This tutorial is specifically for the freenode IRC network, the network that Wikipedia uses for IRC communication. Some features on this network aren't necessarily on other networks, and features on other networks aren't necessarily here.
Option 1: Use IRC in a browser tab (easy as 1, 2, 3)
In a modern web browser follow this link to visit Wikipedia's help channel.
Option 2: choose which IRC client to use (advanced)
Alternatively, to access the freenode IRC servers, you could also use an IRC client. There are three types of graphical clients for IRC: the independent program client, the web browser add-on client and the web-client started by opening up a website.
Stand-Alone clients: These require administrative access on the computer.
For Windows, for many years the major graphical client for Windows has been mIRC ([mirc.com]). Pidgin ([www.pidgin.im]) is also available. HexChat ([hexchat.org]) is available for Windows as well and is a flexible professional opensource package which stands alone and can be extensively modified by the experienced person. Textual and Colloquy (GPL/BSD) are available for Mac. Quassel IRC is also easy to set up on Windows, Linux, BSD, and Mac.
Packages for various IRC clients may be included on your operating system install CDs and links to web sites for the client software can be found here. Trillian also has an IRC client where you have to check the text box for plug-ins.
Once you have a client, you'll need a server. You can simply use chat.freenode.net to reach the main rotation of servers. You can also find a full list by executing:
host chat.freenode.net (Linux)
nslookup chat.freenode.net (Windows)
Having connection problems?
After you've obtained your client and the name of a server, you may still need a bit of help in getting connected. Take a look at this tutorial or this IRC primer on irchelp.org, which contains a variety of other useful information as well.
If you want to use a certain nickname on the network and don't want anyone else to take it, you must register it with the network.
You can do so by typing (in any window): /msg nickserv register password [email protected], of course substituting password for any password of your choosing, and [email protected] with your email address. Try not to make your password too predictable or guessable, but also avoid using any password you use elsewhere since it's very easy to accidentally type your password into an IRC channel revealing it to others. You should now check your email for the confirmation message from freenode, and complete the steps it contains. Please note that disposable/throwaway emails are not allowed and doing so could delay or negatively affect your registration.
Registering your nick will also allow you to be added to a channel's access list; for example, some of the people in #wikipedia-en-help have +'s beside their nicknames (to identify "helpers").
Note: You only have to register your nickname once. Every other time you connect from that point on, you need to prove who you are, with this command: /msg nickserv identify password
Some IRC clients allow you to set performs (this is: command or commands that will automatically be performed on connect) so this would be an ideal command to put in your perform list. On mIRC, you can find the perform list at: File | Select Server.. | Options | Perform.
There are some other options you can set (as well as privacy options), you'll want to get a list by typing: /msg nickserv help
Setting your IRC client to identify upon connect
Some IRC clients allow you to automatically issue commands when connecting to a server:
Go to File, Select Server, Options, Perform
Go to Network, click Add, find 'freenode' in the list and click OK.
In the Perform Commands section, add:
/msg nickserv identify yourpassword
Click OK as many times as you need to get out of the menus and you're all done.
From the menu choose ChatZilla -> Preferences. Navigate to Global Settings.
Navigate to the Startup tab. Scroll down to Locations.
Click Add and use the following formats to add a network and channel, and to identify:
(in the last example replace yourpassword with your freenode account password)
Click Apply, followed by OK, to get out of the ChatZilla Preferences dialog
To add all of your channels individually in the same format once you've joined them, right-click the tab of each channel -> Open this Channel at Startup
To bookmark a channel without joining it automatically at startup, drag the tab for that channel directly to Firefox's Bookmarks Toolbar or Menu
HexChat (Windows version)
Go to HexChat. Select Network list. You will see five boxes for you to fill in:
Nickname: The nick you wish to connect with by default.
Second choice (optional): An alternative nick if the first is unavailable.
Third choice (optional): As above.
User name (optional): This is your ident. For example, in [email protected]/Jimbo-Wales, "example" would be generated from this field. This can be anything you want, with a maximum of nine characters.
Real name (optional): This is your "real name" field, visible when the command /whois is used. This doesn't necessarily have to be your real name; you could just have your Wikipedia username, or a URL to your account. It can be anything you want.
Once the details have been completed, highlight the FreeNode tab under "Networks". Then click the "Edit..." tab.
Click "Add" next to "Servers for FreeNode". Type the following:
chat.freenode.net/6667 This is the port you can use to connect to the network. See also the advanced section below.
Check the "Use global user information" box under "Your details".
Check the "Auto connect to this network on startup" box under "Connecting".
In the "Favorite channels" box, fill out the channels you wish to join automatically in this format:
#Wikipedia,#wikipedia-en,#Wikimedia,#mediawiki ... Please note, however, that there is a 256 character limit for this option (see also the advanced section below).
Leave the "Connect command" and "NickServ password" fields blank. In the "Server password" box, type the password you use to identify yourself to NickServ.
Finally, select your character set (by default, "IRC (Latin/Unicode Hybrid)" is selected).
Now click "Close" and you should be all set. Close HexChat and reboot; you should now be identified and connected to your selected channels.
Advanced options for HexChat
There are a few advanced options available for HexChat. If you join more channels than the 256 character limit allows, you can set up an alternative autojoin using Notepad.
You can specify your user modes (see /quote help umode) on the first line. For example, you could type (without the leading /):
On the second line, type idchans
On the third line, you can type out the channels you intend to join. Type in the following format:
If you'd like a cloak that doesn't advertise Wikipedia, please ask in #freenode for an unaffiliated cloak or if you're looking for a member of freenode's staff directly, you can do so via the /stats p command or join #freenode and use the /who freenode/staff/* command in your IRC client.
The realname (or Full Name) field can be set optional to anything you want.
The ident setting should ideally be turned on, and again set to anything you want.
I want to send a file to someone and it's not working!
You have to define a port range in your IRC client, add an exception in any firewall software you may be using and allow that port range in your router. Or just go to portforward.com and ask them for help.
What are some basic commands?
Here are some basic commands for IRC: (as taken from Wikibooks)