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Frequently Asked Questions about IRC

  • What is IRC, and how does it work?
  • Some details
  • Talking, and basic commands
  • Some smileys and jargon
  • Some advice
  • IRC server problems, and choosing a server
  • Why can't I send files with DCC?
  • How can I change the name that appears when I type /whois?
  • What does a + next to someone's name mean?
  • How can I be a channel op?
  • I'm being nuked! What can I do to stop it?
  • And how can I nuke them back?
  • I need an IRC Cop! Where can I find one?
  • Okay, smarty pants. Where can I find an IRC operator?
  • How can I avoid being sent those awful adverts?

    1. What is IRC, and how does it work?
    IRC (Internet Relay Chat) provides a way of communicating in real time with people from all over the world. It consists of various separate networks (or "nets") of IRC servers, machines that allow users to connect to IRC. Generally, the user (such as you) runs a program (called a "client") to connect to a server on one of the IRC nets. The server relays information to and from other servers on the same net. Recommended clients:

    Be sure to read the documentation for your client!

    Once connected to an IRC server on an IRC network, you will usually join one or more "channels" and converse with others there. Conversations may be public (where everyone in a channel can see what you type) or private (messages between only two people, who may or may not be on the same channel). IRC is not a "game", and I highly recommend you treat people you meet on IRC with the same courtesy as if you were talking in person or on the phone, or there may be serious consequences.

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    2. Some details
    Channel names usually begin with a #, as in #mychannel . The same channels are shared among all IRC servers on the same net, so you do not have to be on the same IRC server as your friends. (There are also channels with names beginning with a & instead of a #. These channels are not shared by all servers on the net but exist locally on that server only.)

    Each user is known on IRC by a "nick", such as smartgal or FunGuy. To avoid conflicts with other users, it is best to use a nick that is not too common, e.g., "john" is a poor choice.
    Channels are run by channel operators, or just "ops" for short, who can control the channel by choosing who may join (by "banning" some users), who must leave (by "kicking" them out), and even who may speak (by making the channel "moderated")! Channel ops have complete control over their channel, and their decisions are final. If you are banned from a channel, send a /msg to a channel op and ask nicely to be let in (see the /who command in the next section to learn how to find ops). If they ignore you or /who gives no response because the channel is in secret mode (+s), just go somewhere else where you are more welcome.

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    3. Talking, and entering commands
    Commands and text are typed in the same place. By default, commands begin with the character / . If you have a graphical client such as mIRC for Windows, many commands can be executed by clicking on icons with the mouse pointer. It is, however, highly recommended that you learn to type in the basic IRC commands first. When entering commands, pay close attention to spacing and capitalization. The basic commands work on all the good clients.

    Some examples are given below. In these, suppose your nick is "yournick", and that you are on the channel #coolness.

    Your friend "MaryN" is in #coolness with you, and your friend "Tomm" is on IRC but is not on a channel with you. You can apply these examples in general by substituting the relevant nick or channel names.

    What you type
    What happens

    /join #coolness
    You join the channel #coolness.

    /who #coolness
    Gives some info on users in the channel.
    @ = channel op, while * means IRC op.

    hello everyone
    Everyone on #coolness sees <yournick> hello everyone. (You need not type in your own nick.)

    /me is a pink bunny
    Everyone in #coolness sees * yournick is a pink bunny

    /leave #coolness
    You leave the channel.

    /whois Tomm
    You get some info about Tomm or whatever nickname you entered.

    /whois yournick
    This is some info others see about you.

    /nick newnick
    Changes your nick to "newnick"

    /msg Tomm hi there.
    Only Tomm sees your message (you don't need to be on the same channel for this to work).

    /ping #coolness
    Gives information on the delay (round-trip) between you and everybody on #coolness.

    /ping Tomm
    Gives information on the delay (round-trip) between you and just Tomm.

    /dcc chat MaryN
    This sends MaryN a request for a dcc chat session. MaryN types /dcc chat yournick to complete the connection. DCC chat is faster (lag free) and more secure than /msg.

    /msg =MaryN Hi there!
    Once a DCC connection has been established, use the /msg =nick message format to exchange messages (note the = sign). DCC does not go through servers, so it are unaffected by server lag, net splits, etc.

    This works in many clients. Try it!

    /quit good night!
    You quit IRC completely, with the parting comment so that others see "*** Signoff: yournick (good night!)".

    NOTE: When you are not in a named channel, lines not beginning with a / have no effect, and many commands work differently or fail to work altogether.

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    4. Some smileys and jargon
    :-) is a smiley face, tilt your head to the left to see it. Likewise, :-( is a frown. ;-) is a wink. :~~( is crying, while :-P is someone sticking their tongue out. :-P ~~ is drooling. (-: a lefty's smile, etc. There are hundreds of these faces.

    Here are some common acronyms used in IRC:

    brb =  be right back                     bbiaf = be back in a flash
    bbl =  be back later                     ttfn = ta ta for now
    np  =  no problem                        imho = in my humble opinion
    lol =  laughing out loud                 j/k = just kidding
    re  =  hi again, as in 're hi'           wb = welcome back
    wtf =  what the f--k                     rtfm = read the f--king manual
    rotfl = rolling on the floor laughing

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    5. Some advice
    Typing in all caps, LIKE THIS, is considered "shouting" and should be avoided. Likewise, do not repeat yourself or otherwise "flood" the channel with many lines of text at once. Be sure to use correct terminology, e.g., "channel", not "chat room", and "nick", not "handle".

    While in a channel, follow the lead of the channel ops there. If you antagonize them, you may be "kicked" off the channel forcibly and possibly "banned" from returning. On the other hand, some channel ops are power-hungry and may kick or ban for no good reason. If this happens, or if someone on a channel is bothering you, simply leave the channel -- there are thousands of others.

    Harassment and attacks
    If someone starts harassing or flooding you, leave the channel or use the /ignore command. It is a good idea to set your user mode to +i (invisible) to avoid unsolicited messages and harassment -- if you are "invisible" generally only users on a channel with you can determine what nick you are using.

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    6. IRC server problems, and choosing a server
    At this point, you are ready to "chat" on IRC. For the most part, the commands above should suffice for beginners, but things can go wrong in IRC.

    Net splits
    Networks can become divided (called a "net split"), thus separating you from users you had been speaking with. These splits are often relatively short, though common some days.

    A more frequent problem is "lag", where there is a noticeable delay between the time you type something in and someone else reads it. Choosing a server near you is one way to try to lessen lag. Lag can be measured by using the /ping command (see the commands section above). Once you find a better server, the command for changing servers is /server

    Server Lists
    On most clients, typing /links gives a list of servers on your current net. Use this command sparingly, no more than a couple times in a row, or you may mistaken for a "link looking" troublemaker.

    Ping? Pong!
    mIRC users: Ping? Pong! in the status window just means your server pinged you to make sure you were still connected, and your client automatically replied with a pong. Don't worry about these.

    Reminder about DCC chat
    The /dcc chat command can be used to establish a one-on-one connection that avoids lag and will not be broken by a net split! Check your docs for usage info. In most clients, you can set up a DCC chat connection by both typing /dcc chat nick_of_other_person. To talk through that connection, type /msg =nick whatever (note the = sign). In mIRC, you can also start a DCC chat session by selecting DCC and then Chat from the menu and then entering the nick of the user with whom you wish to chat. A window opens for that dcc chat session.

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    7. Why can't I send files with DCC?

    This is a common problem with mIRC. Providing you've checked that you're not behind some bitchy firewall, the following steps should solve that problem:
    Disconnect from IRC
    Go to File|setup|local info
    Delete the contents of the IP address and Local info fields
    Check "Always get local host" and "Server"
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    8. How can I change the name that appears when I type /whois?

    If you're running a client on your own machine, edit it in your setup. Don't be lazy, look for it. If you're using a client on a Unix machine run by someone else, do the following from the command line:
    echo $SHELL
    Depending on the reply,
    • If the reply is csh or tcsh, do this:
      setenv IRCNAME "whatever"
    • If the reply is ksh, bash, sh or zsh, this should work:
      IRCNAME="whatever";export IRCNAME
    • If it's any other type of shell, you're on your own.
    • Add the appropriate line to your login file (usually .cshrc for csh/tcsh and .profile for bash/ksh) to make the change permanent and re-login.
    • Don't ignore the quotes and capitalization. They're there for a reason.
    • If you still haven't understood, get a Unix manual.
    • For VMS, add the following line to your file:
      DEFINE IRCNAME "what you would like to appear"
    If you're on some sort of BBS and don't have access to a command line interface, talk to your sysadmin/sysop.
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    9. What does a + next to someone's name mean?

    It means absolutely nothing if the channel isn't moderated (doesn't have channel mode +m active). If the channel is moderated, a non-op who's been given a +v (voice) may also send to the channel like its ops do, while users lacking it may not. On some channels, it's used as a sign of recognition for regulars who aren't ops but are trusted. It's also used as a joke, to make you ask this question.
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    10. How can I be a channel op?

    There are two ways of obtaining channel operator status (ops) on a channel. The first is to join it while it's empty, in which case you, being the first user to join, will automatically be made its operator. However, if the channel is already occupied, you will have to be given ops by a user who already is an op.
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    11. I'm being nuked! what can I do to stop it?

    This problem is usually encountered by users running some form of Windows, since Windows machines tend to be much more vulnerable to nukes than other operating systems. Patch your machine, using the information provided on our Download files page. Taking it a bit further, you could complain to Microsoft for selling you broken software. If you're using Linux and appear to be affected by nukes, check LinuxHQ. If you're using a Mac... aw heck, who uses them anyway? Besides, they're largely immune to nukes. If your "nuke" is an ICMP flood, contact the ISP of the address where it originated, possibly asking your own ISP to cooperate too.
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    12. And how can I nuke them back?

    Under US law, "nukes" are punishable with a nice fine and a jail sentence. Similar laws exist in other parts of the world. Besides, do you really expect a nuker to let his machine be vulnerable to the attacks he uses? If you consider a nuke to be an appropriate response, you really should get out of the house more often or see a therapist (or both).
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    13. I need an IRC Cop! Where can I find one?

    Dial 911-IRCD and listen to the recorded message saying there is no such thing. You're probably looking for an IRC operator.
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    14. Okay, smarty pants, where can I find an IRC operator?

    You probably don't need one anyway. If you're looking for someone to retrieve your nickname or channel from someone, an IRC operator will not intervene. What's more, if that's the case, you've ignored the rest of this FAQ, since the subject was covered in question #10. Each server has its own set of IRC operators. If your problem involves a particular server, calling upon any old oper just won't do the job - it will have to be dealt with by someone who has operator privileges on that server. If you're absolutely convinced that an IRC operator can solve your problem, use /stats p <> or /trace <server>. They generally hate being bugged about trivia they can do nothing about. The right thing to do is type /admin <server> and mail your woes to the address it returns. For a complaint regarding a particular client, you can also use /admin <nickname>. Email will probably elicit a faster response too even if your problem is something the server admin can do nothing about.
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    15. How can I avoid being sent those awful pornography adverts?

    Set your user mode to +i (invisible). This will make you invisible to the WHO and NAMES commands which those bots use. You'll still be stuck with them hopping in and out of every public channel they can find. As far as getting rid of them altogether is concerned, the network's operators are doing their damndest, but the spammers appear to have an endless supply of hosts which they can use.
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