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Historically, IRC has been one of the strongest and most active forms of online communication, featuring various networks and channels on a variety of topics. Channels work as chat room-like settings in which to talk to others; channels exist inside networks and users on the same network can also message each other privately.
While IRC may be falling out of favor in many circles, it is a still a prevalent part of tech culture, and hundreds of open source projects, including various programming languages, host official IRC channels for discussion, help, and development. Larger projects may even have multiple channels for specific discussions. Outside tech communities, such as Reddit’s popular SysAdmin group, also often have IRC channels for real-time chat.
IRC is not just limited to the large networks hosting official chats, however. An IRC network can be hosted by anyone with a server and the desire to maintain a network, and there are plenty of smaller networks in which you can often find like-minded users to form tight-knit communities.
While similar applications, such as Slack and HipChat, have moved to replace IRC with more beginner-friendly interfaces, these have yet to gain the expansive user base that IRC has, and are limited in self-hosting options.

Popular Networks

Despite the apparent decline of IRC in many circles, tech has continued to thrive. The network Freenode, which hosts many of the official IRC channels for open source projects, has consistently grown in recent years, and other popular networks, such as OFTC, who focus on providing services to the free software community, are far from stagnant. Other networks, such as QuakeNet and IRCnet are also still massively active, although these have less of a presence among coders, system administrators, and others in tech.
Linux Academy hosts its own chat on Freenode, #linuxacademy. It is not a bad place to start!

Connect

How you actually connect to an IRC channel is dependent upon what IRC client you use. Clients can be terminal-based, provide a GUI, or even be hosted on the web, and what client you prefer is often a mix of operating system options and personal preference. Those new to IRC may prefer a web client while someone who is already all-day on their terminal may favor one they can use in that terminal.
The following IRC clients are all free or open source software and have had a major release within the past two years to ensure compatibility and security.

ClientPlatformPrimary Features
ChatZillaMozilla-based browsersMulti-network connection, CSS styling, JavaScript scripting, file transfer
HexChatOSX, Unix-like, WindowsTerminal or GUI, customizable interface, Python and Perl scripting, multi-network connection
IceChatWindowsGUI, multi-network connection, custom colors, user themes, scripting
ircIIUnix-likeTerminal-based, multi-network connection
IrssiLinux, FreeBSD, OSX, WindowsTerminal-based, Perl scripting, multi-network connection, encryption options, themes/customizable interface
Kiwi IRCWeb-basedGUI, themes, plugins, mobile support, user scripts
KonversationLinux (KDE)GUI, encryption, multi-network connection, channel bookmarks, themes
LimeChatOSXGUI, multi-network connection
QuasselOSX, Unix-like, WindowsGUI, multi-network connection, themes
SmuxiLinux, FreeBSD, OSX, WindowsTerminal or GUI, themes, multi-network
WeeChatBSD, Linux, OSX, WindowsTerminal, multi-network connection, scripting, customizable interface

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