Wikipedia defines IRC as:
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a protocol for real-time Internet text messaging (chat) or synchronous conferencing. It is mainly designed for group communication in discussion forums, called channels, but also allows one-to-one communication via private message as well as chat and data transfer, including file sharing.
Back in 1992, IRC was a gigantic step up from the old BBS days (If you don’t know what I mean, then see Wikipedia for BBS). It amazes me that how some technologies are simple and effective enough that they fundamentally stay unchanged for 20 years. IRC is nearly the same as it was when I first started using it. There’s no graphics unless you send a file to someone and there’s no real bells and whistles to speak of. It’s plain text communication at its best.
It is still a great resource to speak with people about technical issues. It’s like free tech support with no hold times, as long as you follow basic etiquette. Online etiquette is pretty simple really: Don’t be a jerk! Logging in and retyping your question in ALL CAPS doesn’t get it answered faster, nor does it motivate the people that are taking the time to answer your questions to help you. Just be patient, ask nicely, and you may just find some of the greatest minds around ready to fix your problem!
Before you can use this amazing and fun resource, you’ll need a client to connect. My personal favorite is mIRC (pronounced “Merc”). It’s a $20 registration fee but its been around forever so well worth it to me. A free alternative is IceChat IRC.
After you get mIRC up and running it will ask you to select a name. Enter your information to proceed. If you like IRC then you’ll want to use NickServ to reserve your name so no one else can use it. Search for NickServ IRC for more information about how to do that.
By default, mIRC provides a large list of servers. Each server houses thousands of chat rooms. The server we’re interested in is called freenode. It is located at: irc.freenode.net 6667. Plug that address into mIRC and hit Connect to jump in.
A dialog box will pop up with a list of Channels. These Channels are chat rooms that you can join. You can participate in many rooms simultaneously. Type “#magento” to join the Magento help channel. Alternatively, you can type /join #magento in the main status window or while in another channel. Most of the time there will be a conversation in progress, so patiently wait for an opening to ask your question and you’ll get the help you’re seeking.
A helpful document about freenode for newbies is located here: http://blog.freenode.net/2010/11/be-safe-out-there/. Check it out before going into IRC.