Freenode IRC

IRC (Instant Relay Chat) is one of the oldest means of internet communication. It is still widely used by programmers and ITs, especially because it lends itself to “lurking”: passively being in the room, occasionally glancing over to see what’s going on, and sometimes speaking up when the inclination strikes you. You’d be amazed how much you can absorb from just from lurking in various rooms (such as #python), not only about the language or technology in question, but about programming in general!

IRC is one of the oldest and most widely used means of synchronous communication among programmers. Most open-source organizations maintain an IRC channel, including #ubuntu, #synfig, #opus, #blender, and so forth. Of course, #python lives on that network too.

Warning

The ##c++ channel is infamously unfriendly. Avoid it. We’re trying to start the ##c++-friendly room, so please consider lurking there.

Getting On

Installing HexChat

To use IRC, you need an IRC client. There are quite a few to choose from, many of them FOSS.

Note

While you can also access many IRC networks through a browser-based client, it isn’t recommended, as many useful IRC tools don’t work on those.

For Linux, one of the most popular IRC clients is Hexchat, which we will install and set up in this section. If you’ve never used IRC before, I recommend installing this client now. Once you’re comfortable, you’ll have the basic IRC knowledge necessary to experiment with other options.

To install Hexchat on any Ubuntu-based distribution, run...

$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt install hexchat

Choosing Your Network

When you first start HexChat, it will bring up the Network List.

  1. Choose a Nick name. Freenode is HUGE, so many common names are taken, but you can frequently think up a good nick. Put it in for Nick name and User name.
  2. Under Networks, scroll down to Ubuntu Servers (freenode) (it’s under “f”). Click Edit...
  3. Check Connect to this network automatically.
  4. Under Login method:, select Server Password (/PASS password).
  5. Under Password, come up with a good password. Bear in mind that you may need to type it in plain text on occasion, so it shouldn’t be something that you use for other important logins. Write it down on paper!
  6. Click Close.
  7. Check Skip network list on startup.
  8. Click Connect.

Important

If you come back to this dialog box later, you do NOT need to click Connect again. Instead, if you’re already connected to Freenode, just click Close.

Registering Your Nick

The first time (and ONLY the first time) you connect to Freenode, you must register your nickname. Go to the default “channel” marked freenode, which is where you’ll type the following commands as needed.

Warning

This is your personal account. DO NOT use your company email for the email address!

If you see a message that says “This nickname is registered. Please choose a different nickname...”, your chosen nickname is not available. To try another nickname, type the following, where NewNick is the new nick you want to try:

/nick NewNickname

Once you find one that works, make sure you change it on HexChat ‣ Network List, under both Nick name and User name.

Once you have found a nickname that works, enter the following command. Replace me@example.com with your email address, and password with your IRC password (from the previous step):

/msg nickserv register password me@example.com

Go to the email address that you specified and follow the directions in the email from “Freenode” to confirm your registration. If you don’t see the email in question, check your spam.

Assuming everything worked correctly, we can test it out. Go ahead and quit Hexchat, and then start it again. It should log you in automatically.

To check if you ARE logged in, type the following, where YourNick is your current nickname:

/whois YourNick

If you’re logged in, the second to last line should say “[YourNick] is logged in as YourNick”, where YourNick is your nickname.

Adding Other Nicks

You may want to register multiple nicknames with the same account. This is very easy to do.

First, make sure you’re logged in as your main nickname (see Registering Your Nick). Then, switch to another nickname you want to register by entering the following command, where OtherNickname is the new nickname:

/nick OtherNickname

Ensure that the nick is not already taken (you’ll see a warning if it is). If the nick is free, add it to your account via:

/msg nickserv group

You may want to add your alternate nicks to Hexchat’s settings. This is useful if you try to connect to IRC while you’re connected on another machine (it happens more than you think!)

On HexChat, go to HexChat ‣ Network List, and your additional nickname(s) under Second choice and Third choice. You can always swap out the order in this list, depending on your preferences. Click Close when you’re done.

Important

It is NOT recommended practice to have “status nicks”, such as “MyNick | Away”. The nick changes sometimes spam channels you’re in and drive the other participants crazy, so much so that a few channels have actually banned them. See the Away Status section below.

Preferences

There are a number of fun and useful preferences in HexChat. Go to Settings ‣ Preferences. Feel free to browse this, of course. Here are a couple of recommendations.

Under Chatting ‣ Logging, check Enable logging of conversations to disk. This will store text logs of all your chats on your computer. On Linux, these are stored under ~/.config/hexchat/logs by default.

Under Chatting ‣ General, you may want to set default message for when you quit, leave a channel, or mark yourself as away. Keep these brief and appropriate, but have fun with them!

Using IRC

Networks

If you followed the above steps, you are now using the Freenode IRC network. There are actually many IRC networks. You can manage your connections to each on the Network List window of HexChat.

Important

You will need to register your nicks on each network you use.

Channels

Conversations on IRC are primarily separated into Channels. There are hundreds of channels on Freenode alone. Each channel name starts with at least one # symbol.

To join our programming channel, for example, type:

/join #mousepawmedia

As soon as you join any channel, be sure to read the rules and information in the channel topic at the top of the page, and in any initial login message you receive.

Most channels have one or more channel operators, also knows as “mods” or “ops”. When someone is opped, HexChat will display a red dot next to their name in the list. However, most ops (including our own) fly under the radar, and don’t “take op” until they need it.

Many channels also have bots, which are special computer programs that perform automated tasks for the channel. For example, Hawksnest is the official bot in #mousepawmedia and #mousepawmedia-design.

You can leave a channel by typing:

/part #mousepawmedia

...and then right-clicking the channel name in HexChat and clicking Close. (You can also just close the channel without /part, but it’s a little more abrupt.)

Note

You can auto-join favorite channels in HexChat by right-clicking the channel name and checking Autojoin.

Note

If you get sick of seeing notifications about users joining and parting,, right-click the channel name and check Settings ‣ Hide Join/Part Messages.

Logging In

You have already configured HexChat to log you in immediately. However, if you happen to use another computer or a client that you cannot configure, don’t panic. You can log into Freenode IRC from anywhere in the world via the following commands, where YourNick is your nickname, and password is your IRC password:

/nick YourNick
/msg nickserv identify password

Ghosting

Sometimes a network glitch will cause you to be disconnected from IRC, but your nick to remain logged in. This can be a royal pain if you’re trying to log back in, as you’ll be assigned your secondary nick.

If this happens, make sure you’re logged in to IRC, and then run the following, where YourNick is the nickname you want to reclaim:

/msg nickserv ghost YourNick

General Chatting

Most of the time, you just type something and hit “enter” to talk in a channel.

If you want to get someone’s attention in particular, you can ping them (see Pinging) just type their name, and HexChat will alert them that they were mentioned. In HexChat, you have tab-completion on usernames. In #mousepawmedia, if Jason McDonald is online and you type “Co” and hit tab, it’ll likely autocomplete to “CodeMouse92”.

/me allows you to look like you’re taking an action. For example, if you type /me waves, that shows up as “*YourNick waves.”

Private Messaging

/notice allows you to whisper to someone else in the channel, so only they see the message. For example, /msg CodeMouse92 Hi! would whisper “Hi” to that user, but only that user would be able to see it.

Using /query opens a private chatroom (i.e. /query CodeMouse92. In HexChat, you can also right-click a username and click “Open Dialog” to open a private chatroom with that person.

Away Status

/away marks you as away, and grays out your name on the user list. You can optionally provide an away message. If you just type /away, HexChat will use the default message you set in Preferences.

/back marks you as available, as in “no longer away.”

Generally, it’s a good idea to leave your HexChat window up throughout the day, and just use /away and /back to show availability. This is called “lurking”, and it increases the chances you have of seeing things you’d be interested in. (It also keeps logging stuff that happens in the channel while you’re not looking. You must be connected to IRC for logging to work.)

Law Enforcement

If you are an op in a room, you have the ability to perform various moderation tasks. Most importantly, an op can kick people from a room, and can also generally ban people to prevent them from coming back.

To be kickbanned means you’re thrown out, and never allowed to return. As long as you follow the rules, and a chatroom is relatively sane, this should be easy to avoid.

In the #mousepawmedia channel, some staff members have been given op status. If you’re an op, you can “take op” by typing:

/msg chanserv op #mousepawmedia

Then, you can kick and ban using the /kick nickname and /ban nickname commands, respectively. Please use these powers wisely and judiciously.

Once you’re done with your op work, you can de-op via:

/msg chanserv op #mousepawmedia -nick_name

...where nick_name is your nickname. (Note the - in front.)

Netiquette

Cultural Sensitivity

The most important thing to remember about IRC is that it is an international platform. You will encounter people from all countries, cultures, and walks of life. You should be respectful and culturally sensitive at all times. This isn’t really a matter of “political correctness”; you should simply communicate in ways that are less likely to be misinterpreted.

On that note, if you do insult someone accidentally, just apologize and take notice of how you could have communicated better. Intercultural communication is an acquired skill, so most people will gently correct you. (Of course, if someone is habitually insulted by everyone and everything, there’s nothing you can do about that.)

A good, quick check on your choice of phrase is to ask “does this assume something about the other person?” Keep phrasing generic until you know more about the person.

Note

I have personally chatted with amazing people from all over the world - France, Spain, Germany, Scotland, Isle of Man, Mexico, Canada, Cyprus, Russia...and the list goes on! Most people enjoy talking about their country and culture, so there’s never any harm in asking “where are you from?” (If they don’t want to tell you, just let it go.)

Above all, show everyone the respect you want others to treat you with.

Asking Questions

One of the main uses of IRC is for answering questions. These are some absolutely critical rules you should follow for that:

  • When asking your question, include all relevant software version/system information, code, and error messages. Use a paste tool for lots of text. (see Flooding and Spamming)
  • Post your question and wait. Getting help on IRC is a crapshoot - a person with the knowledge to answer your question has to be present and active. If no one can help, typically no one will say anything to you.
  • Refrain from posting your question again until it has disappeared off the screen some ways AND it has been more than ten minutes. People don’t tend to ‘read up’ more than about a page or two (although there are exceptions). Once you’re certain your question has been “buried”, you may repost it.
  • If you don’t get an answer quickly, don’t get impatient. Posting stuff like “Well?” or “ANYBODY??” doesn’t help - it actually decreases the likelihood that someone will help you.
  • STAY IN THE ROOM. Mark yourself as away if you have to, but as long as you are technologically able to stay in the room, do. It isn’t uncommon to receive an answer several hours after asking the question. (That rule goes both ways, so don’t feel bad if you miss a follow-up question by a few hours because you were away from the computer).
  • Avoid cross-posting. Wait until your question is “buried” in a room, or until someone has expressly told you that no one can help you in that room, before posting it again on another room. If you wait a long time in a quiet room, it is generally okay to repost the question in a second room, but be sure to update the first room with the answer once you have it!

Debate and “Room Temperature”

Text-based communication is an odd medium. We naturally read tone and other non-verbal cues into text. Even right now, you’re almost certainly hearing a “mental narrator” reading this passage in a particular tone (hopefully a friendly one!)

This can quickly become a problem in IRC, especially when heated topics come up. Some rooms even go as far as to ban religion and politics altogether, but people still find things to fight about. We refer to the level of conflict in a room as its temperature.

Controversial topics aren’t necessarily bad within the appropriate time and place; you can learn a lot by discussing culture and current events with people around the world. In fact, it is possible to have these conversations without causing problems. Here are a few rules:

  • Put a check on your “mental narrator”. Assume the best about the other person.
  • Keep an eye on the “room temperature”. If people are getting obviously upset, seriously consider dropping the conversation. Simply saying “This topic seems to be getting a bit heated. Let’s talk about something else.” goes a long way towards lowering the room temperature.
  • If you feel your temper rising, stop talking.
  • People are more important than “winning” a debate. It’s okay to “agree to disagree”, no matter what anyone says.
  • If you are asked to drop a topic, drop the topic. Similarly, if you ask someone else to drop the topic, consider it dropped and refuse to engage further. (Ignoring an argument is a powerful tool.)
  • If the debate is getting out of control, and you cannot escape it in the room, leave for a few minutes to cool down. Although a few would mislabel this as “rage-quitting,” it is actually a mature way to handle explosive “no-win” situations. Check the room every few minutes to see if the debate has ended, and then rejoin. If you have to use this tactic, never resume the debate!

Pinging

When you include someone’s nick in a message on IRC (assuming they’re in the same room as that message), they will be “pinged”. This is a very useful feature, but you should be careful not to abuse it.

  • If you’re in a large, busy room, you should almost always ping the person you’re talking to on the first message in a chain. This helps the other person track the conversation.
  • Only ping someone if you really want their attention. There are usually common shortened versions of nicknames (like “codemouse” instead of “CodeMouse92”) that people will use to refer to a person without pinging them.
  • If someone asks you not to ping them, don’t ping them.

Private Messaging

It is possible to private message people on IRC. Most people are okay with you just starting a private conversation, but if you’re unsure, you should ask first (either in the public room or in an initial private message).

Either way, respect the person and consider private messaging a privilege. Some people are okay with occasional messages, but not long or frequent conversations.

Of course, you have the same rights as anyone else in this matter. Be polite but clear regarding your own private messaging boundaries.

Flooding and Spamming

You should avoid posting large amounts of text. Even if you can seemingly fit it all into the box on HexChat, IRC has a maximum message size, and HexChat will trip what’s in that box into the right number of pieces needed. Trying to post lots of text will flood the room, which is a massive annoyance.

To avoid this, we use sites like bpaste.net for posting code, error messages, and other long bits of text. Check the room topic for the preferred pasting tool, defaulting to bpaste if nothing else is requested.

Additionally, you should not post the same message over and over. This is considered spamming, and it will usually get you warned and/or banned from a room. (see Asking Questions).

Trolling and Flaming

Under no circumstances should you ever go into a room with the express purpose of starting a debate or stirring up trouble, no matter how funny you think it is. This is called trolling, and it is one the most grievous crimes you can commit on IRC.

In general, you should also avoid using profanity and other offensive language. Different rooms have different policies on this, but there’s never harm in keeping your language clean. (It also promotes use of more creative, descriptive words - linguistically, the f-bomb is just meaningless filler.)

Excessive use of offensive or hurtful language, especially directed at a person, is known as flaming. This is not okay. Ever. Period.

Bots

If the room you’re in has a bot that is designed to be used by room participants, it’s a good idea to learn how to use it correctly. You should never abuse a room’s bot features.

There are also rogue chatbots, which are designed to automatically troll channels. Since no one has ever beaten the Turing test, we can usually spot these pretty quick. If, for some reason, someone begins questioning if you’re a bot, mix up your sentence structure - bots cannot do that very well.

Sarcasm, Snark, and Pedanticism

You have entered the single largest online community of nerds on the planet. We have our own unusual way of communicating.

If someone sounds like they’re insulting you, assume they’re being sarcastic or silly - they almost always are! Responding to an open insult as if it were true and/or a compliment is the best way to respond. Those who insult intentionally can’t really work with that sort of response anyway.

Here’s an example from my own chat logs. The other person actually didn’t mind my being there at all:

*CodeMouse92 joins.
[User1] Oh great... it's CodeMouse92

Beware double meanings and connotations! Computer programmers and ITs especially like word play, so you’re likely to have such a message intentionally misinterpreted as a joke. Play along, or politely clarify if necessary. For example:

[phunyguy] well, my state is actually pretty up in the air right now so I said why not
[phunyguy] ldunn, don't say it
*CodeMouse92 notices that phunyguy did not ask HIM to not snark that statement
[CodeMouse92] phunyguy, Your state is up in the air? I hope you're in a small one, otherwise you're going to have a hard time finding an airfield big enough.
[phunyguy] CodeMouse92, oh so it was YOU that said it. I thought ldunn and Flannel would be the ones.

While it may be tempting to join in on this sort of conversation right away, do not try this at home...at least, not until you have had enough experience in a room to know the social expectations and general rhythm.