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IRC Hacks Paul Mutton
Published by O'Reilly Media
432 pages
£ 17.50
Published: 6th August 2004
reviewed by Mike Smith
   in the December 2004 issue (pdf), (html)

So the problem with the Internet is that you never know how to pronounce something (apart from Linus's famous audio file, perhaps). Is it eye-arr-see, or like the work Irk. (Similar debates go on about vee-eye and oh-ess-ten.) I say the former (eye-arr-see) and couldn't see any hints in this book to the contrary, but I understand regular IRC users (I'm not) refer to it as Irk.

IRC is one of the great Internet applications: A protocol that enables a global, scalable, realtime chat system - but you knew that already.

Chapter one tells you which clients to use for various operating systems. The obvious ones are covered - mIRC in MS world, XChat and others.

There are then a couple of chapters on the basics of IRC. Interesting stuff, but not really hacks as such. Also a few hints on configuring various clients - for instance setting colours and adding sounds to mIRC. Also a little on scripting solutions in some of the clients and pointers to some libraries of useful scripts.

Then there is some material on internals and writing clients in various scripting languages (the protocol is covered in RFC1459), and at this point it begins to get a little more interesting.

There are many chapters devoted to Bots - several examples of bot code and the author's own software, PieSpy. This, if you haven't come across it, displays a diagram of who is talking to whom, realtime. These chapters include how to write bots (providing some code), logging bots, community bots (for message passing and general usefulness), Search and Query, Fun, Announcements, Network and Channel Management.

The final chapters cover the IRC protocol, some non-conventional ways to connect to IRC (pocket PCs, phones etc) and finally a chapter on Servers and services. This talks about setting up your own IRC network.

In summary, this book has a lot about the basics of what IRC is, and some coverage of particular clients and tools. It majors on various types of bots - which are what make IRC a really interesting environment not only for chatting, but for automating information services. The Author is from the UK (at the University of Kent completing his PhD at the time of writing the book, apparently) - so that's a plus point. Manchester United even gets a mention in one of the screen dumps. I'm still making my mind up whether to recommend the book. On balance I think I will. For instance if I were inclined to investigate bot writing further, it contains a useful set of material to get me started. I quite liked it.

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