Introduction to IRCIntroduction to IRC
What is IRC ?
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is one of the most popular and most interactive services on the Internet. When you've been wondering 'where the others are?', then IRC is what you're looking for. IRC allows real-time conversations with people from the whole planet, 24-hours a day, worldwide.
How does it work ?
IRC consists of various separate networks (or "nets") of IRC servers: machines that allow users to connect to IRC. The largest nets are EFnet (the original IRC net, often having more than 32,000 people at once), Undernet, IRCnet, DALnet, and NewNet. Generally, the user (such as you) runs a program (called "irc client") to connect to a server on one of the IRC nets. The server will relay the informations between you and the "rest" of the network (obviously including the other irc users). Each user is known on IRC by a nickname (or "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. Some networks allow the registration of nicknames: once you have registered a nickname noone else will be able to use it. Once connected to an IRC server on an IRC network, you will usually join one or more channels and converse with other irc users. On EFnet, there often are more than 12,000 channels, each one devoted to a different topic.
Channel names usually begin with a #, as in #irchelp. 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. Each channel can be joined by a "virtually" unlimited number of users and every word spoken "to the channel" is seen by all the users that have joined it. Each channel has a topic that usually describes the ideas being exchanged between users in that moment. It is a good idea to take a look at the topic before starting to talk "randomly" :). 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. Some IRC networks have a richer hierarchy of channel users and you may find half-operators, channel administrators or channel owners.
Just a bit of IRC Etiquette...
You'll find all kinds of people on IRC. Some nice, and some not so nice. Simply behave as you would in the real world. Most people will be friendly and considerate, if you are as well. When you join a channel, say hello. Don't expect to get hello's back from everyone, especially when there are lots of people on the channel. If you've never visited the channel before and have no idea what to expect, just sit back and watch for awhile to get a feel for the flow of the channel (thats called "lurking").
Finding more info
The web is full of informations about IRC: it's just a matter of typing "IRC" in a search engine. An user-friendly site to start from might be www.irchelp.org: you will find a huge list of documents and links that will hopefully answer to all your questions. You may also give a short read to the introduction to kvirc which will give you an idea of what an IRC client is.
Have fun :)