second to buddy, which is very good. Note that in most clients including most versions of ircII and mIRC, this is aliased to /PING nickname, or /PING #channel-name, but not always. Some Mac clients such as Ircle use /CPING instead.
/DCC CHAT nickname
/MSG =nickname message
/DCC CLOSE CHAT nickname
DCC stands for Direct Client Communication, where you and your friend's client programs connect directly to each other, bypassing IRC servers and their occasional "lag" or "split" problems. Like /MSG, the DCC chat is completely private.
If you are "Yournick" and your friend is "buddy", here's how to use DCC chat:
/DCC CHAT buddy
*** Sent DCC CHAT request to buddy
While buddy sees:
*** DCC CHAT (chat) request received from YourNick
Now buddy types the same thing but using your nick:
/DCC CHAT YourNick
The connection goes through and you see this (he sees something similar). The numbers are his IP number (the numeric version of his computer's hostname) and his port number.
*** DCC CHAT connection with buddy[188.8.131.52,54321] established
Now to talk to buddy, in graphical clients like mIRC you will probably have a separate window for the DCC chat so that everything you type is sent to buddy. Just type normally in that window. Alternatively, from any window you may use a /MSG with an equals sign immediately before his nick, which distinguishes this DCC CHAT message from a regular /MSG buddy whatever:
/MSG =buddy now we're talking!
When you're done talking, either close the graphical window (if there is one available) or manually close the connection:
/DCC CLOSE CHAT buddy
*** DCC chat:<any> to buddy closed
DCC SEND and GET
Like with DCC chat described above, DCC file transfer requires an exchange of commands between the sender and getter of each file. For example, if you as "YourNick" want to send the file "foo.jpg" to your friend "buddy", you would type:
/DCC SEND buddy foo.jpg
*** Sent DCC SEND request to buddy
If you specify the filename without a directory path, it will assume the file is in the default directory. For mIRC that is usually c:\mirc and for ircII it is usually your home directory. If the file is somewhere else, you will need to specify the path to that file, such as:
/DCC SEND buddy c:\other\directory\foo.jpg
Now for buddy to get the offered file. If he is using mIRC, a dialog will open asking him whether he wishes to accept the file, cancel the offer, or even ignore the offerer. In ircII, buddy will see the following request and types this in response:
*** DCC SEND (foo.jpg 180) request received from YourNick
/DCC GET YourNick
You will then see the following as the DCC connection is established and the transfer eventually completed. On the other end, buddy sees something similar too.
*** DCC SEND connection to buddy[184.108.40.206,54321] established
*** DCC SEND:foo.jpg to buddy completed 1.234 kb/sec
Channel operators or "ops" have absolute power over their channel, including the right to decide who gets to come in, who must leave, who may talk, etc. When you first start out, it's best to chat on other people's channels and heed their rules, or else you may find yourself kicked out. If that happens and you cannot settle your differences with the ops, just go to another channel.
At some point you will probably want to try your hand at being a channel op, either by creating your own new channel or by gaining the trust of the ops on an existing channel. You need to know a whole different set of commands. With this power comes the sometimes frustrating responsibility of maintaining the channel against intentional abuse as well as the usual IRC mishaps.
Some networks such as Undernet and DALnet support channel registration, whereby you can "reserve" a channel. The advantage is that you are assured control over the channel as long as you show up once in a while, the disadvantage is that many popular channel names are probably already registered by others.
Two of the largest nets EFnet and IRCnet do not support channel registration (or any other services). On these nets, there is no way to ensure you will always control a channel. Some channels try hard with all sorts of bots (which are explicitly banned by most servers) and protective scripts, but it's really just a matter of time before somebody with the right combination of lameness and knowledge comes along and takes over the channel.
3.2 Channel Maintenance
This section will cover the basic commands used by channel ops to maintain a channel. Try them on a test channel!
Two of the most common things that ops do are setting the channel topic and kicking out abusive people. For the purposes of this section, let's say you have ops on the channel #demo.
/TOPIC #channelname whatever topic for channel
Channels have topics which indicate the current topic of conversation. Theoretically anybody can change the topic on a channel with the /TOPIC command, but usually the channel operators make it so that only they can change the topic. This topic is shown when anybody first joins the channel, and it is also shown constantly at the bottom of the window for graphical clients like mIRC and Ircle.
/TOPIC #demo hello, testing
*** YourNick has changed the topic on #demo to hello, testing
/KICK nickname [optional reason]
Forcibly kick that nickname out of the current channel with the reason specified. If no reason is given, it will just use your nickname as the default reason.
/KICK buddy go away, you're annoying me
*** buddy has been kicked off #demo by YourNick (go away, you're annoying me)
In addition to the above commands, the behavior on each channel is governed by many "modes", each denoted by a single character such as "x" which can be turned on or off using "+x" and "-x" respectively. You can see the modes currently in effect on a channel by issuing the /MODE command without any flags. For example:
*** Mode for channel #demo is "+tn"
What does the "+tn" mean? Those and other modes are described below.
Private (p) or Secret (s)
To make #demo a secret channel:
/MODE #demo +s
*** Mode change "+s" on channel #demo by YourNick
To make #demo a public channel again (removing the secret mode):
/MODE #demo -s
*** Mode change "-s" on channel #demo by YourNick
In the following examples I'll leave out the responses in blue since they are all similar to the above.
No external messages to the channel (n)
Topic control (t)
Channel ops (o [nickname])
You can also do a few of these together on the same line, such as:
/MODE #demo +ooo larry curley moe
Invite Only (i)
Then to let buddy in, use the /INVITE command:
/INVITE buddy #demo
Limited (l [number])
Later to remove the limit (note you don't need to specify the number):
/MODE #demo -l.
Keyword or Password Protected (k keyword)
Then in order for somebody outside to join, they must type:
/JOIN #demo trustno1
And to remove the keyword:
/MODE #demo -k trustno1
Channel bans (b [nick!user@host])
For example, if you want to ban buddy, and his /WHOIS says:
*** buddy is firstname.lastname@example.org (Think different.)
Then the most specific ban mask would be "email@example.com" (note the use of "!" and "@" to separate the nickname, username, and hostname). If he changes any of those three, however, he can slip right back in! For example, he could change his nickname "buddy" using /NICK. If he's using a graphical client like mIRC he can change his username "abcd" after a quick /QUIT and reconnect. He can even change the first part of his hostname ("dialup-6") by dialing up to his provider again. That's why it might make more sense to do:
/MODE #demo +b *!*abcd@dialup*.provider.com
Or even a domain ban against everybody from that provider (use sparingly since you may keep out a lot of innocent people):
/MODE #demo +b *!*@*.provider.com
You may view the current bans (from on or off the channel) by leaving off the ban mask. In the example below, there are 2 bans on #demo, the first an old ban restored by the server irc.mcs.net when it rejoined after a split, the second ban was set by buddy against anybody from the blah.net domain whose username contains "foo":
/MODE #demo +b Current bans on #demo are: *** #demo *!*@*.dummy.com irc.mcs.net 903321784 *** #demo *!*foo*@*.blah.net firstname.lastname@example.org 903310028
If you want to remove the first ban, you have to use the exact same ban mask, namely:
/MODE #demo -b *!*@*.dummy.com
Most of the above modes can be combined. For example, to remove the invite-only restriction, while at the same making the channel with topic changed only by ops, not allowing external messages, and password protected with "trustno1" as the key:
/MODE #demo -i+tnk trustno1
This section describes how to get more information about the IRC servers you use. Each server is run by IRC operators or IRCops, who are sometimes mistakenly known as "IRC cops". These people run each IRC server and try to maintain a fast, reliable IRC network. They are not cops and do not interfere in user or channel matters such as restoring ops, fighting takeovers, defeating bans, nickname disputes, etc. For more information on what IRCops do, see the IRC Operator Guide which is like a training manual for IRCops, or Monkster's short Oper Myths which definitively lists what IRCops can/can't/will/won't do. If after reading those you still think you need to contact an IRCop to report IRC abuse, see our IRC logging guide for directions.
A special word on nukes: denial of service attacks, commonly known as "nukes", are not part of IRC at all. As such, IRCops have no authority in trying to stop them. See our guide on logging and reporting nukes.
Unless otherwise stated, all commands below apply to your current server unless you specify another server's hostname as the optional argument.
The LINKS command shows all the servers currently connected to form the IRC network you are using. If a server mask is specifed, LINKS shows any servers that match the given server mask, which may contain wildcards.
/LINKS *.com *** irc.rift.com irc.total.net 3 [220.127.116.11] Rift Online *** irc02.irc.aol.com irc.lightning.net 6 America Online EFNet Server [list truncated]
The 1st column is the server name, the 2nd is the server it is linked to, the number in the 3rd column is the number of links away that server is from yours. Caution: don't do /links too many times or you could be mistaken for a troublemaker and sanctioned.
Displays the administrative details about a server. Usually this will give you an e-mail address you can use to ask questions or report complaints such as illegal bots (just don't hold your breath, most IRC ops are very busy people, and see description of IRC op at the beginning of this section so you don't bother them with takeovers and ops problems).
/ADMIN *** Administrative info about irc.psinet.com *** PSI Net EFNet IRC Server *** Admin - Katherine Spray<email@example.com> *** moonwolf @ IRC
Gives the "message of the day" for a server which explains the server's policies and other information. You should always read this before using any server.
/MOTD irc.ais.net [excerpted MOTD follows] *** - The Rules for IRC.AIS.NET: *** - o No Clones/Multiple clients *** - o No link looking scripts *** - o Clients must respond to valid ctcp requests *** - *** - Failure to comply with any of the above rules may result in your *** - connection to this server being blocked.
In the previous sections, you have learned (1) IRC basics, (2) how to chat both publicly and privately, including how to exchange files, and (3) went beyond the basics to explore channel maintenance and interacting with servers. That should be all you need for now to enjoy IRC. If you are interested in learning more, check out the many other help files. The IRChelp.org web site also has many other helpful features including client-specific help files, scripts, lists of networks and servers, etc. Good luck!