People still use IRC. It’s been one of the most resilient forms of conversation in the history of online communication, and while it’s certainly past its prime, IRC is still alive and kicking today – so alive, in fact, that dozens of clients are still being actively developed.
Most people use IRC on mobile devices these days, which is the more convenient path to take given how far mobile apps have come in terms of features and usability. However, if you’re on a Linux computer like me, you’ll probably benefit from a robust desktop client.
Here are some of the best clients that are still in active development.
Several years ago, XChat was a top contender in the realm of cross-platform IRC clients. It was so good that most Windows users switched over from the reigning giant at the time, mIRC, and most Linux users considered it the de facto standard. Then tragedy struck: XChat stopped being maintained.
Thankfully, because XChat was open source, a successor named HexChat filled the void with an IRC client that was even better, faster, and more polished. The lightweight aesthetic design is what won me over, but just because it looks minimalistic doesn’t mean it’s lacking in features.
In addition to a customizable interface that can be themed according to your tastes, HexChat can be scripted using either Python or Perl – a big step up from mIRC where scripting was limited to the outdated mIRC scripting language. It has a handful of other advanced features, like multi-network support, and bugs are squashed regularly thanks to active development.
If you don’t know what you want in an IRC client, HexChat is the safest choice that anyone could make.
Back when I was using IRC on Windows, I found that there was a lot to like about Quassel but also a lot that turned me off.
It’s cross-platform, which is great, and it sells itself on the idea of a split client-and-server: if you run a Quassel server somewhere, you can attach and detach a Quassel client at will. This way, you never miss any conversations because the server stays permanently connected.
But the interface is a bit too dated and lifeless. However, that might just be a personal thing since Quassel is built on top of Qt and I’m just not a fan of the way Qt looks and feels. Since IRC is usually something that’s always up and running, I have to be happy with the interface. It’s non-negotiable.
Thus, while Quassel is a great client on paper, it falls short for me. But don’t let that turn you off. You may find that you love it even more than HexChat.
If you like the split client-and-server feature of Quassel above but you don’t actually like Quassel itself, Smuxi should be right up your alley. Even if you don’t care for the detachable client concept, Smuxi is still a fantastic client that you should really consider using.
This awesome client is both clean and modern thanks to its GNOME-based design. It integrates seamlessly with GNOME desktop notifications (useful for incoming messages) and Ubuntu’s messaging menu. It’s not just for IRC either. Smuxi can tap into Twitter, Facebook, GTalk, Jabber, and more.
On top of that, Smuxi is beyond feature-complete. So much of its functionality can be customized in the configurations, including support for multiple networks and multiple identities, plus full control over keyboard shortcuts and interface theming.
For a long time, Irssi (pronounced like IRC) was the most popular terminal-based IRC client for Linux and was most used amongst Linux veterans. After all, it wasn’t until recently that Linux became detached from the stigma of being “that difficult operating system that forces you to use a command line“.
And to be honest, Irssi was a huge pain to use when I was a Linux newbie. The same features that made Irssi so loved were the same features that had me scratching my head: the terminal interface and the heavy reliance on keybindings. But once you get over the learning curve, it’s almost preferable.
Irssi also has a theming system that lets you change up the various colors and formatting used in the interface. It’s surprising how much a terminal-based layout can be altered.
WeeChat is a terminal-based IRC client that’s more accessible to newbies than the aforementioned Irssi. Everything about its interface is more intuitive than its competitor, which means you won’t be confused as often. The layout is simpler and easier on the eyes as well.
It’s also built as a modular program, so the core is lightweight but can be extended through plugins written in C, Python, Perl, Ruby, Lua, Tcl, or even Scheme. WeeChat provides a central website where WeeChat users can upload and share their scripts.
Honestly, if you’re looking to use IRC on the command line, WeeChat is the best option. You cannot go wrong with it, even if you’ve never used a terminal-based IRC client before. Despite having very little experience with these kinds of clients, I found myself having a blast with WeeChat.
And for more power and flexibility, consider using WeeChat with something like tmux. I hear it’s a great combination, though I’ve personally never felt the need to try it.
Which One Do You Like Best?
I’m surprised by the IRC offerings that are available on Linux. All of these are available on Windows in one form or another, but they just run better and look better in their native environment. IRC may have peaked long ago – Slack is more modern, like an IRC 2.0 – but the clients for it have never been nicer.
So, which client is best? It’s a hard call to make, but I’d have to say HexChat if you want a graphical client and WeeChat if you want a terminal client. But really, you should try all of them and see which one feels best for you.
What do you think? Are they any Linux IRC clients that I missed? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!