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An Introduction to IRC

By Christina West

Ircing With !Voyager

(Updated 30th January 1997)


IRC

IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is a fascinating (and fun!) side to the Internet that tends to get overlooked in these days of the glamorous and graphics-rich World Wide Web, but for anyone who is interested in probing a bit beneath the surface of the Net, it offers rewards - not to mention a satisfying sense of achievement in getting it to 'work' in the first place!


WHAT IS IRC?

IRC is a system that allows you to 'chat' over the Internet in real-time with other people as a member of a group. Note that that is 'chat' in the keyboard sense, that is, you type on your keyboard, and read your own input and any responses on your monitor. A group may consist of any number of people, from one upwards. You participate in a group, after logging on to an IRC server, by joining a channel, of which there may be several hundred in existence at any one time. It is important to realize that all IRC servers carry the same channels, with the following important distinction.


EFNET AND UNDERNET

Efnet is the original IRC system, and what most people mean when they talk about IRC. Undernet is a later development, used at present by about 10% of IRCers. It replicates many of the Efnet channels, but not all. Similarly, some Undernet channels are not available on Efnet. Undernet has the reputation of being friendlier and more helpful, but in my opinion, you would be hard pushed to tell the difference - with IRC, as in much of the Internet, what you get out depends to some extent on what you put in. There is also a system called Dalnet, about which I know nothing - you can't connect to many of the Efnet channels on it. If you're curious, try irc.dal.net


SERVERS

There are many IRC servers located all round the world, all of which carry the same channels, with the exceptions noted above. It is considered good Netiquette to log on to a server which is local to you, in the interests of conserving bandwidth. However, you should understand that, as you will be connecting through your Argonet account, you will be paying your normal connection rate, even if the server you use is in Australia. It's between you and your conscience, really.


CLIENTS

An IRC client is the application you run on your computer which allows you to log on to the IRC network and join channels. If you think of a server as a television relay station broadcasting many different programs, then the client is the aerial which allows you to receive the broadcast. The channels, in this analogy, are the various programs you can tune into once you are set up to receive the signal.


CHANNELS

Channel names are sometimes a guide to the general tone of the channel in question, but more often not. It's a case of experimenting here.


SOFTWARE

Few Internet software suites come with a built in IRC client, and !Voyager is no exception. Fortunately, there is a reasonable one available, free of charge, and which has been pretty extensively tested. This is !IRClient, written by Matthew Godbolt. As far as I know, it is the only such application available for the Acorn range.
You can get it from the Web on:

IRClient

You will find several versions here. v 0.16 is the one we all got used to last year, and still works well. v0.22 is the version currently in use by the majority of Argonet IRC users. However, it does not work reliably as it stands, and needs an addition - detailed later. When this adjustment has been made, it is easier to use than v0.16, and has a much better user interface. v0.24 is a later version, best, I hear, avoided for the moment. Whichever version you get, it is stored as an archive, so you will have to extract it. You can use !Spark or !Sparkplug if you have either of them. If not, then !Sparkplug is available as a self-extracting Basic program from Demon.

SparkPlug

Download it, change its filetype to "Basic", and run it. This will give you a runnable version of !Sparkplug, which you can use to unzip the IRClient archive.

If you decide to go for v0.22, which I suggest you do, you will have to replace the file !IRClient.Scripts.IRCLib with an improved version, written by Vince Hudd and available by clicking here:

IRCLib.


USING !IRClient

If you are using !IRClient v0.16 without the VIX extension detailed later, you must insert a line into the application's !Run file. This is because !IRClient needs to know your IP address, which, because of the way in which your Argonet account works, is not fixed, but allocated dynamically each time you log on. In !IRClient's !Run file, enter the line

Set Inet$HostName <VTiIp$Address>

exactly as above (Note: 1 space after "Set" and 1 space after "Inet$HostName"), in the conveniently blank space immediately after the line begining

IconSprites.....

This allows !IRClient to get the IP address from the system variable that !Voyager keeps it in.

If you are using v0.16 with the VIX extension, or v0.22, the above step is not necessary.

It is essential to have logged on to the Internet before running !IRClient, it won't work otherwise. It has been my experience on a couple of occasions that launching !IRClient while downloading News or Mail can cause a problem. I don't know the reason for this, and it has only happened two or three times, so may be unconnected, but if you have a difficulty, then either wait until News and Mail have finished before launching, or disable them in the !Voyager's Preferences->User window first.

The following applies to !IRClient v0.16. The procedure for launching v0.22 is similar, although there are more options available.

Double-clicking on the !IRClient icon will load it onto the Icon bar. Before running it for the first time, it is essential to enter your personal details in the "Sessions" window. Click "Menu" over the Icon bar icon, and select "Sessions". Enter your personal details in the appropiate boxes as follows:

Nickname : Whatever nickname you wish to be known by on IRC
Username : The part of your e-mail address before the "@"
Realname: Your real name

Select a server, either Efnet or Undernet, from the drop-down menu, click on "Connect", and you will be connected to IRC - this may take a few attempts depending on how busy the server is.

You will be presented with a window, which will first show you the "Message of the day" for the server you are on. You will also see a small window with a message from the programmer - you can close this if you wish. At the bottom of the main window is your input line, where you enter your commands.


JOINING A CHANNEL

All commands start with a "/" character, and most channel names with a "#". So, to join channel "argonet", you should enter:

/join #argonet

Alternatively, you can use the "Join" icon, the one with an arrow pointing towards a group.

When you join a channel, you will see a list of those already present on the channel. Names preceded by "@" are channel operators, or chanops, who have control of the channel, and can execute certain commands not available to anyone else.

You should see various messages scrolling up the window from the participants. To say something to the group as a whole, simply enter it in your input line and press "Return". You will see it appear in the main window, and may get a response - though this can take a while, as people are often in the middle of other conversations when you join, and if the channel is busy, you may feel you are being ignored. Persist - or try to find a channel with only one or two people on it.

To leave channel "argonet", enter:

/leave #argonet

Or use the "Leave" icon.


OTHER COMMANDS

Remember - all IRC commands start with the character "/" - be especially careful with this point in private messages - if you inadvertently hit the Shift key and type "?" instead of "/", your message will be seen by everyone on the channel - with interesting and occasionally embarassing results!

To TALK to the channel

Just type the text you wish to say

To INITIATE a PRIVATE CONVERSATION with an individual

/query <nick>

Example:/query Xina

From this point all text you enter will go only to the named <nick>

To TERMINATE a PRIVATE CONVERSATION and return to talking to the channel

/query

Example:/query

To send a ONE-OFF PRIVATE MESSAGE to an individual

/msg <nick> text

Example:/msg Xina Hi! Xina

If you were using the name Pip and entered this, I - and only I - would see on my screen:

*Pip* Hi! Xina

To EMOTE or PERFORM AN ACTION

/me text

Example:/me laughs politely

If I were to enter this, I would see: Xina laughs politely

To CHANGE your NICKNAME

/nick text

Example:/nick LoudMouth

If I were to enter this, I would see: Xina is now known as LoudMouth
(See the note on NICKS below)

To FIND OUT WHO someone is

/whois

Example:/whois Xina

Or you can use the "Whois" icon - the one with the question mark.

To get a list of NAMES of people on a channel

/names <channel>

Example:/names #cybersex

To get the names of the people on your current channel, simply enter /names without a channel name, or use the "Whois" icon.

To END your IRC session

/quit

Example:/quit

There are quite a few more commands, the exact number of which varies depending on the software client you are using. The above and a few others are available using !IRClient. The only other really important command is the /mode command - mostly only of use to channel operators to control the channel. It would be wise to gain some experience first with the above before learning about /mode - you can always ask someone on your channel - you will generally get 3 or 4 responses as the various old hands rush to show off their knowledge!


A NOTE ON NICKS

When you first log on to !IRClient, you may see the message ?<nick> - in my case that would be ?Xina - this means that the nick you are using is already being used by someone else. Change it using the /nick command as above - a popular way to do this is to add a "1" to your original nick - i.e. Xina1 - however even this may not work if it is in use - try adding "2", "3" etc. till you strike lucky - or change your nick to something more original! :-)

Some long term IRC users are very jealous of their nicks and resent anyone else using them - it is not unknown for a regular user to join IRC, find their nick is in use (by you, maybe!) and arrange to have a /kill message sent to your nick - which will disconnect you from the server. There isn't much you can do about this - just re-join using a different nick. I would tell you how to arrange to have a /kill message sent yourself, if I knew - but I haven't got that far yet myself. In any case, escalating this sort of thing would just give you hassle, spoil your IRC fun and waste a lot of time.


!IRCLIENT AND THE VIX MANAGER

You can download a VIX extension module for !IRClient, which has the great advantage that !IRClient becomes more integrated with the !Voyager application, and can be launched directly from !Voyager's tool bar. These are once again courtesy of Vince Hudd and contain full instructions. They are available from:

For !IRClient v0.16

For !IRClient v0.22


OTHER SOURCES

In the "Docs" folder which comes with !IRClient is a file called "IRCPrimer", which is useful, if rather out of date, and slanted to a different client. The "Instructions" file is frustrating - it starts off very well, but appears never to have never been finished! For more information on IRC in general, subscribe to alt.irc and get their FAQ. Alternatively, there are any number of books about the Net which have helpful sections on IRC.

NETIQUETTE

IRC tends to be pretty free and easy, so just use your commonsense. If you step out of line, someone will soon let you know! It's good idea to hang around on a channel for a bit, to get the feel of the tone of that particular channel - but remember, unlike Usenet, everybody knows you're there. So try saying something neutral like "Hi all.." or whatever, then just wait and see what happens.....

Try channels #acorn and #argonet to get a feel for it. They tend to be fairly kind to "newbies" (new users). Later on, you might try #ircbar, #reddwarf or #startrek, depending on your interests. Then graduate to #hottub......


Happy IRCing.

Christina West - ZFC A - Xina on IRC (when it's not in use!!)

feel free to email me xina@argonet.co.uk (Christina West), and I'll do my best to help.