IRC is a great way to chat with people all around the world. It’s been around forever and unlike the newer social media services, it isn’t controlled by any one company.
As awesome as IRC is, there are a couple of drawbacks. First, if an Internet connection goes down, your connection will be lost. It’s also difficult to move your settings from computer to computer.
Fortunately, if you’re not afraid of the Linux command line and with a few programs, you can keep your IRC connection going almost as long as you like.
There are two ways to do this: either using a home server or signing up for shell account. Shell accounts are public servers that let you log in to a remote Linux or other operating system command line remotely. They’re popular for IRC users who want to keep IRC sessions going for a long time.
Setting up a session on a home server is easy enough. Since you’ll be using text-based software, you don’t need a really powerful machine. If you’ve got an old computer lying around, you can use that.
There are a number of text-based IRC clients around, but the favorite seems to be Irssi. If you’ve got a Debian or Ubuntu system running, just type this command:
The other program you’ll want to install is either GNU Screen or tmux. Both of these programs are terminal multiplexers, which means that they let you run more than one program at a time in a single terminal window, similar to tabbed browsing for the command line.
GNU Screen has been around since 1987, and it’s been very useful for both IRC users and system administrators working on remote systems, especially over Wi-Fi connections. It’s been somewhat difficult to use. Recently, a challenger in the field has emerged in the form of tmux, developed by the OpenBSD team. Although tmux is developed as part of OpenBSD, it’s also available as a standalone system that works across platforms. Most Linux distros have both programs in their repositories. If you’re on Debian/Ubuntu, here’s how to get them:
To install GNU Screen:
To install tmux:
If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend using tmux, as it’s a lot easier to use. You’ll SSH into either your home server or your shell server, and issue this command:
This isn’t going to be a complete tutorial on tmux. If you want more info, you can always check out the documentation. You’ll get a shell that you can use as you would normally. You can start your IRC client and chat away.
You can detach in tmux using the command “Ctrl-B”. (The prefix can be changed in a configuration file.) If your connection is interrupted or you detach from your session, you can reattach by issuing this command at the shell:
You’ll have an eternal IRC session you can connect to from any machine with an SSH client, including your favorite tablets and smartphones. You can move from device to device without a hitch.
If you’re using a shell server, however, it might not let you detach and leave processes running unless you pay for the privilege.
There’s more to tmux than meets the eye, and you can do amazing things with them if you take the time to learn. This tutorial should be enough to get you started.
Image credit: Joshk/Wikipedia