Starting to use IRC (Internet Relay Chat)
There are 3 common packages for using IRC:
- irc (UNIX): A terminal-oriented IRC client. This software is
available on "sils.umich.edu", and its the recommended way to
use IRC for its power and stability.
- ircle (Macintosh): A window-oriented IRC package, where
each channel one joins is represented by a window.
- Homer (Macintosh): Another window-oriented IRC package,
with floating command and message palettes. Menus and buttons
make common tasks easy. Homer also supports colorizing and speaking
To join IRC you need to log into your sils.umich.edu account. The syntax
for starting a UNIX IRC session from the prompt is
irc or irc <nickname> <server>.
Nicknames are the common identifiers of a user, and can be from 3-9
characters (letters, numbers, underlines, and certain punctuation).
By default, your nickname is your UNIX login.
To make use of IRC you need to connect to a proper server. Common
servers include: pegasus.ccs.itd.umich.edu, irc.uiuc.edu, or
irc.colorado.edu. By default, you are connected to the University's
When you connect, you will see that server's Message of the Day, or MOTD,
the number of currently connected users, and other information. After
connecting, you are not a member of any IRC channels. You must join a
channel to partake in public discussion, or send private messages to
your desired recipient.
- Servers: Each IRC server is linked to other servers in
a large web of data exchange. The servers manage the
complexity of tracking users, channels, and messages.
- Clients: To join IRC, you use a client program to connect
to a server. Once you have connected to a server, it is responsible
for relaying all your commands and messages to the network, and
- Channels: Discussion is divided into numerous channels,
each identified by its unique name. Channel names are identified
because they start with the '#' character. Channels provide public
communication with all users on that channel, and users can
participate on one or many channels simultaneously.
- Commands: The commands you give IRC permit you to join or
leave channels, send public or private messages, or other tasks.
Commands are identified by the starting '/' character. Text entered
without the leading '/' character is sent as a public message to your
current channel (this is the standard and simple way for talking).
- Users: All people connected to IRC are users identified by
unique nicknames. By default, users are able to perform all the
basic functions of IRC, such as joining or leaving channels, sending
public or private messages, and client commands.
- Channel Operators: To administrate channels, the user who
creates a channel becomes its operator. Operators can kick other
users from the channel, ban users or sites from the channels, and
lock the channel then invite only specific people. Operators
can also bestow "ChanOp" status to other users on the channel. This
forms a simple mechanism for control on IRC, and although not perfect,
it is very democratic. Users who feel that an channel operator is
being abusive of his power can simply create a new channel where they
are now the operator.
- IRC Operators: Those who administrate IRC servers are known
as IRC operators (not to be confused with channel operators).
The primary responsibility of these users is to maintain servers
and eliminate problems with the IRC connections in general.
- 'Bots: Computer programs which perform automated tasks
are known as 'bots. Typical functions include information
dispersal or channel moderation. 'Bots are created by users who
have written special software to connect to IRC and act as
- /say <msg>: To send a public message to the
current channel you are on. By default, anything typed without
a leading command are interpreted as public messages.
- /action <msg>: Instead of sending a public
message saying "I run away", you can use the action message
"runs away" which is specially displayed "*** <your-nick>
runs away". Actions should be entered in the third person.
- /msg <recipient> <message>: This command will
send a private message to a single user or a public message to a
channel you are not on.
- /ignore <nick> +all: If you don't want to listen
to any public or private messages from a particular user, use
the ignore command.
- /list: Used to list all current channels, this
command is not recommended (showing hundreds of channels may
- /join <channel>: This command will join an
existing channel or create a new one with the given name. If
you are on several channels at once, repeated join commands
will let you change your current channel.
- /part (<channel> | *): When you are done
communicating with a channel, this command lets you leave it. You will
no longer receive public messages on that channel, and lose all channel
operator privileges you had there.
- /names [<channel> | *]: This command displays a list
of all users on the given (or current) channel. Using this command
without parameters lists all users on IRC, and is not recommended.
- /who [<channel> | *]: This command displays a list
of all users, and certain user information, for the given (or
current) channel. Using this command without parameters lists all
users on IRC, and is not recommended.
- /topic <channel> [<topic>]: To display the
channel's topic, use the simple form. To change the channel's topic,
enter a new one with the command.
- /kick <channel> <nick> [<msg>]:
(Operator's only) Used to kick a user from a channel with an optional
message. However, the command does not prohibit them from immediately
rejoining the channel.
- /mode <channel> <params>: (Operator's only)
A generic command for setting channel characteristics. This command has
several available options, and multiple characteristics can be set or
removed in groups of three. Typical forms include:
- /mode <channel> [+o|-o] <user>: That grants
or removes channel operator status for a user.
- /mode <channel> [+b|-b] <pattern>: That sets
or removes a channel ban for the given wild-card pattern. Such a
pattern could ban a single nick, machine, or whole site from joining
- /mode <channel> [+t|-t]: That locks or unlocks the
current channel topic from change.
- /mode <channel> [+k|-k] <key>: That makes a
channel private (invite-only) or public, by using a password or key.
- /mode <channel> [+i|-i]: That makes a channel
private (invite-only) or public, without a password or key.
- /help [<command>]: This command provides general
or specific help on commands and syntax.
- /whois <nick>: Displaying extra information on a
particular user, the whois command shows you what server, client
machine, and the idle time is for that user.
- /nick <new-nick>: If you want to change your
nickname, use this command. If you have selected a nickname currently
in use, you will be asked to choose another.
- /server <new-server>: Use this command to change the
IRC server you have connected to. Typically, you will not need to
do this. However, your IRC server may split from the network and
all users not connected to that server will "fall out" (signoff
abruptly). Rather than sit on an empty channel or server, try
switching to a server still connected to the net. Both irc.colorado.edu
and irc.uiuc.edu are good servers to try.
- /away [<away-msg>]: If you walk away from your
computer or are doing other work that leaves your IRC session idle,
mark yourself as being away. Users that send private messages to you
will be notified that you are not paying attention. Use the simple
form of the command to denote that you are no longer away.
- /mode <your-nick> <params>: A general
command for setting just user information (in contrast to the channel
mode comand). For example, to make yourself invisible to users who
dont share a channel with you, try
/mode <your-nick> +i
- /quit [<msg>]: This command quits the IRC program
and optionally displays a short signoff message to other users.
- /dcc <params>: A complex command for setting up
private "client-to-client" sessions, for chatting or exchanging files
with other users.
You can set up your account with a default IRC nickname, fullname, and
desired server list by adding a few lines to your ".login" file:
setenv IRCNICK "<nick>"
setenv IRCNAME "<full-name>"
setenv IRCSERVER "pegasus.ccs.itd.umich.edu irc.uiuc.edu irc.colorado.edu"
When you start IRC, it looks for a file in your UNIX account called ".ircrc".
If it finds this file, it will execute each line as an IRC command. This
is a great way to customize the appearance or behavior of the IRC client.
A typical resource file looks like:
/SET DISPLAY OFF
/COMMENT -- Simple Appearance Modifications
/SET AUTO_WHOWAS ON
/SET BEEP_MAX 2
/SET INDENT ON
/SET INPUT_PROMPT $T>
/SET SUPPRESS_SERVER_MOTD ON
/SET BOLD_VIDEO ON
/SET INVERSE_VIDEO ON
/SET UNDERLINE_VIDEO ON
/COMMENT -- More Appearance Modifications
/ON ^ACTION * ECHO $0 $2-
/ON ^SEND_ACTION * ECHO $N $1-
/ON ^PUBLIC * ECHO <$0> $2-
/ON ^SEND_PUBLIC * ECHO > $1-
/ON ^MSG * ECHO *$0* => *$N* $1-
/ON ^SEND_MSG * ECHO *$N* => *$0* $1-
/ON ^NOTIFY_SIGNON * ECHO *** Signon: $0 $1
/ON ^NOTIFY_SIGNOFF * ECHO *** Signoff: $0
/ON ^NOTICE * ECHO *$0* $1-
/COMMENT -- Simple command shortcuts
/ALIAS REPLY MSG ,
/ALIAS CHOP MODE $C +o $0
/ALIAS DEOP MODE $C -o $0
/ALIAS BANS MODE $C +b
/ALIAS BAN MODE $C +b $0
/ALIAS UNBAN MODE $C -b $0
/IGNORE NICKSERV@SERVICE.DE +ALL
/SET DISPLAY ON
IRC software is not case-sensitive. Nicknames, channel names, and
commands can use mixed case without difficulty. However, certain
punctuation is reserved, and cannot be used to form certain names.
Most users spend little time formatting their messages properly, and
punctuation or spelling is often sacrificed for response time. Users
may also use typical internet abbreviations to convey their messages,
such as BBL (Be Back Later) and IMO (In My Opinion).
Although you can start a channel and become operator there, most active
conversations occur on established channels dedicated to a certain
topic or purpose. Unless you plan on starting (and publicizing) a
new channel, or have agreed to meet with someone on a particular
channel, then you should join and try out established channels.
Some popular places include #twilight_zone (home of many IRC
operators and good place to get help), #talk, #hottub, or #macintosh.
This document was created at the University of Michigan
School of Information and Library
Studies (SILS), but it has been designed for public use. Permission is
hereby granted for unlimited print and electronic redistribution. Your
feedback is encouraged.
email@example.com - 12/17/94