What is IRC? What is it used for and how do I use it?

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IRC, which stands for Internet Relay Chat, is a realtime chat facility that many open source projects use to discuss bugs, features, etc. This is useful as developers are often in different parts of the world and different timezones. It is a way for them to communicate and work on solutions in real time.

As a user of a particular piece of software, you may have some questions, or you may simply not be able to get something to work. Using IRC you can chat to the developers, and other users of the software, to troubleshoot, or just generally discuss the software, in realtime.

You can use an IRC client, such as XChat (quickstart guide) to connect to IRC channels, or you could alternatively use a web interface, such as freenode webchat (provided that the IRC channel uses freenode, which a lot do). You will need to find out the name for the IRC channel, but most often it is simply named after the software, eg. Ardour's IRC channel is called "ardour". This is a common convention. You should be able to confirm what channel name a piece of software uses from it's website.

You don't need to set up an account to use IRC. You can choose a guest name to log in with. Once logged in, you don't have to ask to ask. You can just ask your question. Just remember that people on the channel may be in different time zones so you might have to be patient and wait around for an answer. And don't forget the golden rule and always be polite.