TOURBUS: Tuesday, August 13, 1996
DRIVER: Bob Rankin
Internet Relay Chat

Remember the first time you sent e-mail to someone halfway around the world, and got a reply in less than a minute? If you thought that was cool, then Internet Relay Chat (IRC) will knock your socks off!

Today's Bus will be a quick tour through the world of IRC, and is condensed from Chapter 12 of my new book "Dr. Bob's Painless Guide To The Internet". (See the end of this posting for more info on the book.)

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If you've ever ventured into a chat room on commercial services such as America Online or CompuServe, you have an idea what IRC is like. IRC can be compared to using a CB radio - you tune in to a specific chat channel, give yourself a handle (nickname), and participate in a live conversation with one or more people by typing messages back and forth. Anyone connected to the same channel can read your messages.

Firing Up IRC

To use IRC you need an IRC client (software) that connects you to an IRC server (a remote computer that plays host to the chat). If you have a Unix shell account, you can start IRC and assign yourself a handle by typing a command like this at your Shell prompt.

irc ChatterBox

If the default IRC server is busy, you can specify an alternate one by typing

irc ChatterBox

where is one of these server names:
If you have a graphical (SLIP/PPP) account, look for an icon labeled mIRC, wsIRC, Homer, ircle, or simply IRC, and click on it to start IRC. If you can't find an IRC client on your computer, you can download one via anonymous FTP from Look in the /irc/clients directory for both Windows and Macintosh software for IRC. (From your browser, that address would be

Commercial online services may allow you to access IRC, in addition to their own private chat services. Check your serviceOs Internet area to find out if you can participate in IRC. You may have a little difficulty connecting to IRC - it sometimes takes a minute or so, and occasionally you won't be able to connect at all because the server is too busy. Try another server if you have problems connecting.

Basic IRC Commands

IRC commands are the same whether you have a Shell or a SLIP/PPP account. Graphical IRC software is much easier to use than a Shell account, though, because it uses multiple windows to display channel listings, command output, and dialog. Let's look at some of the basics of Internet chatting.

What Channels Are Available?

If you're new to IRC, the first thing you'll need is a list of available IRC channels on your server. To find out what's available, send one of these commands (after entering IRC):

  /LIST MIN=10        List channels with at least 10 participants
  /LIST #XYZ          List channels with "xyz" in the name
Avoid using the /LIST command with no keywords because you may get a huge list - sometimes there are thousands of active channels! (Note: The "#" is always the first character of an IRC channel name.)

Joining or Leaving a Channel

Send the /JOIN #FLYINGCOWS command to connect to a channel (use an actual channel name from your /LIST output in place of FLYINGCOWS). Don't be surprised if someone greets you right away - it's a pretty common occurrence. To leave a channel that you've joined, type /PART #FLYINGCOWS or exit IRC completely with the /QUIT command.

Sending and Receiving Messages

To participate in an IRC chat, type your message on the command line and press Enter (don't use a slash). Your message will appear on the screen, along with a stream of messages from others in the channel. You'll also see informational messages when people join or leave a channel.

Who Else Is on the Channel?

To get a list of users on a channel, use the /WHO command as in /WHO #FLYINGCOWS. In response you'll get the handle, e-mail address, and IRC name of the other users. If you want to get more information on a user with a particular handle, use the /WHOIS command as in /WHOIS DOPEY.

Be aware that the IRC name is not always the real name of the person. Most IRC clients allow you to use whatever you want for the IRC name and some even let you enter a bogus e-mail address! In IRC, you can never be certain that anyone is really who they claim to be.

Operators and Bots

An OPerator (or OP for short) is a person who owns or moderates an IRC channel. OPerators can expel or ban trouble-makers, set the topic for a channel, and grant OPerator status to other users. Most channels have an OPerator, identified by an @ symbol next to their handle.

Unlike OPerators, bots (software robots) look like normal users but they're not. They are programs that can both keep order and raise havoc on IRC channels. Some bots look for offensive language and expel users who don't play by the rules. Others are just annoying, and some malicious bots even flood channels with streams of meaningless nonsense. Most IRC servers (especially in the U.S.) do not allow bots.

More IRC Commands

Here are some additional IRC commands you may find useful:

  /HELP                    Get help with IRC commands
  /NICK                    Change your handle
  /AWAY                    Tell others you're away
For a closer look at IRC commands and how to use them, read the IRC Primer at on the Web.

Some warnings about chat services

- Chat systems are real time sponges-they'll suck up all your time if you aren't careful!

- Don't answer any questions that make you uncomfortable, and think hard before giving out personal information to strangers. Just sign off if you feel threatened or intimidated.

- Don't hesitate to summon an operator if you are harrassed. Operators can expel or permanently ban chat users who don't play by the rules.

Start Here

Here are some addresses for several Web pages which list IRC channels and MUDs that you can use to start your journey into the realm of online chat.

Jeff's Awesome Chat Index

Yahoo! IRC Links

WorldVillage Chat (Family-Safe)

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Sorry this TOURBUS is a little longer than most... I guess I was feeling well, sort of chatty. ;-) See you next time! -Bob

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