For readers of The Internet For Dummies,
here's information about how to use Internet Relay Chat, the original real-time Internet chat system.
If you'd like to read a book about online community, including how to participate in and
set up your own online chat channels on IRC, read Poor Richard's Building Online Communities (by us).
Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, is, in theory, a way for individuals around the world to have stimulating, fascinating, online discussions. In reality, IRC is more often a way for bored undergraduates to waste time. More than any other Internet service, IRC is what you make it. If you can find interesting people to have interesting discussions with, IRC is wonderful. If not, kiss your free time good-bye or stay away from IRC.
Like every other Internet service, IRC has client programs and server programs. The client is, as usual, the program you run on your local machine (or perhaps on your provider's system) that you type at directly. An IRC server resembles a large switchboard, receiving everything you type and sending your messages to other users and vice versa. What's more, all the different servers are in constant contact with each other. As a result, stuff you type at one server is relayed to the other servers so that the entire IRC world is one big, chatty family. In this chapter, we call the IRC client your IRC program because you don't run an IRC server program.
To add a degree of coherence, IRC conversations are organized into channels, with each channel dedicated to a single topic, at least in theory. Because any user can create a channel, you get some funky ones (not to mention downright dirty).
The Theory of ChattingYou can use lots of different client programs for IRC that run on lots of different kinds of computers. Fortunately, however, the steps to use the different client programs are practically identical:
Networks, Servers, and Other Things You Don't Want to Know aboutIf you're at a university or use a commercial Internet provider, a server is probably at or near your site. Users at The World, for example, a Boston Internet provider, use an IRC server The World provides. Use a local server, if available, because using a local server is the polite thing to do and because it probably will respond faster than a server farther away.
Networks of serversIRC servers are organized into networks of servers that talk to each other. Here's a list of the three biggest networks, in order of number of users, and their Web pages:
All EFnet IRC servers are connected to each other, all Undernet servers are connected, and all DALnet servers are connected. All the folks on EFnet can talk to each other regardless of which EFnet server they connect to. Servers on one IRC network don't connect to servers on other networks. Someone on EFnet can't talk to someone on Undernet, for example. When you choose a network, you choose the universe of people you'll be hanging out with on IRC. After you have spent some time on IRC, you probably will develop a preference for one network -- the one where your friends hang out.
Lots of smaller IRC networks exist. Here are some, with the addresses of Web pages that have more information about them:
For a directory of chat channels (although far from complete), try Liszt's IRC Chat Directory. More IRC-related web pages are listed on the Poor Richard's Building Online Communities Resources Page.
Choosing your serverWhich server should you use? If your Internet provider runs an IRC server, use it. If you're sure that no local server is available, you can try one of the IRC servers in our Internet Gurus Central List of IRC Servers. Use the server closest to you. Because servers come and go frequently, be sure to consult the Usenet group alt.irc for more complete and up-to-date lists. When you connect to an IRC server, you specify the port, which is a number. Unless it's specified otherwise, use port 6667 on any IRC servers. (You see in a minute where to tell your IRC program which port to use.)
What if you can't get in?Frequently (most of the time, some days), when you try to connect to a server, you can't get in. Instead, you see an error message, such as "No Authorization" or "You have been K-lined." These messages mean that the IRC server is full or that too many people from your particular Internet provider are connected now or have been connecting frequently in the past. When this happens, just try another server.
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