The Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a multi-user chat protocol created by Jarkko Oikarinen in 1988. It was inspired by a similar service called "Relay" on the Bitnet network.

The "official" permacomputing IRC channel is #permacomputing on the network.

Permacomputing assessment


  • The protocol is relatively simple (although slightly wasteful on bytes, e.g. the characters "PRIVMSG #" are repeated for every public message).
  • It is rather lightweight to the client and the server alike.
  • There is a large amount of different implementations for a vast variety of platforms.
  • It is open and has no owner.
  • There have been no major changes that would have jeopardized the backwards compatibility between the servers and the various client implementations. Client programs from the 1990s can still be used.


  • It is highly dependent on constant unbroken connections on both the server side and the client side.
    • Breaking of inter-server connections cause "splits" where messages from some servers never reach the other servers.
    • Similarly, the clients only receive those messages that were sent when they were connected.
  • While the lack of a server-side message storage makes the servers more lightweight, it encourages individual users to maintain persistent connections to the servers and to keep logs of their own. Thus, the total need for computing resources ends up being higher than what it would be with server-side persistence.
  • The setting up of a constant client connection is often more complicated for a user than using a website or an "app".
  • The nature of purely realtime feeds and the flat structure of the messaging make it difficult to maintain several discussions on the same channel at the same time.
    • The difficulty of participating in "old" discussions easily contributes to the "fear of missing out" that is a major element of IRC addiction.

Alternatives to IRC

Every now and then, there have been attempts to fix the problems of the IRC, often by launching entirely new chat services. Examples from the 2010s include Slack and Discord. These are usually centralized and non-open services owned by companies, so they aren't very interesting from the permacomputing perspective.

Perhaps the most promising alternative to IRC at the time of writing is ?Matrix.