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Getting Started on IRC

We’re using IRC as a means to communicate in between meetings, and to provide another channel of communication for members who aren’t able to attend meetings regularly. But we know that IRC is a confusing concept, and can be intimidating for the beginner, especially since there’s a lack of good (or up-to-date) material online. Here’s everything you need to know to get started:

What is IRC?

IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat, a technology that allows anyone with an Internet connection to chat in real time.
The IRC environment consists of various networks, and each has its own flavor and following. The FreeNode network caters to the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and non-profit communities, and houses many of the tech-related Portland IRC channels (#pdxpython, #pdxtech, etc).
Within each network, groups organize conversations around interest by creating and joining different channels. Channels are basically chatrooms, and are ususally prepended by a hash (#). As you may have guessed, #pyladiespdx is the channel for our group.

Accessing and Using FreeNode Online

In order to join FreeNode (or any IRC network), you need to either sign up to use the online version of freenode (platform agnostic), or you need to install a client app on your computer (options for Mac and Windows/Linux). We’ll get to the client options in a minute, but first let’s go over how to log in online, the best option for those of you who just want to try it out or who don’t want to commit to yet another app.

  • The FreeNode online portal can be found at http://webchat.freeno.... You’ll see three input areas: Nickname, Channels, and a reCaptcha box. For the first, pick a nickname that you would like to be identified by on IRC. For privacy’s sake it’s generally advisable not to use your whole (first and last) name, but since it’s also nice to have some idea of who one is talking to,“1234” probably isn’t great either. Try to find a balance that you’re comfortable with. If you like the name you’ve chosen and want to continue to use IRC, we suggest that you register your nickname with NickServ (see Fundamentals section below).

  • Second, input “#pyladiespdx” (the hash is important) into the “Channels” box. Then just enter the reCaptcha phrase and hit “Connect”. That’s it--you’re in! You should see a new page loading a bunch of code--ignore it and wait until a new, clean page appears.

  • This is the FreeNode online console; it’s different from the loading page in that it is divided into two columns. The first, larger one should have a message near the top somewhere announcing that at “[time] == (your nickname) .....has joined #pyladies-pdx.” This is the messaging console, and if you look really, really hard at the bottom of the window, you’ll see that the fine folks at FreeNode, who are apparently against the idea of visual design cues wholesale, have placed a barely-visible text input bar. Navigate to that bar and type in, “Hello” and hit enter to see how posting works--your message should appear at the bottom of the discussion thread in the lefthand box. FYI, any message you type in this way will be visible by anyone logged in to the #pyladiespdx channel (but don’t worry, we’ll go over how to send private messages below).

  • The second column, the skinnier one on the right, shows the nicknames of other PyLadies who are currently logged in. Finally, the very top bar is where you will see displayed any channels that you have joined. We’ll go over this again in Fundamentals, but if you want to add more channels, type (sans quotes) “join #channelname”, hit return, and then click the link that comes up in the main console (left-column; hovering over #channelname will show underline indicating that it’s a link). You’ll see that channel’s tab appear at the top of the page--click back and forth among these tabs to change channels, or hit the “X” to leave that channel. That’s it!

    Accessing and Using FreeNode Through a Client

    There are a range of client options (applications for accessing IRC) that will work with FreeNode. Listed below are some popular choices for Mac and Windows machines; we can’t explain the use and layout of each (and each will vary slightly), but they all work like with more bells and whistles. We recommend that you download one of these options if you intend to use IRC regularly.

    For Mac:

    • LimeChat: LimeChat provides a simple, clean interface for basic IRC chatting. Free and available either through the app stores (there are Mac (free), iPad ($4.99), and iPhone ($4.99) versions) or at There isn’t much to setting up--just pick freenode from the server list and click the “+” icon below the channel list to add #pyladiespdx to your channels. You will need to choose a nickname as well; again, for privacy’s sake, don’t use your full legal name. Don’t worry about all of the other input boxes--you’re done!

    For Windows/Linux:

    • XChat: XChat ver.2 can be downloaded at, or you can search for the appropriate linux version. These sites both have info on the particulars of XChat; you may also choose to visit this thread on Stack Exchange that gives a step-by-step. There will be lots of boxes that you don’t need to worry about, but what you will need to do is choose a nickname (don’t use full legal name); select “FreeNode” from the “Networks” box (the server will be automatically chosen for you, so don’t worry about that); click “Connect” and wait for a success dialog, where you will select the radio button “Join this channel”. Type #pyladies-coursera into this dialog and click “OK”. You should now find yourself in our channel.

    IRC Fundamentals

    If you think you might be interested in using IRC regularly, it is recommended that you register your name with NickServ (the FreeNode nickname server). Much like Twitter, this will ensure that you and you alone will be represented by your username. You will also need to select a password along with your registration, and will be asked to provide an email address to aid in password recovery (should you lost it some time in the future).
    To register your IRC nick, enter the following, subbing in your info, into the chat input bar on any channel (we won’t see your entry---promise!):
    /msg NickServ REGISTER password

    After pressing return, you should see a message somewhere in the console window verifying that FreeNode has received your registration and has email a link to the email you provided. Open your email, copy the link, and then return to your client or to to paste into the chat bar. Hit enter and you should see another confirmation, this time saying that your nickname has been registered and verified. Done!


    In addition to being able to type basic plaintext messages into the chat bar, you may also use shorthand commands to do other things in IRC. Below is a list of the most common. You may find more complete lists at and at (just remember that the authors do not intend for you to use the <> when you use these commands.)

    For each of these, the “/” is intentional--ie, use it! Caps aren’t necessary, but are fine to use.

    /AWAY yourmessage (let’s others know you’ve stepped away from your machine)
    /HELP (requests help file)
    /INVITE nickname #channel (invites user to channel)
    /ISON nickname (is nickname somewhere on the network?)
    /JOIN #channel (join a new channel; see list below for suggestions)
    /MSG nickname yourmessage (send a private message to another user--other user doesn’t have to be on the channel at the time to receive)
    /NICK newnickname (allows a client--you/your app--to change their IRC nickname)
    /WHOIS nickname/yournickname (shows you info about another user/the info others can see about you)

    Other channels of interest:

    #pdxpython : IRC affiliated with Portland Python Users Grp/community
    #pyladies : the official PyLadies Int’l channel
    #django : the official Django channel

Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
Python and General Programming Resources November 18, 2017 2:32 PM anonymous
Code of Conduct January 31, 2015 2:41 PM anonymous
Customize Your Command Prompt February 21, 2013 7:48 PM anonymous
Getting Started on IRC February 21, 2013 7:50 PM anonymous
About PyLadies PDX January 31, 2015 2:51 PM anonymous

Portland, OR

Founded Sep 6, 2012


Melissa, Amy Boyle, Ariel

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