This document is a quick and dirty introduction to using the Unix IRC client xchat to participate in real-time on-line discussions. This document does not begin to describe every detail of IRC. The intent of this document is to make it as easy as possible for first time IRC users to get on board with the software.

IRC stands for "Internet Relay Chat." It allows people to come together in a virtual space, called a "channel," where they can all talk to each other. An IRC channel is like a room. Talking on a channel is like talking at a party where everyone else in the room can hear you. Unlike email, IRC conversations occur in real time. As soon as you type a line of text it is immediately sent to the other people on that channel. Furthermore, you will see their reply as soon as they type it as well. In this respect IRC is similar to instant messaging systems that you may already use.

You use a special IRC client program to connect to an IRC server. Normally the IRC servers are interconnected in a large network. The servers keep themselves synchronized so that all the servers in the network have the same channels and are carrying the same conversations.

It is possible to set up a dedicated, in-house IRC server for use by a small organization such as VTC. In the future we may do that. For now, however, we will "borrow" the resources of the Libera IRC network. This network is dedicated to open source software development and thus has many channels related to programming, programming languages, and various open source software systems.

How to use IRC

There are some very nice IRC clients for Windows and other systems. If you wish to download and install one of these clients, feel free to do so. This document assumes you are using xchat, a popular IRC client for Unix-like systems such as Linux.

  1. To start xchat, click on its icon or execute the xchat command in a terminal window. You may have to install the xchat package before the program will be available. Upon start-up xchat prompts you for a nickname and some other information (including the name of the IRC network to which you want to attach). Use a nickname that identifies you so that others will know who you are.

    Libera uses registered nicknames. If you are using a nickname that has been registered, the Libera server will ask you for the password. You should use an unregistered nickname, or register the nickname you want to use so that nobody else can register it.

  2. The xchat program initially divides the window into three areas. Most of the window is dedicated to the text of the conversation. The bottom of the window is where you enter your commands. On the left side of the window is a list of the channels you are currently using.

  3. After you start the xchat, you need to join a channel. Normal channel names always start with a '#' character. Commands always start with a '/' character. For example, to join the cis-3152 channel, type this:

            /join #general
  4. To talk on the channel, just type. Each time you hit ENTER the line you typed will be broadcast on the channel. You can see what other people are saying by looking at the conversation window. It will scroll as necessary. Each line that appears in the conversation window is prefixed by the name of the person who said it.

  5. You can change your nickname by using the command:

            /nick newname

    I usually go by the nickname of "pcc" when I'm on IRC. It's not very glamorous but it is familiar. Note that the server won't let two people have the same nickname.

  6. When you are done using IRC, just type the /part command to leave the channel, and then you can disconnect from the server using xchat's menus..

There are many, many more commands and features to IRC. Type /help for a list. This short document does not even begin to cover all there is to know. However, it should give you enough information to get on the system and talk with others who are there.

© Copyright 2019 by Peter C. Chapin.
Last Revised: 2019-07-10