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Setting up and using IRC - Overview

In the office we need to send links, snippets of code and other information to each other on a daily basis. We mainly use Microsoft Lync as our main communication medium. Lync is Microsoft's enterprise chat software which can be thought of as a business version of Skype.

Lync is a great tool to use but it requires setup on a server end and more importantly, it needs to be setup to make sure traffic is encrypted on the network. Using Lync on the network has been troublesome due to networking issues which meant we decided to try an alternative method.

The oldest chat medium on the Internet is Internet Relay Protocol (IRC). IRC is a very well established protocol which defines how a server and clients should communicate messages. This can be for multiple users in a chat room (channel) or private messaging. It also supports DCC which is a method to send files Peer to Peer. For IRC to work, a server will run an IRC Daemon (equivalent of a service in Windows). The daemon can be setup to be totally customisable including users of who should be auto promoted to admin status and which IP ranges should be banned. Users can register their nickname so when they reconnect later, someone won't have taken the same one. Channels can be setup to only allow specific users and also set users with specific rights like Channel Owner, Operator, half-operator, voiced etc. These give users more flexibility as IRC servers are often open to the public to join. Again, this can be customised even more to only allow a private server (such as what we want).

There are not many IRC daemon software choices as the client software. The most common IRC daemons are UnrealIRCd, ircd-ratbox and IRCD-Hybrid. The advantages of each can be seen at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Internet_Relay_Chat_daemons

It is important to note that setting up an IRC daemon is not too hard with some server software experience but configuring it to work properly is the hard part. For example, setting up an SSL server will also require a lot more work than a normal unencrypted setup. Most daemons run on Linux based distributions but there are Windows ones too. If you are not familiar with Linux in a good depth you will struggle. My favourite daemon is UnrealIRCd as it works on Windows and Linux. The Linux options all have a lot more flexibility though.

For clients, there are a number of options you can use. There are cross platform ones like XChat and Pidgin so you can use those on Windows and Linux. There are also OS specific ones like mIRC for Windows and IRSSI for UNIX bases OS's like Linux or BSD.

Some screenshots of IRC clients are below.

Xchat

mIRC

irssi

If you are interested in IRC or have a question, leave us a comment below.

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