An IRC quickstart guide

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Connect with editors, community moderators, and writers on Freenode IRC in the channel.

With the basic concepts of IRC under your belt, you're ready to dive in and get started with IRC. This guide will help minimize the learning curve and get you into the conversations as easily as possible. Once you get started you'll find that IRC can be a great place for learning, fun, and friendships.


Types of input

IRC accepts two basic types of input:

  1. Talking: Simply type & press enter to say something.
  2. Commands: All commands start with a /. Many accept or require arguments. For a full list of commands, run the /help command.

User modes

For the most part, everyone on an IRC channel is technically of the same status. Some people, however, have a higher status and have the ability to police the channel according to its culture and values. These people are called operators (aka "opers", aka "ops"). The operators on a channel have their nicks prefixed by an @ symbol.

Some channels are configured such that only certain people are allowed to speak in them. These people are said to be "voiced." Voiced people on a channel have their nicks prefixed by a + symbol.


Connecting to a network

Each client will have their own interface for doing this, but each one will need the same information:

  • Network hostname ( for Freenode, for instance)
  • Port (6697 is typical)
  • Nickname (of your choice)
  • NickServ password (optional, especially if you've not yet registered your nick)

Registering your nickname

Once connected to the server, send a message to the nickserv service:

/msg NickServ REGISTER password

Breaking down this example:

  • /msg: The command for sending a private message to a user, service, or bot
  • NickServ: The name of the NickServ service, to which you're sending a private message
  • REGISTER: The command you are sending to NickServ, telling it you're going to register the nick which you are currently using
  • password: The password you will use to verify your nick with NickServ. This password cannot be the same as your nick and must be at least five characters long
  • Your email address. This is never shown or handed out by staff. Its primary use is for retrieving your credentials in case you forget them.

Identifying yourself

If your nick is registered but you did not provide a NickServ password at connection time, you can identify yourself to NickServ:

/msg NickServ IDENTIFY nick nickserv_password


  • IDENTIFY: The command you are sending to NickServ, telling it you're about to verify your identity
  • nick: The nickname you have registered with NickServ
  • nickserv_password: The password you used to register your nick with NickServ

Joining (or creating) a channel

The /join command will either allow you to join a channel if it exists or will create an entirely new channel if no channel exists with the name you provided.

This command joins you to the channel on Freenode:


This command creates an entirely new channel:

/join ##wowzersIRCisReallyNeato

Leaving a channel

You can leave a channel by sending the /leave command while you are in that channel. Some clients may keep the channel in your channel listing but show it in an inactive state. Others may remove it from the list.

Disconnecting from IRC

Sending the /quit command in any channel will disconnect you from the IRC network.


Having a regular conversation

Normally there are no special commands necessary in order to speak in an IRC channel. Simply type what you'd like to say and then hit the Enter key.

There is a /say command which you can use to speak in an IRC channel, but it is not necessary in most situations. It can be handy when you're listing out commands for other people to reference:

— @vmbrasseur waves.
newircuser vmbrasseur: Ooh! How do you do that action thing?
@vmbrasseur /me followed by the action you want to do
— newIRCuser tries it out
newircuser Cool!

In the example above, the line /me followed by the action you want to do was typed:

/say /me followed by the action you want to do

"Performing Actions"

Aside from simply saying things in an IRC channel, you can present yourself as performing some sort of action. This is done with the /me command followed by the action you wish to perform:

/me learns how to use IRC shows in the channel as:

newIRCuser learns how to use IRC

Sending private messages (PMs)

Start a private message session by typing /msg or /query followed by the person's nick. Once the PM has started, it will appear in the listing just like channels do. You may speak as you normally would in a channel.

Listing the channels

The /list command will list all of the channels which currently exist on an IRC network. For some networks, this can return a very large result set, but some clients will allow you to filter and sort the results.

Changing your nick

The nick you register doesn't have to be your permanent nick. You may change it at any time using the /nick command:

/nick vmbrasseur_new 

The above command will change my IRC nick to be vmbrasseur_new on all channels. The new nick you choose must not be registered or used by someone else.

To change back to your normal nick, just use the /nick command again:

/nick vmbrasseur 

Marking yourself as away

Sometimes you need to step away from the keyboard for a bit. Rather than leaving IRC, you can mark yourself as away by using the /away command.

The /away command accept an optional argument which is a message letting people know more about why you're away or when you expect to return:

/away Storming the castle. BBL.

When you return, you can remove your away status by sending the /away command again.

Getting more information about other people

The /who and /whois commands, when followed by someone's nick, provide more information about that person. You can learn their real name, their IP address, whether they have an away status set, and which channels they are in.

Please note: People are not required to share this information when joining IRC. The data you can retrieve using /who and /whois is limited to what that person wishes be seen by others.


  • Always read the channel topic, all of the links contained in it, and follow its directions.
  • Lurk in a channel for a while before speaking. This will allow you to get a sense of the channel culture and mores.
  • Mentioning someone in a conversation will highlight/ping them. If you do this too often without good reason, you may bug the person you're pinging.
  • IRC is both real-time and asynchronous. Many people remain logged in even if they are away from their computer. Therefore, if you ask a question or ping someone, please be patient for a response. It may take them several hours (or longer) to come back online.
  • It's bad form to dump large amounts of text (such as logs or error messages) into the channel. Instead, use a pastebin, a gist, or some other method of linking to your long text.
  • If you have a question, simply ask it. There's no need to ask for permission to ask.
  • Sending a private message to someone without first asking for their permission is creepy.
  • It can be tempting to put a @ or another prefix before someone's name when pinging them (as for other chat systems), but this shouldn't be done on IRC.
  • Pinging someone without saying something after their name is called a "naked ping." These can really bug people, so use them sparingly (if at all).
  • Use complete sentences and fully spell out words rather than use txt-speak.
  • If you are going away but staying connected to the channel, use the /away command rather than changing your nick to reflect that you're away.
  • IRC supports colored text. It irritates most people. Please don't use it.

For more information

VM Brasseur profile photo
VM (aka Vicky) spent most of her 20 years in the tech industry leading software development departments and teams, and providing technical management and leadership consulting for small and medium businesses.

1 Comment

Great article for newbies like me! Thanks!

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