The Best IRC Clients for Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, and iPhone

Here at LockerGnome, we’re huge fans of IRC. In fact, fans of our blog are huge fans of IRC, chatting about tech, gadgets, and other geeky things over at live.pirillo.com 24/7. Often, however, using an IRC client is much easier than using your Web browser to join an IRC chat — especially if you partake in multiple chats simultaneously.

Whether you run Windows or OS X, or use an Android or iPhone, we’ve reviewed the best IRC chat clients for you — as well as how to use these clients so you can get started with each client in practically no time.

Windows — mIRC

If you use Windows, we suggest using mIRC as your desktop IRC client. mIRC is a full-featured Internet Relay Chat client that, according to its website, “can be used to communicate, share, play, or work with others on IRC networks around the world, either in multi-user group conferences or in one-to-one private discussions. Its design, it’s simple but practical, and can be customized to your desires. mIRC suports buddy lists, multi-server connections, IPv6, SSL encryption, proxy support, UTF-8 display, UPnP, customizable sounds, spoken messages, tray notifications, and message logging. You can also use mIRC to create applications that perform functions such as communicate over network or play games. mIRC is one of the oldest and most popular IRC chat clients for Windows, and is constantly improving features as technology evolves.

mIRC is perhaps the oldest and most well-known IRC client on the Windows platform. While it may not be absolutely free, it is an excellent choice for Windows users who want a robust client that’s still easy to customize to meet their needs. Here’s how to get set up on the server of your choice using mIRC.

  • Open mIRC.
  • Click the Connect icon in the upper-left area of the screen. It looks like a lightning bolt.
  • Fill out the following information:
    • Nickname: Your desired handle.
    • Alternative: A secondary choice if the first is unavailable.
    • Name: Your actual full name. (optional)
    • Email: Your email address. (optional)
  • Move to the Server Area located on the sidebar under Connect.
  • Here, you can browse for a server to join or simply hit Add to start adding your own.
  • To add a custom server, hit Add and fill out the following information:
    • Description: A name for the server you can remember it by.
    • IRC Server: URL of the server. (example: irc.geekshed.net)
    • Ports: Leave it alone unless the address includes a port number specified by the host.
    • Group: Optional, used for grouping servers.
    • Password: Only needed if the server (not the channel) is password protected.
    • Click Add.
    • You can connect to the server by highlighting it in the list, hitting Select, and selecting Connect.
  • To connect to a server automatically on startup:
    • Navigate to the Options tab in the sidebar of the connect window.
    • Click Connect on Startup.
  • Click OK.
  • When you’re connected, you can then join channels on the server. To do this:
    • Either type /join #<channelname><password (if one exists)> or…
      • Go to Favorites and Add to Favorites.
      • Type the channel name in the Channel field.
      • Enter the password (if one is needed) under Password.
      • Select Join on Connect if you wish to have the channel automatically appear when you connect.
      • Click OK.

Mac OS X — Colloquy

Most Mac users who use a chat client rave about Adium, a comprehensive client that features the ability to stream services like Google Chat, Facebook Chat, Yahoo!, AIM, and even IRC.However, the IRC component does not work very well, and heavy users of IRC may want to use a client like Colloquy instead. This client, which also features SILC & ICB, has the same look and feel as other Mac apps. In fact, many Adium users will find the UI remarkably similar, as you can customize the look and feel of the client and switch between chats in tabs. Colloquy also features emoticons, a buddy list, the ability to transfer files, and the freedom to use multiple servers. Users who rave about Colloquy on its website say it’s the “best IRC client for OS X” and we don’t hesitate to agree.

Colloquy is one of the simplest and yet most robust IRC clients out there. Setting up Colloquy to automatically join your favorite chat rooms is a breeze. Here’s how:

  • Open the main Colloquy window.
  • Select File and New Connection.
  • Fill out the fields accordingly.
    • Nickname: Your desired user name on the server.
    • Server Protocol: IRC (Internet Relay Chat)
    • Chat Server: Your desired server. (Example: irc.geekshed.net)
  • Click Remember This Connection.
  • If the server has a password:
    • Click the arrow next to Details.
    • Enter the server password in the Server Password field.
  • Click Connect.
  • If you’d like to join specific rooms:
    • Click the Join Room icon.
    • Type in your desired channel name in the Chat Room field. (Example: #Chris)
    • You can set the room to auto-join by right-clicking on the room name in the sidebar of the chat window and selecting Auto Join.

Linux — XChat

Linux users looking for a great IRC chat client need to look no further than XChat, an IRC client for Linux that also has a few Windows ports roaming about. This client allows you to join multiple IRC channels at the same time, talk publicly, and have private one-on-one conversations with other users. The client features the ability to make file transfers between users. In addition, XChat includes powerful scripting capabilities, allowing you to script in languages such as Perl, Python, Ruby, and Tcl.

To use XChat, you must first install it (obviously). Given the wide range of Linux distributions available, to provide instructions for every configuration would take quite a while to accomplish. Instead, do a quick search for XChat in your distribution’s package manager, or take a look on Google, and I’m sure you’ll find it waiting for you.

Once XChat is installed, the rest is pretty straightforward. It starts up by displaying a list of popular IRC networks to which you can connect. You can add and delete networks as you wish, or modify the configuration for existing ones. From these settings, you can also specify which IRC channels you would prefer to automatically join when you have connected to a particular network, as well as specifying server and NickServ passwords and additional commands to run upon connecting.

iPhone — Rooms

Just can’t get enough of IRC? If you’re constantly on the go, you can stay connected while using your iPhone with Rooms, an IRC client designed just for the iPhone. While Rooms comes pre-loaded with a list of channels you can join, the app is intuitive to use — just use the “Join Room” feature and you’ll be in your favorite IRC chat. Other features of Rooms include the ability to chat with friends or other people all over the world in different chat rooms or just tap someone’s nickname to go to private chat and search for other chat rooms using the servers own lists or the “Chat Directory,” which contains a preselected choice. Rooms also comes with features to add chat rooms to your favorites lists, an ignore function to hide messages from certain users, and activity notification. Of course, you can be in multiple IRC chats at once with Rooms, and this app allows you to easily manage your chats without missing important messages or activity in other chats. To use Rooms, download the app from the iTunes App Store and follow directions to access your favorite channels.

Android — AndChat

Android users always on the go also have a great way to easily manage their IRC chats while away from their computer as well with AndChat. This free app allows users to connect to multiple servers simultaneously, use colored text, see chat history, view timestamps, and customize notifications. The app also supports SSL and uses encryption to protect access to password protected servers. AndChat also works with rssi proxy, ZNC, Bip, psyBNC, Miau and sBNC. If you’re an Android user who uses IRC on a regular basis, this is a must-have app to stay connected with your chats. To use AndChat, download the app from the Android Market and follow directions to access your desired channels.

Do you use an IRC client to manage your IRC channels and chats? Feel free to share your favorites in the comments below.

Article Written by

Kelly Clay, author of Blog Without Boundaries, is a freelance writer and lifestyle advisor.