Internet Gurus Guide to Internet Relay Chat: Programs

Table of contents

Getting a Chat Program -- mIRC

To participate in IRC, you need an IRC program (or, more properly, an IRC client program). For Windows users, we recommend mIRC; for Mac users, we suggest Ircle. These and other fine IRC programs are available from TUCOWS ( mIRC and Ircle aren't the only IRC programs available, but we like them because they are A.) easy to use B.) fairly reliable C.) cheap. (You can imagine which of these factors was our most compelling reason.)

If you use America Online or CompuServe, you can use mIRC or Ircle to use IRC. AOL and CompuServe don't provide IRC directly, but because you can use any Winsock or MacTCP programs with recent versions of the AOL and CompuServe software, mIRC and Ircle work fine.

In the rest of this article, we describe how to use IRC with the mIRC program; Ircle works similarly enough that you Mac users will get the idea.

Setting up mIRC

If you have just installed mIRC, you have to tell it a few things about you (although the figures in this chapter show mIRC running under Windows 95, mIRC works the same way using other versions of Windows).

Start mIRC. Before you can do anything else on IRC, you have a chance to admire a picture of the program's author, Khaled Mardam-Bey. When you have done so, click anywhere in the window (except on one of its buttons) to make the window go away. You see the mIRC Setup dialog box. This dialog box lets you choose to which IRC server you want to connect as well as tell mIRC who you are.

In the Real Name box, type your actual name. You can use a pseudonym. In the E-Mail box, type your e-mail address. Again, if you want to remain anonymous, leave this box blank. In the Nick Name and Alternate boxes, type nicknames by which you will be identified to all other IRC users. All IRC nicknames must be different from each other, so try a peculiar variation on your name or a fanciful name. mIRC tries to use the name you enter in the Nick Name box; if that nickname is already taken, however, it tries the one you enter in the Alternate box.

Warning! Don't use your username (the first part of your e-mail address) if you want to remain anonymous. IRCers can tell which Internet provider you're using and if your nickname is the same as your username, they can figure out your e-mail address.

Now mIRC knows who you are (or who you want to pretend to be). Click OK. The mIRC Setup dialog box disappears.

Connecting to an IRC server

You're ready to try connecting to a server. Click the Setup information button on the toolbar (the third button from the left, with a yellow folder on it). Or choose FileSetup or press Alt+E. You see the mIRC Setup dialog box again.

Click a server on the list of servers. Choose a server on the network you want to try, and select one that's geographically near you. Then click the Connect! button.

If everything works okay, welcoming messages from your server appear in the Status window within the mIRC window (usually with threats about all the naughty things that will get you kicked off). If you get an error message, go back to the first step and try another server.

After you're connected to a server, mIRC wants to know which channel you want to join.

Tip; Don't worry if you see Ping? Pong! in the Status window. This message just means that your IRC server checked that you were still there, and mIRC responded.

If the server you want to connect to doesn't appear on the mIRC Setup window's server list, you can click the Add button and fill in the information about the server: Type a description or name in the Description box, the address of the server in the IRC Server box, and the port (usually 6667) in the Port box.

What Channels Are On?

IRC discussions are organized (if you can call it that) into channels. Each channel has a name that begins with a sharp sign (#). We occasionally have a channel called #dummies, for example, for readers of the Internet For Dummies books. Some channels exist all the time, and others are around only at particular times. The big three networks of servers (EFnet, DALnet, and Undernet) have thousands of channels at any given moment.

Some channels have friendly conversations, some are specifically for new IRCers to ask questions, some are about kinky sex (would we kid you about a thing like that?), and some contain one bored, lonely person waiting for someone to take pity on him (yes, it's usually a him.) Choosing the right channel is the key to your IRC experience. When you connect to a server with mIRC, the program displays a list of channel names. This is not the list of all available channels, which is really long. Instead, it's the list of the channels the program's author recommends for new IRC users.

Joining a channel

To join a channel, connect to an IRC server if you haven't already done so. If you don't see the mIRC Channels Folder, click the Channels folder button on the toolbar (the fifth button from the left).

If the channel you want to join appears on the list, click it. Otherwise, type the channel name in the box at the top of the mIRC Channels Folder window. If you have never done this, try the #irchelp,

A window appears for the channel. The window has three parts: a list of people in the channel (the rightmost column), the box in which you type what you want to say (the bottommost line), and the conversation occurring in that channel (the rest of the window).

Way too many channels

To find out which channels are available, click the List channels button on the toolbar (the sixth one from the left, which has a globe and a list, or something). The List Channels dialog box appears. To avoid having to download and wade through a huge list of thousands of channels, you can specify what kind of channels you want.

In the min box, type 3 (or more), to avoid channels with only one or two people. You want a channel with a lively conversation going. You can use the other boxes in this dialog box to specify part of the channel name (such as channel names that include cats) or to avoid channels with certain text in their names (such as channel names that include sex or hot). Click the Get List! button.

A window appears, and the list of channels begins to appear. On a busy day, the list can take several minutes to arrive. mIRC sorts the channels alphabetically and shows the name, number of people in it, and description.

After you have displayed the list of channels, you can scroll up and down the list. To join a channel, double-click it.

Choosing a channel

Choosing the right channel can make the difference between a boring or offensive IRC experience and a good one. Which channels are good depends on which network of servers you use (EFnet, DALnet, Undernet, or another network). On all networks, try these channels:

  • #newbies and #new2irc for getting started (DALnet has #DALnetHelp and #HelpDesk)
  • #hottub and #chat for general hanging around
  • #mirc, #new2mirc, or #mirchelp for getting help with mIRC
  • #ircle for help with the Mac Ircle IRC program

You can also take a look for channels designed for folks in your age range, with names such as #teen, #21+, and #34_to_45. If you speak (type) a language other than English, try one of the many non-English channels out there -- #espagnol, #francais, #brasil, #polska, and #42 (Finnish), for a start. IRC is a great way to practice that French you haven't spoken since high school.

Many channels have Web pages containing rules for the channel, information about people who frequent the channel, and suggested topics. For lists of Web pages about IRC channels, go to Yahoo (, click Computers and Internet, then Internet, then Chatting, and then IRC. You can click Channels (for miscellaneous channels). For EFnet channels, click EFnet and then Channels; for Undernet, click Undernet and then Channels; for DALnet channels, click DALnet and then Channels.

Warning! Channels that contain the word warez (such as softwarez -- get it?) concentrate on illegally exchanging copyrighted software programs. We don't recommend them. (Hint: If you can find those channels, the software vendors' security departments can too.)
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