Basics of IRC

You are likely here because you want to know more about this “IRC” stuff you’ve heard about. Someone might have sent you here to get you clued in, or perhaps it popped up in search results and got your attention.

Welcome, friend. We are glad you found us, whatever the reason.

Hopefully this guide will help you understand what IRC is, and how to start using it. We think you might like how it differs from other chat platforms.

While this will not be a comprehensive guide on all the software available, it will hopefully point you in the right direction.

What is IRC?

IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat. It is a chat protocol.

It was invented in 1988 by Jarkko Oikarinen, of the University of Oulu in Finland. It replaced a program called MUT (MultiUser Talk).

How does IRC work?

There are 2 components to IRC.

Clients are apps that let you use IRC. They can be installed on many different Operating Systems, or even run inside your web browser.

Servers are what the clients connect to. Libera Chat has a network of servers. Don’t worry though, you only need to know one address for the network. That address is

Networks like us use a Round Robin system to distribute users evenly between servers. Having lots of servers provides redundancy, so one server being out of order doesn’t make the whole network stop.

IRC is usually cost-free to use, but sometimes you might need to buy a client or pay a subscription fee for a client hosted by someone else.

Choosing a client

To use IRC, first you need to choose a client. Clients vary a lot, but most will have the same basic features, so don’t worry about picking the wrong one.

You can read our guide about clients to help you make your decision, or you can use one of our webchats to avoid installing anything just yet.

Our webchats are run by us. They are free to use, but we restrict them so they only connect to Because of this, they are a good place to get started. You can graduate to a proper client once you’ve figured things out, with help from people on the network.

Connecting for the first time

Most clients will have some kind of intro or wizard to get you going. Look for a preconfigured network called Libera or Libera Chat.

If there is no wizard, or the process is confusing, you will either need to check out the client’s website for some documentation about how to set it up, or connect through the webchats first and find someone to help. There is usually someone in #libera who can point you in the right direction.


Just like in instant messengers, there will be a field in the app where you will be able to type things. This is where you chat.

This chat field is also where you can do commands to the server or the client. Commands start with a /.

Our website has several guides that will make use of this notation when giving you instructions.

Conversation windows

Conversations windows are also known as tabs or buffers. They behave similar to how you might expect from other chat apps.

In most desktop clients, a list of conversations will be down the left-hand side in a column. In phone apps, there might be a drawer widget you need to pull out.

Selecting different items in this list will change what is shown in the main section of the client, above the field you type chat and commands into.

The top one is probably the name of the network, for Libera Chat it is usually Libera. When you are doing commands you don’t want others to see, such as registering an account, this is a safe place to type them.

Tabs starting with # are group chats, which are called Channels. On desktop clients, a user membership list will probably show down the right-hand side of the screen when you have these conversations selected. On phones the membership list might be in another drawer widget.

Tabs underneath the channels are private conversations you have with people, or bots, on the network. These are often referred to as “PMs” (Private Messages) or “queries”.

Private conversations

You can often start private conversations with someone by double-clicking on their name, also called a nickname or nick, in the membership list. If that doesn’t work you can achieve the same thing using the /query command. For example, if you wanted to say “hi!” to the person with the nickname “John” you would do:

/query john hi!

Some people don’t like unsolicited private conversations, so only do this with people you know from talking in channels after asking their permission.


Services are specialized bots that help the network run smoothly. They manage users and channels, among other things.

Using services is how you register a nickname, and identify (log in) when you return for another IRC session in the future.

They’re also how you register channels if you ever need to do that.


In most IRC clients, a channel’s topic description can be found at the top of the screen. If you can’t see all of it, you can have it displayed to you using the /topic command.

You can find new channels using a service to search by channel name or by topic description.

There are lots of different topics on any IRC network. On Libera Chat, most of our channels are about freely-licensed software and collaborative projects. Our network policies define what we want the network to be like.

Channel roles

When you’re in channels, you might notice that some people in the membership list have symbols next to their nicknames. Most people will not have a role in the channels.

The people with symbols have either the “operator” or “voiced” modes. Operators are the people that run that specific channel. They do things like change channel modes, curate the topic, manage channel access. They’re also responsible for moderating the chat, so sometimes they might silence people individually or set the channel to moderated mode. When the channel is in moderated mode, voiced users comments can still be seen. Often channels will give voiced or operator modes to their helper bots.

IRC commands cheat sheet

This is a very small sample of commands that you may find useful as you get started learning IRC. In many clients, there might be buttons for these.

Command parts shown in [] are optional.

Some commands will differ in implementation depending on your client. If the following do not work as expected, see your client’s website for documentation or ask in their IRC channel. Many have channels on Libera Chat.

Who runs Libera Chat?

The Libera Chat network is run by volunteers. You can usually find the volunteer staff in #libera, where their channel mode will highlight them in the channel membership list.

You are invited to message any staff member without asking permission first.

More resources

If you get lost, you can always join #libera and ask questions. That is what that channel is there for.

If you are unable to connect to the network at all, you can contact staff by email:

There are many more resources available in the guides section of our website. This includes a FAQ that might help you with troubleshooting problems you encounter.

If you want a more technical overview of IRC, some history of the protocol, or info on future plans, we recommend and the IRCv3 working group websites.