IRC is not dead

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How many of you remember the Altavista search engine? Netscape? mIRC? if your answer is no, you are probable too young to know about them, but if you remember any of those, you lived in the 90's when there was no Facebook or Twitter, and people communicated with each other on ways that you may now think are geeky or weird. It all began with BBC, and quickly moved to a new protocol called IRC where people exchanged ideas, sent messages to others and even shared their music and files through those networks. Those were the good old days of file transfers without torrents or Napster. Nostalgic? I know, me too.

Let’s begin with a brief history of IRC

IRC was invented by Jarkko Oikarinen in 1988 with the idea of having a live interactive Internet text messaging service (or what we now know as "chat"), better than the then popular BBC system. In those days it wasn't easy to communicate with others, and the internet was getting increasingly popular. In fact, IRC helped to popularize the notion of the internet as a platform for communication, and it was the first instant messaging service devoted to meet new people.

Nowadays, IRC is just a shadow of what it was, but since the style of the 80's is coming back these days, IRC is becoming increasingly popular, particularly among developers (who else would want to use it, right?). Lately, I've been using channels like #rails, #ruby or #javascript to look for help and guidance. I think that talking to other human beings with the same interests is very cool. And everyone seems to be always willing to help in these channels. You might be wondering now about how all of this works and what else can it offer, so let me explain a bit more

How it is structured

Well , the structure of IRC is really simple, you have to connect to a IRC Server (like undernet of freenode), and there are slots called channels or rooms that people join to interact with other users. Inside those channels we can find different user categories, such as owners or administrators (called OPs). Administrators can ban other users. Now, thanks to Github and Hubot, IRC is even more fun.

Why should I care?

The most important benefit you can get from IRC channels is the help of other developers with more experience than you. Sometimes you can even talk to the creator of the plugin or gem you use. IRC channels can help us in situations when we are in urgent need of information, such as the times when the information in the documentation is out of date, or when we have no documentation at all. When in a situation like that, you would probably go directly to the source code to get a better idea of what the plugin/gem does and can do, and that is the best moment to go to an IRC channel and look for help.

The IRC community is very friendly, imagine what you can learn in channels like:


These are just a few examples, but the list grows everyday, because more and more people are choosing IRC as their primary tool for communication with each other, don’t miss the chance of joining them.

So, if you are interested, this is all you need to begin

First you need a client. There are many different options to choose from. If you are using a Mac I recommend LimeChat, because it's simple, elegant and does exactly what you need it to do, without complications. If you have Windows, try mIRC, or if you have Linux I recommend Pidgin.

After you install the client, you will need to connect to a server, like Freenode

LimeChat server list

Then go and find interesting channels. Once you know the channel's name add it to the channel list before joining in.

LimeChat Interfaz

Now you can start chatting and meeting people like crazy. Don't forget these basic commands, they will make your life easier:

/who <nick> – Gets more information about someone in a channel.
/list – Returns a list of all channels available on a network.
/join – Joins a channel
/msg –  Sends private messages to another person
/invite – Invites an user to another channel for a chat.
/away – Puts you in away status
/quit – Leaves the server 

And remember, don't be a jerk and follow these basic rules:

  • Don't use all caps. You should know this already, it is as if you were yelling at everyone.
  • When asking for help, do your research first.
  • When asking question, try to be as specific as possible. It is always difficult to solve issues online, don't make it harder.
  • Create a test case, it helps to solve your problem quickly.
  • Avoid flooding, spamming or any kind of disrespectful behaviour towards the readers of the channel. Remember, IRC is a collaborative environment

Hopefully, at this point you are already chatting in an IRC channel, and thinking it is a weird and old form of communication, but give it a try. Thank you for reading.

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