IRC, Still the Best Support Around

If you haven't gotten our subtle hints during the past year or so, IRC certainly is not dead. It really is the best way to get knowledgeable support from the folks who know best. There are a few caveats, however, that may not be obvious to people new to this old-school chat protocol.

Get a Good Client

If you just want to stop into the #linuxjournal channel for some quick banality, a Web-based client like the one at is fine. You can drop in, request a !coffee from JustinBot, and chitchat with fellow geeks. If you're looking for something a bit more useful for the long haul, a native client makes more sense. Many people (myself included) like X-Chat. There are plenty of other options, like the command-line-only Irssi, but X-Chat offers a nice balance between features and usability.

If you look back at Kyle Rankin's Hack and / articles from the past year or so, you'll find easy ways to integrate your entire lifestyle into IRC. Kyle does everything from chatting to twittering inside his terminal window, and he shows us all how to do the same.

The opposite approach, which is actually what I do, is to add IRC as another instant-messaging protocol on my IM client. Although Kopete and Empathy may be slick-looking for instant messaging, none come close to Pidgin's elegance with IRC. Check out my video tech tip on how to set up IRC inside Pidgin if that makes more sense to the way you work during the day:

IRC Etiquette

Every channel you visit will have a different "personality" to it. The #linuxjournal channel on Freenode, for example, is really a goofy, easy-going channel full of geeks having fun. If you come visit us and say “Garble bargle, loopity loo”, no one will find you odd. In fact, you'll fit in quite nicely. On other channels, specifically channels where developers hang out related to a specific application, the atmosphere might be a bit more stuffy. My suggestion: hang out in a room for a while before you post questions. There may be links in the channel pointing to FAQs or information about how to conduct yourself without making anyone angry.

Be Patient

IRC is the sort of thing most geeks leave running but don't monitor constantly. If you pose a question, but don't get a response for a while, just wait. If you have a question for a specific person, typing his or her name in the channel often will alert the person (I have Pidgin set up to do that, and many folks do the same with their IRC clients). And finally, don't forget, it's a community. If you see a question you can answer, do it!


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


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I like pidgin too

m8t's picture

Pidgin has really been a good option for connecting to IRC, and the possibility to add "persistent" chat rooms that are kept connected even if the window is closed is great.

uhha for irc!

crlsgms's picture

Im very addicted to irc, and one of its flag popper here in brasil. Since msn went down to the poppularity with the post 1990's Z generation irc went down the drain, with brasnet and brasirc going out of business.

I see clearly that irc still the most pratic and democratic way to work and to solve fast issues with a certain group, since even passing throught the emoticon era, we still know that for common web content text based sollutions keeps raining, as we can see twitter timeline of approach.

besides the constant changings between the communications island created for almost every im client since bbs, i hope that msn gots obsolete soon, as more efficient, democratic and spam free networks arise,

or people just notice that there's no better solution for group text chat as irc today.


some_hockey_nut's picture

Konversation is what works for me. It's a KDE app, so it won't be for everybody.

Anonymity on IRC

Gal Frishman's picture

If you want to use IRC anonymously, or hide your IP when connecting I wrote a post how to do it using TOR:
Chatting with the dark side

Visit my blog

Haven't Used IRC, But Might Try it

cmnorton's picture

I've used Launchpad, and especially for projects like Mailman, the support is lightening fast. Certainly after this article, trying IRC might be worth it.

I deeply disagree

Kurt Kraut's picture

I use IRC since 1994 and I depply disagree: the worst place to get free software support is IRC.

A user that asks for support over IRC must be lucky enough to have another experienced user online at the exact moment he is sending the message containing his question. IRC doesn't keep/track acient messages and offline messages through MemoServ are rarely used.

Using a forum is the best way of support: the person who ask for help and the person who might offer the help don't need to be online at the same time, previously asked and answered questions are tracked and easily found.

In IRC, you rely on luck. On a forum, you may rely on questions previously asked and might have your problem solved before even asking.


JShuford's picture

IMO: Mr. Kraut; I agree with you for the most part, not entirely though!

As an "IRC" user since the early day's I know that in order to find a decent "chat room" one would need to find and join a "private-members only room" (or be invited!). I have witnessed many times where an "IRC" respondent offers a "command line" solution and that solution turns out to actually be a malicious entry!

The use if "IRC" should be considered a possibility, but only if you follow the above advice!

The use of Forums and Blogs on the other-hand allow for the person seeking answers to find many potential questions/answers that have most likely been "vetted" by its user-base. Or the user could post a new question if there are no answers. "Malicious" entries are often quickly removed by "MODS" and the supplying jerk is quickly banned!

"Google"-it! Try to pose the need in the form of a question and then search for the answer through "Google" or some other search engine.

The above mentioned ideas are for reference only; "IRC" at your own risk!

...I'm not just a "troll", but also a subscriber!

Well I must be lucky then,

Bjarne Nilsson's picture

Well I must be lucky then, the few times I've asked I usually get people willing to help. A possible reason for this is that I usually try to describe my problem as verbosly as possible, and I use specific channels usually dealing with a single application (usualy #asterisk ), or at least a somewhat narrower topic (eg ##networking). I stay away from #linux etc (unless I feel inclined to help beginners how can't get xmms to work etc.

My philosophy (that seems to work) is: "be polite, patient an if possible helpful"

It seems the choice of irc network also plays a part, I used too be on Undernet an frequently got RTFM etc, put changed to freenode and at worst thay actualy point me to a how-to or a chapter in the manual.

Well these are my two cents, if you agree/dissagree I always appreciate input.

And finaly a note to Linux Journal: Great magazine, thanks for alle the work you people put in, I've benn subscribing off ad on for some years, In fact I'll order a subscription shortly. Keep it up!

The devil is in the details

David Lane's picture

As I was just commenting in the #linuxjournal, I am working with irssi, one of many IRC clients. Previously I have used Quassel (both on Windows and Ubuntu). There is no shortage of clients out there, depending on your skill and time to configure. Take a couple of them for a test drive and find the one that works for you. I abandoned the IRC plug-in for Pigin, for example, because it did not work for me.

But once you are set up, drop by the #linuxjournal (on Freenode []) and say hello. We are a friendly bunch. But you will have to bring your own celery.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack