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History Of IRC (Internet Relay Chat)
- by fOotLoOse

This file is an attempt on my behalf to record for all posterity the times that IRC has gone through. There have been the bad times and then there have been the good times. But the amazing tenacity of a few persons has kept this dream alive and rekindled the spirit of IRC. This article attempts to explore the history of IRC right from the hazy beginnings through turbid times to what IRC has evolved to today.

Since I have basically relied on Daniel Stenberg's document to assemble this information , I must remain deeply indebted to him for the wonderful work he's done in managing the record of IRC.

Thank you, thank you, thank you ... Mikko "WatchMan" Rautalahti, Mandar "Mmmm" Mirashi, DALvenjah and MacGOD for all those information.

I don't claim copyrights on this document file, but I will be glad if you would acknowledge and give me some credits for this compilation. This file may be distributed freely, but charging for it is forbidden. Not that anyone would pay for this anyways...

"The Beginning"
IRC was born during the summer of 1988 when Jarkko "WiZ" Oikarinen wrote the first IRC client and server at the University of Oulu, Finland (where he was working at the Department of Information Processing Science).

Jarkko intended to extend the BBS software he administrated at tolsun.oulu.fi, to allow news the usenet style, real time discussions and similar BBS features. The first part he implemented was the chat part, which he did with borrowed parts written by his friends Jyrki Kuoppala and Jukka Pihl. It was initially tested on a single machine, and according to the words from Jarkko himself "The birthday of IRC was in August 1988". The first IRC server was named tolsun.oulu.fi.

Jarkko got some friends at the Helsinki and Tampere Universities to start running IRC servers when his number of users increased. Other universities soon followed. Markku Järvinen helped improving the client. At this time Jarkko realized that the rest of the BBS features probably wouldn't fit in his program!

Jarkko got in touch with guys at the University of Denver and Oregon State University. They had got an IRC network running (they had got the program from one of Jarkko's friends, Vijay Subramaniam -- the first non-finnish person to use IRC) and wanted to connect to the finnish network. IRC then grew larger and got used on the entire Finnish national network - Funet - and then connected to Nordunet, the Scandinavian branch of the Internet. In November 1988, IRC had spread across the Internet.

"What is IRC?" you may ask. IRC is a multi-user chat system that connects 'servers' around the world by means of a 'cable' of sorts. These servers form a gigantic web that allows you to connect to a given server. You can then join 'chat rooms' or 'channels' that don't really exist. They are virtual meeting halls of sorts. This allows anyone with an internet connection to participate in live chat. During IRC's relativly short history it has quickly shown it's superiority over other chat systems like those owned by America On Line. This is because of several reasons. Firstly, IRC is free. There is no charge to use IRC and there are no prerequisets to join.

In the middle of 1989, there were some 40 servers worldwide.

ircII was released 1989 by Michael Sandrof.

In July 1990, IRC averaged at 12 users on 38 servers.

In the beginning of 1990, a net for server development called the ChNet was formed. It consisted of about 25 servers and no users. It was used to develop the 2.7 version which can be found even now (1993) on the EFnet. However, this was soon dissolved after a period of 3-4 months, due to disagreements between the programmers. By this time, Avalon (Darren Reed) had been approved of by Jarkko amongst others to be the official releaser of ircd versions. However, certain GNU programmers at MIT wanted to release code for ircd as well (Mycroft@IRC in particular) which did not fit in very well with Avalon's plans, and so the ChNet was dissolved. Soon after, a more radical split was to occur on the actual IRC network itself.

From Helen Trillian Rose's Networking documentation found alongwith the IRC server (updated in Oct. 1990):
"In August of 1990, IRC suffered a critical split in viewpoints of key people in the IRC hierarchy. The result was IRC split into two networks, EFnet (Eris Free network) and Anet (Anarchy network). This split continues today. There is some debate over whether IRC will ever reunite, however, neither side is willing to bend from their standpoint. Currently, there are about 95 servers on EFnet (and the same number of users) and 15 servers on Anet (and about half the number of users)."

In August 1990 the first major disagreement took place in the IRC world. The "A-net" (Anarchy net) included as server named eris.berkeley.edu. It was all open, required no passwords and had no limit on the number of connects. As Greg "wumpus" Lindahl explains: "it had a wildcard server line, so people were hooking up servers and nick-colliding everyone".

The "Eris Free network", EFnet, made the eris machine the first to be Q-lined (Q for quarantine) from IRC (wumpus' words again: "Eris refused to remove that line, so I formed EFnet. It wasn't much of a fight; I got all the hubs to join, and almost everyone else got carried along."). A-net was formed with the eris servers, EFnet was formed with the non-eris servers. History showed most servers and users went with EFnet. The name EFnet lived only shortly, as soon as ANet had died, the name EFnet became void too. There was one and only IRC left again.

TubNet was the next network to splinter off. It was created by a crowd of people in #hottub that grew tired of all the netsplits. It got 5 servers and around 100 users. It died again in September the same year.

One often-talked-about event in the history of IRC is the gulf war. In early 1991, live reports were available and more than 300 concurrent users were experienced for the first time.

IRC has also been used during the Los Angeles Riots, the bombings in Israel,the Presidential Elections in the United States, and of course, Monica Lewinsky's deposition. The BBSnet IRC Network believes strongly in free speech and freedom. As will be stated below, IRC is supported by individuals who gain no profit from their support of IRC (ISPs excepted).Therefore, many IRC networks including BBSnet do not allow the trading of so called 'kiddy-porn.'
It is important to remember that Internet Relay Chat is free and is supported not by a conglomerate company but by a small group of generous Sysops (System Opeators), Admins (Server Administrators) and IRCops (IRC Operators). None of these people are paid for their support and generously provide a safe environment for you, the user.


Another fork effort, the first that really made a big and lasting difference, was initiated by 'Wildthang' in USA October 1992 (it forked off the EFnet ircd version 2.8.10). It was meant to be just a test network to develop bots on but it quickly grew to a network "for friends and their friends". In Europe and Canada a separate new network was being worked on (by '_dl' and 'WIZZARD') and in December the french servers connected to the canadian ones, and in the end of the month, the .fr-.ca network was connected to the US one and the network that later came to be called "The Undernet" was born.

The "undernetters" wanted to take ircd further in an attempt to make it less bandwidth consumptive and to try to sort out the channel chaos (netsplits and takeovers) that EFnet started to suffer from. For the latter purpose, the Undernet implemented timestamps, new routing and offered the CService -- a program that allowed users to register channels and then attempted to protect them from troublemakers. (More or less a global defense bot.) The very first server list presented, from Febrary 15th 1993, includes servers from USA, Canada, France, Kroatia and Japan. On August 15th, the new user count record was set to 57 users.


In May 1993, the Request For Comments 1459, for the IRC protocol is out for the public. It has since been subject to many violations and extensions. More about that on other places.

During the summer (some sources mention July) 1994, the Undernet is itself forked. This time, the new Network is called Dalnet (named after its founder: dalvenjah), and they formed the new network for better user service and even more user and channel protections. One of the more significant changes in Dalnet already from the beginning is their use of longer nicknames (the original ircd limit being 9 letters). Dalnet ircd modifications were made by Alexei "Lefler" Kosut.

Dalnet was thus based on the undernet ircd server, although the dalnet pioneers were EFnet abandoners. According to James Ng the initial dalnet people were "ops in #StarTrek sick from the constant splits/lags/takeovers/etc".

In the words of Mikko "WatchMan" Rautalahti. "For one thing, we decided that we didn't want to suffer from the usual anarchy that we'd become quite familiar with. Another thing we wanted to get away from was the instability of EFnet - I'm sure you've seen all the netsplits and nick collisions and God knows what else EFnet tends to throw at your face on a regular basis. And, unlike on EFnet, on DALnet channel takeovers, nick collisions and such are things which are not allowed. (On EFnet they may not be allowed but no one is ever doing anything to the people who practice such "fun".) Are you tired of seeing your channel getting taken over? If so, maybe you'd like to consider moving to DALnet"

Dalnet quickly offered global WallOps (IRCop messages that can be seen by users who are +w (/mode NickName +w)), longer nicknames, Q:Lined nicknames (nicknames that cannot be used i.e. ChanServ, IRCop, NickServ, etc.), global K:Lines (ban of one person or an entire domain from a server or the entire network), IRCop only communications: GlobOps, +H mode showing that an IRCop is a "helpop" etc.

Much of Dalnet's new functions were written in early 1995 by Brian "Morpher" Smith and allow users to own nicknames, channels, send memos and more.

DALnet splits during the winter of 2002, mainly for the inconsistency and instability of DALnet Servers which were down most of the time because of the severe DoS attack. In the first month of its inception RIrc had 3 servers and 107 users.

Undernet split (again) in March 1996 when the sole Australian server delinked from Undernet because of difficulties with the connection across the TransPacific Australian/United States network link. The first few months of oz.org's existance were primarily a trial delink from the Undernet because of the inability to maintain a link during peak usage hours. One of the two designers (chaos and seks) of the orginal Undernet X and W chanserv was Australian, and the same code was used for Oz.org's Z (the name of the chanserv). In June 2001, ozorg boasted peak usages of 4,000 simultaneous users.

In July 1996, after months of flame wars and discussions on the mailing list, there was yet another split due to disagreement in how the development of the ircd should evolve. Most notably, the "european" (most of those servers were in europe) side that later named itself IRCnet argued for nick and channel delays, where the EFnet side argued for timestamps. Most (not all) of the IRCnet servers were in Europe, while most of the EFnet server were in the US. This event is also known as "The Great Split" in many IRC societies. EFnet has since (as of August 1998) grown and passed the number of users it had then. In the autumn year 2000, EFnet has some 50,000 users and IRCnet 70,000.

Open Projects Network

Yet another IRC network that opened its doors in 1998, and had about 100 users and less than 20 channels that year. In late 2001 it had grown to nearly 4,000 users and over 1,300 channels. The OPN uses the Dancer IRCD server, after having been using ircu the intial few years.

Other Networks

Of course, while internet is booming so does IRC. There exists hundreds of independent IRC networks today (like amiganet, linuxnet, galaxynet, bestnet, NewNet, AnotherNet, ChatNet, UpperNet, ZAnet, X-Net, GammaNet, SuperChat, IceNet, RedBrasil, GR-Net, AlphaStar, SorceryNet etc), but luckily there is "only" four of the main ones (this was the reality back in 1998) that keep develop their own version of the ircd server software. (Even though GalaxyNet and SoceryNet both claim to 'modify' the IRC software, I haven't been able to verify that or find out more specificly what they've done.) As time passes, more people will of course develop their own versions.


IETF-IRCUP was an initiative started in January 1998, to gather all the flavours of IRC servers to document a new RFC and possibly set a new standard for all networks to commit to. That project died.

CTCP/2 was an attempt, started in 1997 by Bjorn Reese, to develop and standardize the Client To Client Protocol that was never in the RFC. Clients have been known to extend and modify the original CTCP protocol without allowing non-compliant clients to filter the new codes. CTCP/2 was meant to define how codes and perhaps more important new codes should be introduced in order to let old clients remain functional. It was also meant to address the IPv6 problems the DCC intiating sequence has. The CTCP/2 project has died as well.

We'll just have to wait and see what the future of IRC has to show...



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