IRC Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
(1) What is IRC?
IRC stands for "Internet Relay Chat". It was originally
written by Jarkko Oikarinen (firstname.lastname@example.org) in 1988. Since starting
in Finland, it has been used in over 60 countries around the world. It
was designed as a replacement for the "talk" program but has become much
much more than that. IRC is a multi-user chat system, where people convene
on "channels" (a virtual place, usually with a topic of conversation) to
talk in groups, or privately. IRC is constantly evolving, so the way
things to work one week may not be the way they work the next. Read the
MOTD (message of the day) every time you use IRC to keep up on any new
happenings or server updates.
IRC gained international fame during the 1991 Persian Gulf War,
where updates from around the world came accross the wire, and most irc
users who were online at the time gathered on a single channel to hear
these reports. IRC had similar uses during the coup against Boris Yeltsin
in September 1993, where IRC users from Moscow were giving live reports
about the unstable situation there.
(2) How is IRC set up?
The user runs a "client" program (usually called 'irc') which
connects to the IRC network via another program called a "server".
Servers exist to pass messages from user to user over the IRC network.
(3) How do I use a client?
First, check to see if irc is installed on your system. Type
"irc" from your prompt. If this doesn't work, ask your local systems
people if irc is already installed. This will save you the work of
installing it yourself.
If an IRC client isn't already on your system, you either
compile the source yourself, have someone else on your machine compile
the source for you.
(4) Where can I get source for an IRC client?
You can anonymous ftp to any of the following sites (use the
one closest to you): *** If you don't know what anonymous ftp is, ask
your local systems people to show you ***
UNIX client-> cs-ftp.bu.edu /irc/clients
EMACS elisp-> cs-ftp.bu.edu /irc/clients/elisp
X11 client-> catless.ncl.ac.uk /pub
(Zircon) ftp.aud.alcatel.com /tcl/code
VMS -> cs-ftp.bu.edu /irc/clients/vms
REXX client for VM-> cs-ftp.bu.edu /irc/clients/rxirc
MSDOS-> cs-ftp.bu.edu /irc/clients/pc/msdos
Macintosh-> cs-ftp.bu.edu /irc/clients/macintosh
("Homer" and mirrors.aol.com /pub/info-mac/comm/tcp
"ircle") ftp.funet.fi /pub/unix/irc/mac
ircle only: http://www.omroep.nl/~onno
Amiga-> ftp.warped.com /pub/amiga/grapevine
(5) Which server do I connect my client to?
It's usually best to try and connect to one geographically
close, even though that may not be the best. You can always ask when you
get on IRC. Here's a list of servers avaliable for connection:
This is, by no means, a comprehensive list, but merely a start. Connect
to the closest of these servers and join the channel #irchelp
(6) What is the port to use to connect to IRC?
In general, the port to use is 6667. Some servers listen to
other ports (most commonly in the 6660-6670 range), but *not* all. When in
doubt, use 6667.
(7) What's the username and password to connect to irc? I'm prompted for
login: and I don't know what to type! Sometimes when I try to connect
to IRC it just says "connection closed by foreign host. What gives?
If you see "login:" then you are trying to use telnet to connect
to IRC. You should go back up and read (3) and (4). Nowhere in this FAQ
does it say you should use telnet to connect to an IRC server. You *must*
use a client. Read (4) to find out where to get a client, and (5) to find
out which server to connect to.
"connection closed by foreign host" indicates that you're trying
to telnet to irc, just as in the paragraph above. Again, you HAVE to use
(8) OK, I've got a client and I'm connected to a server, now what?
It's probably best to take a look around and see what you want
to do first. All IRC commands start with a "/", and most are one word.
Typing /help will get you help information. /names will get you a list
of names, etc.
The output of /names is typically something like this->
Pub: #hack zorgo eiji Patrick fup htoaster
Pub: #Nippon @jircc @miyu_d
Pub: #nicole MountainD
Pub: #hottub omar liron beer Deadog moh pfloyd Dode greywolf SAMANTHA
(Note there are LOTS more channels than this, this is just sample
output -- one way to stop /names from being too large is doing /names
-min 20 which will only list channels with 20 or more people on it,
but you can only do this with the ircII client).
"Pub" means public (or "visible") channel. "hack" is the channel name.
"#" is the prefix. A "@" before someone's nickname indicates he/she is the
"Channel operator" (see (10)) of that channel. A Channel Operator is someone
who has control over a specific channel. It can be shared or not as the
first Channel Operator sees fit. The first person to join the channel
automatically receives Channel Operator status, and can share it with
anyone he/she chooses (or not). Another thing you might see is "Prv"
which means private. You will only see this if you are on that private
channel. No one can see Private channels except those who are on that
particular private channel.
(9) Now I've picked out a nice channel. How do I join that channel? And
what do I type once I get there? And when I'm done, how do I leave a
To join a channel, type /join #channelname. That's it! Once you
get to the channel, you will see people talking. It will probably look
<Avalon> AUUG is on at the same time as LISA this year and is cheaper.
<Barron> backhaul those DS3s to Virginia ;)
<Barron> buy a farm
<FlashPYR> so is .us going to start charging $50/domain, too?
<Barron> or something
Note that you will often come in in 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 <nickname> hello! because IRC will
insert <nickname> before all of your channel messages.
When you choose to leave a channel, just type /part #channelname
(10) What is a channel operator? What is an IRC operator?
A channel operator is someone with a "@" by their nickname in
a /names list, or a "@" by the channel name in /whois output. Channel
operators are kings/queens of their channel. This means they can kick
you out of their channel for no reason. If you don't like this, you
can start your own channel and become a channel operator there.
An IRC operator is someone who maintains the IRC network. They
cannot fix channel problems. They cannot kick someone out of a channel
for you. They cannot /kill (kick someone out of IRC temporarily)
someone just because you gave the offender channel operator privileges
and said offender kicked *you* off.
(11) What is a "bot"?
"bot" is short for "robot". It is a script run from an ircII
client or a separate program (in perl, C, and sometimes more obscure
languages). StarOwl@uiuc.edu (Michael Adams) defined bots very well: "A
bot is a vile creation of /lusers to make up for lack of penis length".
IRC bots are generally not needed. See (14) below about "ownership" of
nicknames and channels. A bot generally tries to "protect" a channel (it
should be noted that all bots will fail at some point, so relying on them
to keep a channel is not a good idea) from takeovers.
It should be noted that many servers (especially in the USA)
ban ALL bots. Some ban bots so much that if you run a bot on their server,
you will be banned from using that server (see segment below on K: lines).
(12) What are good channels to try while using IRC?
#hottub and #riskybus are almost always teeming with people.
#hottub is meant to simulate a hot tub, and #riskybus is a non-stop
game. Just join to find out!
To get a list of channels with their names and topics, do
/list -min 30 (on ircII) which will show you channels with 30 or more
members. You can also do this for smaller numbers.
Many IRC operators are in #Twilight_Zone ... so if you join
that channel and don't hear much talking, don't worry, it's not because
you joined, operators don't talk much on that channel anyways!
(13) What are some of the foreign language channels on IRC? What do they
Some of the most popular foreign language channels include #42
(which is a Finnish channel), #warung (which is a Malaysian channel. The
word "warung" means "coffeehouse" or "small restaurant"), #polska (a
Polish channel), #nippon (a Japanese channel, note that "funny" characters
are often seen here -- this is Kanji. You will need a Kanji-compatible
terminal program and Kanji-compatible irc client to converse in Kanji),
#espanol (a Spanish channel), #russian (a Russian channel).
These are just examples -- a large percentage of languages in the
world is spoken on irc *somewhere*. If your language/country isn't listed
above, ask on #irchelp to see if there is a channel for it.
(14) Someone is using my nickname, can anyone do anything about it?
Someone is using my channel, can anyone do anything about it?
Even while NickServ (see (17) below) registered nicknames, there
are not enough nicknames to have nickname ownership. If someone takes
your nickname while you are not on IRC, you can ask for them to give it
back, but you can not *demand* it, nor will IRC operators /kill for
There are, literally, millions of possible channel names, so if
someone is on your usual channel, just go to another. You can /msg them
and ask for them to leave, but you can't *force* them to leave.
(15) There aren't any channel operators on my channel, now what?
Channel operators are the owner(s) of their respective channels.
Keep this in mind when giving out channel operator powers (make sure to
give them to enough people so that all of the channel operators don't
unexpectedly leave and the channel is stuck without a channel operator).
On the other hand, do not give out channel operator to
*everyone*. This causes the possibility of mass-kicking, where the
channel would be stuck without any channel operators.
You have one option. You can ask everyone to leave and rejoin
the channel. This is a good way to get channel operator back. It
doesn't work on large channels or ones with bots, for obvious reasons.
(16) What if someone tells me to type something cryptic?
Never type anything anyone tells you to without knowing what it
is. There is a problem with typing certain commands with the ircII
client that give anyone immediate control of your client (and thus can
gain access to your account).
(17) What was NickServ? Is NickServ ever coming back?
NickServ was a nickname registration service run in Germany. It
was a bot that told people who used a registered nickname to stop using
that nickname. NickServ has been down since the Spring of 1994.
It is not likely that NickServ will be back.
Remember, nicknames aren't owned.
(18) What does "*** Ghosts are not allowed on IRC." mean?
What does "*** You are not welcome on this server." mean?
On IRC, you cannot be banned from every single server.
Server-banning exists only on a per-server basis (being banned on one
server does not mean you are automatically banned from another). "Ghosts
are not allowed on IRC" means that you are banned from using that server.
The banning is in one of three forms:
* You are banned specifically, you yourself. Only you can be responsible
for this (if you are using a shared account, this obviously does not
apply). Thus the responsibility lies completely with you and you have
no one to complain to.
* Your machine is banned. Chances are it wasn't you who committed the
wrongdoing. Try using another machine on campus and seeing if you can
use that particular irc server then.
* Your whole site is banned (where "site" == "school", "company",
"country"). This almost certainly wasn't your fault. And chances are
you won't be able to get the server-ban lifted. Try using another
The most general answer is "use another server", but if it bothers
you, try writing to the irc administrator of that site -->
/admin server.name.here -- plead your case. It might even get somewhere!
(19) What does "You have new email." mean? What does it mean when I see
"[Mail: 5]" in my status bar?
IRC does not have its own mail. However, if your client tells you
that you have new email, it simply means that you have received mail in
your account. Leave irc (either by suspending it or quitting it), and read
You might also see "You have new email." when you start irc. IRC
does not keep track of email between sessions, so when you start irc and
have something in your mailbox, irc will tell you you have new email.
The "[Mail: 5]" in your status bar tells you how many email
messages you have in your mailbox. Again, to access them, leave irc and
read them using your normal mail reader.
(20) I've just tried typing /list but it scrolls by so fast! How can I
slow it down to something more my pace?
The standard ircII client (for UNIX) has an option called "hold
mode". To activate it, type: /set hold_mode on -- then you will be able
to hit return after each screen's worth of data.
(21) I've done a /whois on myself and other people, but I notice that my
real name shows up in parentheses -- I don't like this! It doesn't
show up in other people's parentheses. How can I change it?
In UNIX, there are two way of changing your IRCNAME and it depends
on which shell you are using. If you are using csh or tcsh (the more
popular UNIX shells, when in doubt, try this first), type this before you
setenv IRCNAME "what you would like to appear"
If you don't want to type that every time you log in, put the line exactly
as it appears above into your .cshrc file.
If you are using sh, ksh, or bash, type this before you start irc:
IRCNAME="what you would like to appear";export IRCNAME
Or insert that line into your .profile
In VMS, you must put this line in your login.com file:
DEFINE IRCNAME "what you would like to appear"
(22) What is a netsplit? What does it mean when I see:
***Signoff NickName (*.bu.edu eff.org)?
Why does NickName keep signing off?
Netsplits are (unfortunately) a routine part of IRC life. What the above
message means that NickName, who you were on a channel with, was on a
different server from you. This server split off from the part of the net
you were on.
Note that netsplits are all from a point of view of the user. After a
netsplit rejoins people might say to you "where did you go?" -- because
from their perspective, *you* split off.
The only thing you can do during a netsplit is wait for the net to mend
itself. Changing your server during a netsplit is a Bad Idea, because you
are likely to get nickname collided. By changing servers, you may also be
contributing to the lag.
As long as you don't quit your client, any DCC chat or send will still
work, even during a netsplit (unless the netsplit is because of a specific
rare hardware problem).
(23) Where can I find GIF archives of IRC people?
GIF archives of IRC people are available:
ftp.funet.fi:/pub/pics/people/misc/irc -- log in as "pictures".
(24) Where can I learn more?
The best, basic, IRC user's manual is the IRC Primer,
available in plain text, PostScript, and LaTeX from
You can also join various IRC related mailing lists:
* "operlist" is a list that discusses current (and past) server code,
routing, and protocol. You can join by mailing
email@example.com with Subject: subscribe
* "ircd-three" is a list that exists to discuss protocol revisions
for the 3.0 release of the ircd (irc server), currently in
planning. To be added, mail firstname.lastname@example.org with
NOTE! These are not "Help me, where can I get started?" lists. For
that information, read the IRCprimer noted above.
Those looking for more technical information can get the IRC
RFC (rfc1459) available at all RFC ftp sites, as well as
(25) Where can I get an updated copy of this FAQ?
this FAQ is available from several sources:
The latest copy will always be posted to these two ftp sites.
You can also look at this FAQ on the web, at:
(26) What do I do if I'm still confused or have additions to this posting?
email email@example.com or ask for help (in #irchelp) on IRC.