Review of The Book of IRC

The Book of IRC
Alex Charalabidis
No Starch Press

Reviewed by Nick Christenson,

August 10, 2002

In many ways, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is the forgotten step-child of Internet service. Despite a history as a robust service dating back to 1988 (several years before the HTTP protocol spawns the phenomenon known as the World Wide Web), and despite a broad interest in Internet chat applications, IRC has received remarkably limited coverage by authors and publishers. There are only a few books on this topic available on the market. The Book of IRC is one of these.

The Book of IRC begins with the basics. Alex Charalabidis provides background on the Internet and connecting to it before he starts to explain IRC itself. He starts slowly, providing overview information as well as pointing out some of the pitfalls than can be found on many IRC channels. The author does a pretty good job of providing useful caveats to the IRC rookie who may be unaware of some of the things that go on in the dark corners of the Internet. At the same time, he really doesn't make a very strong case for why one would want to use IRC in the first place. Of course, by the time the reader gets this far they've probably already bought the book, so perhaps the reader is already adequately aware of the upsides.

The next few chapters cover IRC clients. The author does a very good job of covering a lot of ground here. Windows and Unix clients are discussed in detail. Apple clients are also given sufficient mention. As if that weren't enough, Charalabidis even makes mention of VMS, OS/2, and Amiga clients. Needless to say, coverage of client-side topics is thorough. From here the author moves on to using IRC itself. It's difficult to separate IRC use from the client application, except at the protocol level which is of limited use (at best) to the average IRC user. However, the book does a good job of providing this information using the most common Unix and Windows clients as examples. The reader who is familiar with rudimentary IRC use should come to better understand the considerable options that are at their disposal.

Next, we move on to issues regarding running IRC servers. This is the best information on IRC server operations I've seen in print. Charalabidis provides some good information on how "ops" works, what an operator can do, and what they can't or typically won't do. Some of the information about the responsibilities of "ops" comes off a little self-important. After all, it's just IRC. Given the inflated importance granted to the IRC world by many of its denizens, it may be appropriate to describe these duties in grand terms. Fairly good information is also providing on the sorts of disruptions that might be caused by anti-social individuals on IRC, as well as techniques which may be employed to combat them.

Other information is scattered around the book. For example, IRC bots are covered, but in a superficial manner. The differences between the various "competing" IRC networks are also discussed, although I would have enjoyed hearing more about the history and factionalization of these networks. IRC protocol minutia such as DCC and CTCP are also discussed along with a brief overview of the IRC protocol itself, as defined in RFC 1459 and subsequently modified by various IRC server implementations. One criticism that I have with the book is the dearth of real hard-core implementation details. There's not enough information here to help an interested reader write a new client, write a bot, or really understand what's going on behind the scenes. Even though the author is an experienced internaut, it's pretty clear that he's not a network programming expert. The target audience of this book probably doesn't have much of a need for this additional information anyway.

While The IRC Book can't be called a deep book on the inner workings of IRC, it does cover the user-land issues of connecting to IRC and operating IRC servers in quite a bit of depth, and it covers the deeper information in more detail than any other book I've seen. While sometimes the author makes the IRC world seem more important than it should be, and occasionally his information about how the underlying Internet works is a little askew, most of the information provided will be very useful to those wishing to learn more about how Internet Relay Chat operates. I recommend the book to those who want a thorough coverage of the visible aspects of this Internet service.


The IRC Book covers Internet Relay Chat more thoroughly than any other book I've read on the topic. Although the treatment is not deep enough to really understand what's going on behind the scenes, the information provides in its pages does a good job at informing the target audience almost everything they'd want to know about interacting with the medium. I recommend it for those who want to learn more about IRC.

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