Internet Gurus Guide to Internet Relay Chat: Using IRC

Table of contents

Hey, Aren't We Ever Going to Do Some Chatting?

Oh, all right, we stalled as long as we could. After you have joined a channel, everything that people on the channel type appears in the window. Whenever someone joins or leaves a channel, a message is sent to all remaining participants; when you join a channel, everyone else immediately knows that you're a participant. Stuff that people type is preceded by their nickname, as shown in this example:

<JoeBlow> But what do you do with the woodchucks after you catch them?

mIRC displays a list of people in the channel on the right side of the channel's window so that you can tell whom you're up against.

Can I say something?

When you want to say something, make sure that your cursor is blinking in the box at the bottom of the channel window (click in the box if it's not). Then type your message and press Enter.
Warning! As is so often the case on the Internet, naive users can easily make fools of themselves. When you join a channel, lurk for a while. Don't immediately begin typing -- wait to see the tenor of the conversation. Then type away. If you find that you like IRC, you may stay up all night and well into the next day after you have joined the conversation.

Staying out of trouble

Here are some rules of IRC netiquette:

  • When you join a channel, listen for a few minutes until you pick up the thread of the conversation (or conversations). Don't immediately start saying "Hello!" to everyone.
  • Don't use all capital letters; it's similar to shouting.
  • Speak (type) the language that's appropriate for the channel and on the topic the channel is about (if any).
  • Don't send inane messages, such as "Does anyone want to talk?" If you want people to talk to you, say something interesting. It doesn't have to be exactly erudite -- "What about those Mets!" or "Cold enough for you?" should do. "I'd like to talk about movies" or "Anybody like cooking?" would be good, too.
  • If you have something to say to someone that isn't of general interest to the group, send it privately (see the section "Can we have a little privacy?" later in this chapter).
  • Don't flood (send lots of messages real fast so no one else can get a word in edgewise).

Tip: Some people have a @ at the beginning of their nickname. These are channel operators, or chanops, or ops. Be nice to them: Channel operators can kick you off the channel if you don't behave.

Commanding IRC

In addition to the buttons in mIRC, you can type commands. Commands start with a /, and you type them in the same box at the bottom of a channel window where you type messages for the channel. Rather than use the Channels folder or List channels buttons, for example, you can join a channel by using the /join command, like this:

/join #dummies

(This example assumes that you want to join the #dummies channel.) You can change your nickname using the /nick command, like this:

/nick MegsMom

This command changes your nickname to MegsMom.

To get more information about the people in a channel, use the /who command, like this:

/who #dummies

The Status window (not the channel window, for some reason) shows the result of the /who command, with one line per person. The line for you includes the name and e-mail address you typed when you set up mIRC.

Who's out there?

To find out more about someone, type

/whois nickname

You type the person's nickname, not the word nickname. The result appears in the Status window and includes the person's e-mail address, the channel (or channels) the person is on, and which IRC server you're connected to. After you know the person's e-mail address, you can finger that person (that is, ask the person's Internet provider for personal info) by clicking the Finger an address button on the toolbar (the tenth button from the left, with a hand on it), choosing ToolsFinger from the menu, or pressing Alt+G. You see in the Status window whatever information is available, which can include the person's name and other information.

Warning! Be sure to use the /whois and ToolsFinger commands to see what other IRCers can find out about you. Some Internet providers include your home phone number and other personal information in their finger information. Work or school accounts may include your department, dorm, or other personal information. If you meet some creep on IRC, you may not want him or her to be able to call you!

Take some action

You can send messages that describe what you're doing or what you want the folks in your channel to think that you were doing. You use the /me command, like this:

/me smiles slyly

The line appears like this (assuming that your nickname is ZacsMom):

* ZacsMom smiles slyly

Can we have a little privacy?

IRC lets you send messages directly to individuals and to channels. To send a message to an individual, assuming that you know her nickname, you type this command:

/msg nickname your personal message here.

A message to Johnny, for example, looks like this:

/msg johnny Can you believe how dumb that guy is?!!!

You can also converse privately with someone. When you type /query followed by the nickname of someone in your channel, the subsequent lines you type are sent to only that person. If someone uses a /query command with your nickname, mIRC opens a new window for your private conversation with the person. When you type /query with no nickname (or close the window), you're back to normal, sending lines to your current channel.

Warning! Your private conversation can be routed through a dozen IRC servers, and the operators of any of these servers can log all your messages. Don't say anything that has to be really private.

A more private (privater?) way to converse is via DCC -- Direct Client Connections. You don't have to be on the same channel as the person you want to talk to; you just have to know the person's nickname. You type this line (assuming that you want to talk to Freddie):

/dcc chat freddie

When someone tries to start a DCC chat with you, mIRC asks whether you want to chat with the other person. If you click Yes, mIRC opens a window for the discussion. Your DCC chat window is just like a minichannel with only two people in it.

Warning! You can also use DCC commands to send files to other people. For example, you could send a picture of yourself to a person you have just met. If someone offers to send you a file, however, we suggest declining unless you know the person. Unsolicited files tend to be unbelievably rude and disgusting.

Enough, Already!

You can leave a channel you tire of by typing /leave or closing the channel's window in the usual Windows manner (by clicking its Close button in Windows 95 or by double-clicking its upper left corner in Windows 3.1). Then you can join another channel or exit. To exit, choose FileExit from the menu.
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