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What is Internet Relay Chat (IRC)?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 16, 2024
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Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is an online medium for the transfer of text and files. A common protocol run on many servers and accessed by many different types of clients, IRC allows anyone with a server to set up their own chat rooms and invite others to join in. Because the protocol is not proprietary, IRC is a powerful way of decentralizing chat rooms and providing users with ad-free, clean interface-based chatting.

IRC is generally credited with being responsible for the origin of the modern Internet chat movement. The most widely used chat system on Earth, IRC was developed by a European grad student, Jarkko Oikarinen, at the University of Oulu, Finland. Working at the Department of Information Processing Science in the summer of 1988, Oikarinen was inspired by Jyrki Kuoppala's "rmsg" program and another system called Bitnet Relay Chat. Bootstrapping off a multi-user chat program called MultiUser Talk (MUT), Oikarinen released IRC in August 1988, and it quickly spread across Finland and Scandinavia.

The network soon spread to North America through MIT, and exploded in popularity in 1991, when the Persian Gulf War created a high demand for immediate information. Today, millions use IRC for both personal and professional purposes.

An IRC server is divided into channels prefixed by the symbol #. For example, a channel focused on cats would be called #cats. To indicate a virtual location to meet for chatting on IRC, you have to supply both a server (for example, starchat.net) and a channel (#cats).

IRC networks are often home to chat programs called bots, which can be called upon to define words, post news clippings, and even help investors trade stocks and currencies. An example of a large IRC network is Undernet.org, which boasts approximately 41 servers in over 13 countries. An amusing repository of IRC chat conversation snippets can be found at bash.org.

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Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated EasyTechJunkie contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By anon1006381 — On Mar 01, 2022

IRC is always good for a laugh and whenever I feel like chatting with people in different places. I always use IRC to cheer me up and brighten my day. I really appreciate this chat.

By Melonlity — On Feb 20, 2014

How widespread is IRC these days? An IRC client used to be common on computers, but it appears to be declining in popularity.

Oh, and the author is right -- the archive of IRC chats referenced at the end of the article is always good for a laugh.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated EasyTechJunkie contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology,...
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