RFC 2813

Network Working Group C. Kalt

Request for Comments: 2813 April 2000

Updates: 1459

Category: Informational

Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol

Status of this Memo

This memo provides information for the Internet community. It does

not specify an Internet standard of any kind. Distribution of this

memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2000). All Rights Reserved.


While based on the client-server model, the IRC (Internet Relay Chat)

protocol allows servers to connect to each other effectively forming

a network.

This document defines the protocol used by servers to talk to each

other. It was originally a superset of the client protocol but has

evolved differently.

First formally documented in May 1993 as part of RFC 1459 [IRC], most

of the changes brought since then can be found in this document as

development was focused on making the protocol scale better. Better

scalability has allowed existing world-wide networks to keep growing

and reach sizes which defy the old specification.

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

Table of Contents

1. Introduction ............................................... 3

2. Global database ............................................ 3

2.1 Servers ................................................ 3

2.2 Clients ................................................ 4

2.2.1 Users ............................................. 4

2.2.2 Services .......................................... 4

2.3 Channels ............................................... 4

3. The IRC Server Specification ............................... 5

3.1 Overview ............................................... 5

3.2 Character codes ........................................ 5

3.3 Messages ............................................... 5

3.3.1 Message format in Augmented BNF ................... 6

3.4 Numeric replies ........................................ 7

4. Message Details ............................................ 7

4.1 Connection Registration ................................ 8

4.1.1 Password message .................................. 8

4.1.2 Server message .................................... 9

4.1.3 Nick .............................................. 10

4.1.4 Service message ................................... 11

4.1.5 Quit .............................................. 12

4.1.6 Server quit message ............................... 13

4.2 Channel operations ..................................... 14

4.2.1 Join message ...................................... 14

4.2.2 Njoin message ..................................... 15

4.2.3 Mode message ...................................... 16

5. Implementation details .................................... 16

5.1 Connection 'Liveness' .................................. 16

5.2 Accepting a client to server connection ................ 16

5.2.1 Users ............................................. 16

5.2.2 Services .......................................... 17

5.3 Establishing a server-server connection. ............... 17

5.3.1 Link options ...................................... 17 Compressed server to server links ............ 18 Anti abuse protections ....................... 18

5.3.2 State information exchange when connecting ........ 18

5.4 Terminating server-client connections .................. 19

5.5 Terminating server-server connections .................. 19

5.6 Tracking nickname changes .............................. 19

5.7 Tracking recently used nicknames ....................... 20

5.8 Flood control of clients ............................... 20

5.9 Non-blocking lookups ................................... 21

5.9.1 Hostname (DNS) lookups ............................ 21

5.9.2 Username (Ident) lookups .......................... 21

6. Current problems ........................................... 21

6.1 Scalability ............................................ 21

6.2 Labels ................................................. 22

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

6.2.1 Nicknames ......................................... 22

6.2.2 Channels .......................................... 22

6.2.3 Servers ........................................... 22

6.3 Algorithms ............................................. 22

7. Security Considerations .................................... 23

7.1 Authentication ......................................... 23

7.2 Integrity .............................................. 23

8. Current support and availability ........................... 24

9. Acknowledgements ........................................... 24

10. References ................................................ 24

11. Author's Address .......................................... 25

12. Full Copyright Statement ................................... 26

1. Introduction

This document is intended for people working on implementing an IRC

server but will also be useful to anyone implementing an IRC service.

Servers provide the three basic services required for realtime

conferencing defined by the "Internet Relay Chat: Architecture"

[IRC-ARCH]: client locator (via the client protocol [IRC-CLIENT]),

message relaying (via the server protocol defined in this document)

and channel hosting and management (following specific rules [IRC-


2. Global database

Although the IRC Protocol defines a fairly distributed model, each

server maintains a "global state database" about the whole IRC

network. This database is, in theory, identical on all servers.

2.1 Servers

Servers are uniquely identified by their name which has a maximum

length of sixty three (63) characters. See the protocol grammar

rules (section 3.3.1) for what may and may not be used in a server


Each server is typically known by all other servers, however it is

possible to define a "hostmask" to group servers together according

to their name. Inside the hostmasked area, all the servers have a

name which matches the hostmask, and any other server with a name

matching the hostmask SHALL NOT be connected to the IRC network

outside the hostmasked area. Servers which are outside the area have

no knowledge of the individual servers present inside the area,

instead they are presented with a virtual server which has the

hostmask for name.

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2.2 Clients

For each client, all servers MUST have the following information: a

netwide unique identifier (whose format depends on the type of

client) and the server to which the client is connected.

2.2.1 Users

Each user is distinguished from other users by a unique nickname

having a maximum length of nine (9) characters. See the protocol

grammar rules (section 3.3.1) for what may and may not be used in a

nickname. In addition to the nickname, all servers MUST have the

following information about all users: the name of the host that the

user is running on, the username of the user on that host, and the

server to which the client is connected.

2.2.2 Services

Each service is distinguished from other services by a service name

composed of a nickname and a server name. The nickname has a maximum

length of nine (9) characters. See the protocol grammar rules

(section 3.3.1) for what may and may not be used in a nickname. The

server name used to compose the service name is the name of the

server to which the service is connected. In addition to this

service name all servers MUST know the service type.

Services differ from users by the format of their identifier, but

more importantly services and users don't have the same type of

access to the server: services can request part or all of the global

state information that a server maintains, but have a more restricted

set of commands available to them (See "IRC Client Protocol" [IRC-

CLIENT] for details on which) and are not allowed to join channels.

Finally services are not usually subject to the "Flood control"

mechanism described in section 5.8.

2.3 Channels

Alike services, channels have a scope [IRC-CHAN] and are not

necessarily known to all servers. When a channel existence is known

to a server, the server MUST keep track of the channel members, as

well as the channel modes.

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

3. The IRC Server Specification

3.1 Overview

The protocol as described herein is for use with server to server

connections. For client to server connections, see the IRC Client

Protocol specification.

There are, however, more restrictions on client connections (which

are considered to be untrustworthy) than on server connections.

3.2 Character codes

No specific character set is specified. The protocol is based on a a

set of codes which are composed of eight (8) bits, making up an

octet. Each message may be composed of any number of these octets;

however, some octet values are used for control codes which act as

message delimiters.

Regardless of being an 8-bit protocol, the delimiters and keywords

are such that protocol is mostly usable from US-ASCII terminal and a

telnet connection.

Because of IRC's Scandinavian origin, the characters {}|^ are

considered to be the lower case equivalents of the characters []\~,

respectively. This is a critical issue when determining the

equivalence of two nicknames, or channel names.

3.3 Messages

Servers and clients send each other messages which may or may not

generate a reply. Most communication between servers do not generate

any reply, as servers mostly perform routing tasks for the clients.

Each IRC message may consist of up to three main parts: the prefix

(OPTIONAL), the command, and the command parameters (maximum of

fifteen (15)). The prefix, command, and all parameters are separated

by one ASCII space character (0x20) each.

The presence of a prefix is indicated with a single leading ASCII

colon character (':', 0x3b), which MUST be the first character of the

message itself. There MUST be NO gap (whitespace) between the colon

and the prefix. The prefix is used by servers to indicate the true

origin of the message. If the prefix is missing from the message, it

is assumed to have originated from the connection from which it was

received. Clients SHOULD not use a prefix when sending a message

from themselves; if they use one, the only valid prefix is the

registered nickname associated with the client.

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

When a server receives a message, it MUST identify its source using

the (eventually assumed) prefix. If the prefix cannot be found in

the server's internal database, it MUST be discarded, and if the

prefix indicates the message comes from an (unknown) server, the link

from which the message was received MUST be dropped. Dropping a link

in such circumstances is a little excessive but necessary to maintain

the integrity of the network and to prevent future problems. Another

common error condition is that the prefix found in the server's

internal database identifies a different source (typically a source

registered from a different link than from which the message

arrived). If the message was received from a server link and the

prefix identifies a client, a KILL message MUST be issued for the

client and sent to all servers. In other cases, the link from which

the message arrived SHOULD be dropped for clients, and MUST be

dropped for servers. In all cases, the message MUST be discarded.

The command MUST either be a valid IRC command or a three (3) digit

number represented in ASCII text.

IRC messages are always lines of characters terminated with a CR-LF

(Carriage Return - Line Feed) pair, and these messages SHALL NOT

exceed 512 characters in length, counting all characters including

the trailing CR-LF. Thus, there are 510 characters maximum allowed

for the command and its parameters. There is no provision for

continuation message lines. See section 5 for more details about

current implementations.

3.3.1 Message format in Augmented BNF

The protocol messages must be extracted from the contiguous stream of

octets. The current solution is to designate two characters, CR and

LF, as message separators. Empty messages are silently ignored,

which permits use of the sequence CR-LF between messages without

extra problems.

The extracted message is parsed into the components <prefix>,

<command> and list of parameters (<params>).

The Augmented BNF representation for this is found in "IRC Client

Protocol" [IRC-CLIENT].

The extended prefix (["!" user "@" host ]) MUST NOT be used in server

to server communications and is only intended for server to client

messages in order to provide clients with more useful information

about who a message is from without the need for additional queries.

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

3.4 Numeric replies

Most of the messages sent to the server generate a reply of some

sort. The most common reply is the numeric reply, used for both

errors and normal replies. The numeric reply MUST be sent as one

message consisting of the sender prefix, the three digit numeric, and

the target of the reply. A numeric reply is not allowed to originate

from a client; any such messages received by a server are silently

dropped. In all other respects, a numeric reply is just like a normal

message, except that the keyword is made up of 3 numeric digits

rather than a string of letters. A list of different replies is

supplied in "IRC Client Protocol" [IRC-CLIENT].

4. Message Details

All the messages recognized by the IRC server and client are

described in the IRC Client Protocol specification.

Where the reply ERR_NOSUCHSERVER is returned, it means that the

target of the message could not be found. The server MUST NOT send

any other replies after this error for that command.

The server to which a client is connected is required to parse the

complete message, returning any appropriate errors. If the server

encounters a fatal error while parsing a message, an error MUST be

sent back to the client and the parsing terminated. A fatal error

may follow from incorrect command, a destination which is otherwise

unknown to the server (server, client or channel names fit this

category), not enough parameters or incorrect privileges.

If a full set of parameters is presented, then each MUST be checked

for validity and appropriate responses sent back to the client. In

the case of messages which use parameter lists using the comma as an

item separator, a reply MUST be sent for each item.

In the examples below, some messages appear using the full format:

:Name COMMAND parameter list

Such examples represent a message from "Name" in transit between

servers, where it is essential to include the name of the original

sender of the message so remote servers may send back a reply along

the correct path.

The message details for client to server communication are described

in the "IRC Client Protocol" [IRC-CLIENT]. Some sections in the

following pages apply to some of these messages, they are additions

to the message specifications which are only relevant to server to

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

server communication, or to the server implementation. The messages

which are introduced here are only used for server to server


4.1 Connection Registration

The commands described here are used to register a connection with

another IRC server.

4.1.1 Password message

Command: PASS

Parameters: <password> <version> <flags> [<options>]

The PASS command is used to set a 'connection password'. The

password MUST be set before any attempt to register the connection is

made. Currently this means that servers MUST send a PASS command

before any SERVER command. Only one (1) PASS command SHALL be

accepted from a connection.

The last three (3) parameters MUST be ignored if received from a

client (e.g. a user or a service). They are only relevant when

received from a server.

The <version> parameter is a string of at least four (4) characters,

and up to fourteen (14) characters. The first four (4) characters

MUST be digits and indicate the protocol version known by the server

issuing the message. The protocol described by this document is

version 2.10 which is encoded as "0210". The remaining OPTIONAL

characters are implementation dependent and should describe the

software version number.

The <flags> parameter is a string of up to one hundred (100)

characters. It is composed of two substrings separated by the

character "|" (%x7C). If present, the first substring MUST be the

name of the implementation. The reference implementation (See

Section 8, "Current support and availability") uses the string "IRC".

If a different implementation is written, which needs an identifier,

then that identifier should be registered through publication of an

RFC. The second substring is implementation dependent. Both

substrings are OPTIONAL, but the character "|" is REQUIRED. The

character "|" MUST NOT appear in either substring.

Finally, the last parameter, <options>, is used for link options.

The only options defined by the protocol are link compression (using

the character "Z"), and an abuse protection flag (using the character

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

"P"). See sections (Compressed server to server links) and (Anti abuse protections) respectively for more information on

these options.

Numeric Replies:



PASS moresecretpassword 0210010000 IRC|aBgH$ Z

4.1.2 Server message

Command: SERVER

Parameters: <servername> <hopcount> <token> <info>

The SERVER command is used to register a new server. A new connection

introduces itself as a server to its peer. This message is also used

to pass server data over whole net. When a new server is connected

to net, information about it MUST be broadcasted to the whole


The <info> parameter may contain space characters.

<hopcount> is used to give all servers some internal information on

how far away each server is. Local peers have a value of 0, and each

passed server increments the value. With a full server list, it

would be possible to construct a map of the entire server tree, but

hostmasks prevent this from being done.

The <token> parameter is an unsigned number used by servers as an

identifier. This identifier is subsequently used to reference a

server in the NICK and SERVICE messages sent between servers. Server

tokens only have a meaning for the point-to-point peering they are

used and MUST be unique for that connection. They are not global.

The SERVER message MUST only be accepted from either (a) a connection

which is yet to be registered and is attempting to register as a

server, or (b) an existing connection to another server, in which

case the SERVER message is introducing a new server behind that


Most errors that occur with the receipt of a SERVER command result in

the connection being terminated by the destination host (target

SERVER). Because of the severity of such event, error replies are

usually sent using the "ERROR" command rather than a numeric.

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If a SERVER message is parsed and it attempts to introduce a server

which is already known to the receiving server, the connection, from

which that message arrived, MUST be closed (following the correct

procedures), since a duplicate route to a server has been formed and

the acyclic nature of the IRC tree breaks. In some conditions, the

connection from which the already known server has registered MAY be

closed instead. It should be noted that this kind of error can also

be the result of a second running server, problem which cannot be

fixed within the protocol and typically requires human intervention.

This type of problem is particularly insidious, as it can quite

easily result in part of the IRC network to be isolated, with one of

the two servers connected to each partition therefore making it

impossible for the two parts to unite.

Numeric Replies:



SERVER test.oulu.fi 1 1 :Experimental server ; New server

test.oulu.fi introducing itself and

attempting to register.

:tolsun.oulu.fi SERVER csd.bu.edu 5 34 :BU Central Server ; Server

tolsun.oulu.fi is our uplink for

csd.bu.edu which is 5 hops away. The

token "34" will be used by

tolsun.oulu.fi when introducing new

users or services connected to


4.1.3 Nick

Command: NICK

Parameters: <nickname> <hopcount> <username> <host> <servertoken>

<umode> <realname>

This form of the NICK message MUST NOT be allowed from user

connections. However, it MUST be used instead of the NICK/USER pair

to notify other servers of new users joining the IRC network.

This message is really the combination of three distinct messages:


The <hopcount> parameter is used by servers to indicate how far away

a user is from its home server. A local connection has a hopcount of

0. The hopcount value is incremented by each passed server.

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The <servertoken> parameter replaces the <servername> parameter of

the USER (See section 4.1.2 for more information on server tokens).


NICK syrk 5 kalt millennium.stealth.net 34 +i :Christophe Kalt ; New

user with nickname "syrk", username

"kalt", connected from host

"millennium.stealth.net" to server

"34" ("csd.bu.edu" according to the

previous example).

:krys NICK syrk ; The other form of the NICK message,

as defined in "IRC Client Protocol"

[IRC-CLIENT] and used between

servers: krys changed his nickname to


4.1.4 Service message

Command: SERVICE

Parameters: <servicename> <servertoken> <distribution> <type>

<hopcount> <info>

The SERVICE command is used to introduce a new service. This form of

the SERVICE message SHOULD NOT be allowed from client (unregistered,

or registered) connections. However, it MUST be used between servers

to notify other servers of new services joining the IRC network.

The <servertoken> is used to identify the server to which the service

is connected. (See section 4.1.2 for more information on server


The <hopcount> parameter is used by servers to indicate how far away

a service is from its home server. A local connection has a hopcount

of 0. The hopcount value is incremented by each passed server.

The <distribution> parameter is used to specify the visibility of a

service. The service may only be known to servers which have a name

matching the distribution. For a matching server to have knowledge

of the service, the network path between that server and the server

to which the service is connected MUST be composed of servers whose

names all match the mask. Plain "*" is used when no restriction is


The <type> parameter is currently reserved for future usage.

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

Numeric Replies:






SERVICE dict@irc.fr 9 *.fr 0 1 :French Dictionary r" registered on

server "9" is being announced to

another server. This service will

only be available on servers whose

name matches "*.fr".

4.1.5 Quit

Command: QUIT

Parameters: [<Quit Message>]

A client session ends with a quit message. The server MUST close the

connection to a client which sends a QUIT message. If a "Quit

Message" is given, this will be sent instead of the default message,

the nickname or service name.

When "netsplit" (See Section 4.1.6) occur, the "Quit Message" is

composed of the names of two servers involved, separated by a space.

The first name is that of the server which is still connected and the

second name is either that of the server which has become

disconnected or that of the server to which the leaving client was


<Quit Message> = ":" servername SPACE servername

Because the "Quit Message" has a special meaning for "netsplits",

servers SHOULD NOT allow a client to use a <Quit Message> in the

format described above.

If, for some other reason, a client connection is closed without the

client issuing a QUIT command (e.g. client dies and EOF occurs on

socket), the server is REQUIRED to fill in the quit message with some

sort of message reflecting the nature of the event which caused it to

happen. Typically, this is done by reporting a system specific


Numeric Replies:


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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000


:WiZ QUIT :Gone to have lunch ; Preferred message format.

4.1.6 Server quit message

Command: SQUIT

Parameters: <server> <comment>

The SQUIT message has two distinct uses.

The first one (described in "Internet Relay Chat: Client Protocol"

[IRC-CLIENT]) allows operators to break a local or remote server

link. This form of the message is also eventually used by servers to

break a remote server link.

The second use of this message is needed to inform other servers when

a "network split" (also known as "netsplit") occurs, in other words

to inform other servers about quitting or dead servers. If a server

wishes to break the connection to another server it MUST send a SQUIT

message to the other server, using the name of the other server as

the server parameter, which then closes its connection to the

quitting server.

The <comment> is filled in by servers which SHOULD place an error or

similar message here.

Both of the servers which are on either side of the connection being

closed are REQUIRED to send out a SQUIT message (to all its other

server connections) for all other servers which are considered to be

behind that link.

Similarly, a QUIT message MAY be sent to the other still connected

servers on behalf of all clients behind that quitting link. In

addition to this, all channel members of a channel which lost a

member due to the "split" MUST be sent a QUIT message. Messages to

channel members are generated by each client's local server.

If a server connection is terminated prematurely (e.g., the server on

the other end of the link died), the server which detects this

disconnection is REQUIRED to inform the rest of the network that the

connection has closed and fill in the comment field with something


When a client is removed as the result of a SQUIT message, the server

SHOULD add the nickname to the list of temporarily unavailable

nicknames in an attempt to prevent future nickname collisions. See

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

section 5.7 (Tracking recently used nicknames) for more information

on this procedure.

Numeric replies:




SQUIT tolsun.oulu.fi :Bad Link ? ; the server link tolson.oulu.fi

has been terminated because of "Bad


:Trillian SQUIT cm22.eng.umd.edu :Server out of control ; message

from Trillian to disconnect

"cm22.eng.umd.edu" from the net

because "Server out of control".

4.2 Channel operations

This group of messages is concerned with manipulating channels, their

properties (channel modes), and their contents (typically users). In

implementing these, a number of race conditions are inevitable when

users at opposing ends of a network send commands which will

ultimately clash. It is also REQUIRED that servers keep a nickname

history to ensure that wherever a <nick> parameter is given, the

server check its history in case it has recently been changed.

4.2.1 Join message

Command: JOIN

Parameters: <channel>[ %x7 <modes> ]

*( "," <channel>[ %x7 <modes> ] )

The JOIN command is used by client to start listening a specific

channel. Whether or not a client is allowed to join a channel is

checked only by the local server the client is connected to; all

other servers automatically add the user to the channel when the

command is received from other servers.

Optionally, the user status (channel modes 'O', 'o', and 'v') on the

channel may be appended to the channel name using a control G (^G or

ASCII 7) as separator. Such data MUST be ignored if the message

wasn't received from a server. This format MUST NOT be sent to

clients, it can only be used between servers and SHOULD be avoided.

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The JOIN command MUST be broadcast to all servers so that each server

knows where to find the users who are on the channel. This allows

optimal delivery of PRIVMSG and NOTICE messages to the channel.

Numeric Replies:








:WiZ JOIN #Twilight_zone ; JOIN message from WiZ

4.2.2 Njoin message

Command: NJOIN

Parameters: <channel> [ "@@" / "@" ] [ "+" ] <nickname>

*( "," [ "@@" / "@" ] [ "+" ] <nickname> )

The NJOIN message is used between servers only. If such a message is

received from a client, it MUST be ignored. It is used when two

servers connect to each other to exchange the list of channel members

for each channel.

Even though the same function can be performed by using a succession

of JOIN, this message SHOULD be used instead as it is more efficient.

The prefix "@@" indicates that the user is the "channel creator", the

character "@" alone indicates a "channel operator", and the character

'+' indicates that the user has the voice privilege.

Numeric Replies:




:ircd.stealth.net NJOIN #Twilight_zone :@WiZ,+syrk,avalon ; NJOIN

message from ircd.stealth.net

announcing users joining the

#Twilight_zone channel: WiZ with

channel operator status, syrk with

voice privilege and avalon with no


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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

4.2.3 Mode message

The MODE message is a dual-purpose command in IRC. It allows both

usernames and channels to have their mode changed.

When parsing MODE messages, it is RECOMMENDED that the entire message

be parsed first, and then the changes which resulted passed on.

It is REQUIRED that servers are able to change channel modes so that

"channel creator" and "channel operators" may be created.

5. Implementation details

A the time of writing, the only current implementation of this

protocol is the IRC server, version 2.10. Earlier versions may

implement some or all of the commands described by this document with

NOTICE messages replacing many of the numeric replies. Unfortunately,

due to backward compatibility requirements, the implementation of

some parts of this document varies with what is laid out. One

notable difference is:

* recognition that any LF or CR anywhere in a message marks

the end of that message (instead of requiring CR-LF);

The rest of this section deals with issues that are mostly of

importance to those who wish to implement a server but some parts

also apply directly to clients as well.

5.1 Connection 'Liveness'

To detect when a connection has died or become unresponsive, the

server MUST poll each of its connections. The PING command (See "IRC

Client Protocol" [IRC-CLIENT]) is used if the server doesn't get a

response from its peer in a given amount of time.

If a connection doesn't respond in time, its connection is closed

using the appropriate procedures.

5.2 Accepting a client to server connection

5.2.1 Users

When a server successfully registers a new user connection, it is

REQUIRED to send to the user unambiguous messages stating: the user

identifiers upon which it was registered (RPL_WELCOME), the server

name and version (RPL_YOURHOST), the server birth information

(RPL_CREATED), available user and channel modes (RPL_MYINFO), and it

MAY send any introductory messages which may be deemed appropriate.

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In particular the server SHALL send the current user/service/server

count (as per the LUSER reply) and finally the MOTD (if any, as per

the MOTD reply).

After dealing with registration, the server MUST then send out to

other servers the new user's nickname (NICK message), other

information as supplied by itself (USER message) and as the server

could discover (from DNS servers). The server MUST NOT send this

information out with a pair of NICK and USER messages as defined in

"IRC Client Protocol" [IRC-CLIENT], but MUST instead take advantage

of the extended NICK message defined in section 4.1.3.

5.2.2 Services

Upon successfully registering a new service connection, the server is

subject to the same kind of REQUIREMENTS as for a user. Services

being somewhat different, only the following replies are sent:


After dealing with this, the server MUST then send out to other

servers (SERVICE message) the new service's nickname and other

information as supplied by the service (SERVICE message) and as the

server could discover (from DNS servers).

5.3 Establishing a server-server connection.

The process of establishing a server-to-server connection is fraught

with danger since there are many possible areas where problems can

occur - the least of which are race conditions.

After a server has received a connection following by a PASS/SERVER

pair which were recognized as being valid, the server SHOULD then

reply with its own PASS/SERVER information for that connection as

well as all of the other state information it knows about as

described below.

When the initiating server receives a PASS/SERVER pair, it too then

checks that the server responding is authenticated properly before

accepting the connection to be that server.

5.3.1 Link options

Server links are based on a common protocol (defined by this

document) but a particular link MAY set specific options using the

PASS message (See Section 4.1.1).

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000 Compressed server to server links

If a server wishes to establish a compressed link with its peer, it

MUST set the 'Z' flag in the options parameter to the PASS message.

If both servers request compression and both servers are able to

initialize the two compressed streams, then the remainder of the

communication is to be compressed. If any server fails to initialize

the stream, it will send an uncompressed ERROR message to its peer

and close the connection.

The data format used for the compression is described by RFC 1950

[ZLIB], RFC 1951 [DEFLATE] and RFC 1952 [GZIP]. Anti abuse protections

Most servers implement various kinds of protections against possible

abusive behaviours from non trusted parties (typically users). On

some networks, such protections are indispensable, on others they are

superfluous. To require that all servers implement and enable such

features on a particular network, the 'P' flag is used when two

servers connect. If this flag is present, it means that the server

protections are enabled, and that the server REQUIRES all its server

links to enable them as well.

Commonly found protections are described in sections 5.7 (Tracking

recently used nicknames) and 5.8 (Flood control of clients).

5.3.2 State information exchange when connecting

The order of state information being exchanged between servers is

essential. The REQUIRED order is as follows:

* all known servers;

* all known client information;

* all known channel information.

Information regarding servers is sent via extra SERVER messages,

client information with NICK and SERVICE messages and channels with

NJOIN/MODE messages.

NOTE: channel topics SHOULD NOT be exchanged here because the TOPIC

command overwrites any old topic information, so at best, the two

sides of the connection would exchange topics.

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By passing the state information about servers first, any collisions

with servers that already exist occur before nickname collisions

caused by a second server introducing a particular nickname. Due to

the IRC network only being able to exist as an acyclic graph, it may

be possible that the network has already reconnected in another

location. In this event, the place where the server collision occurs

indicates where the net needs to split.

5.4 Terminating server-client connections

When a client connection unexpectedly closes, a QUIT message is

generated on behalf of the client by the server to which the client

was connected. No other message is to be generated or used.

5.5 Terminating server-server connections

If a server-server connection is closed, either via a SQUIT command

or "natural" causes, the rest of the connected IRC network MUST have

its information updated by the server which detected the closure.

The terminating server then sends a list of SQUITs (one for each

server behind that connection). (See Section 4.1.6 (SQUIT)).

5.6 Tracking nickname changes

All IRC servers are REQUIRED to keep a history of recent nickname

changes. This is important to allow the server to have a chance of

keeping in touch of things when nick-change race conditions occur

with commands manipulating them. Messages which MUST trace nick

changes are:

* KILL (the nick being disconnected)

* MODE (+/- o,v on channels)

* KICK (the nick being removed from channel)

No other commands need to check nick changes.

In the above cases, the server is required to first check for the

existence of the nickname, then check its history to see who that

nick now belongs to (if anyone!). This reduces the chances of race

conditions but they can still occur with the server ending up

affecting the wrong client. When performing a change trace for an

above command it is RECOMMENDED that a time range be given and

entries which are too old ignored.

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

For a reasonable history, a server SHOULD be able to keep previous

nickname for every client it knows about if they all decided to

change. This size is limited by other factors (such as memory, etc).

5.7 Tracking recently used nicknames

This mechanism is commonly known as "Nickname Delay", it has been

proven to significantly reduce the number of nickname collisions

resulting from "network splits"/reconnections as well as abuse.

In addition of keeping track of nickname changes, servers SHOULD keep

track of nicknames which were recently used and were released as the

result of a "network split" or a KILL message. These nicknames are

then unavailable to the server local clients and cannot be re-used

(even though they are not currently in use) for a certain period of


The duration for which a nickname remains unavailable SHOULD be set

considering many factors among which are the size (user wise) of the

IRC network, and the usual duration of "network splits". It SHOULD

be uniform on all servers for a given IRC network.

5.8 Flood control of clients

With a large network of interconnected IRC servers, it is quite easy

for any single client attached to the network to supply a continuous

stream of messages that result in not only flooding the network, but

also degrading the level of service provided to others. Rather than

require every 'victim' to provide their own protection, flood

protection was written into the server and is applied to all clients

except services. The current algorithm is as follows:

* check to see if client's `message timer' is less than current time

(set to be equal if it is);

* read any data present from the client;

* while the timer is less than ten (10) seconds ahead of the current

time, parse any present messages and penalize the client by two (2)

seconds for each message;

* additional penalties MAY be used for specific commands which

generate a lot of traffic across the network.

This in essence means that the client may send one (1) message every

two (2) seconds without being adversely affected. Services MAY also

be subject to this mechanism.

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5.9 Non-blocking lookups

In a real-time environment, it is essential that a server process

does as little waiting as possible so that all the clients are

serviced fairly. Obviously this requires non-blocking IO on all

network read/write operations. For normal server connections, this

was not difficult, but there are other support operations that may

cause the server to block (such as disk reads). Where possible, such

activity SHOULD be performed with a short timeout.

5.9.1 Hostname (DNS) lookups

Using the standard resolver libraries from Berkeley and others has

meant large delays in some cases where replies have timed out. To

avoid this, a separate set of DNS routines were written for the

current implementation. Routines were setup for non-blocking IO

operations with local cache, and then polled from within the main

server IO loop.

5.9.2 Username (Ident) lookups

Although there are numerous ident libraries (implementing the

"Identification Protocol" [IDENT]) for use and inclusion into other

programs, these caused problems since they operated in a synchronous

manner and resulted in frequent delays. Again the solution was to

write a set of routines which would cooperate with the rest of the

server and work using non-blocking IO.

6. Current problems

There are a number of recognized problems with this protocol, all of

which are hoped to be solved sometime in the near future during its

rewrite. Currently, work is underway to find working solutions to

these problems.

6.1 Scalability

It is widely recognized that this protocol does not scale

sufficiently well when used in a large arena. The main problem comes

from the requirement that all servers know about all other servers

and clients and that information regarding them be updated as soon as

it changes. It is also desirable to keep the number of servers low

so that the path length between any two points is kept minimal and

the spanning tree as strongly branched as possible.

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6.2 Labels

The current IRC protocol has 4 types of labels: the nickname, the

channel name, the server name and the service name. Each of the four

types has its own domain and no duplicates are allowed inside that

domain. Currently, it is possible for users to pick the label for

any of the first three, resulting in collisions. It is widely

recognized that this needs reworking, with a plan for unique names

for nicks that don't collide being desirable as well as a solution

allowing a cyclic tree.

6.2.1 Nicknames

The idea of the nickname on IRC is very convenient for users to use

when talking to each other outside of a channel, but there is only a

finite nickname space and being what they are, it's not uncommon for

several people to want to use the same nick. If a nickname is chosen

by two people using this protocol, either one will not succeed or

both will be removed by use of KILL (See Section 3.7.1 of "IRC Client

Protocol" [IRC-CLIENT]).

6.2.2 Channels

The current channel layout requires that all servers know about all

channels, their inhabitants and properties. Besides not scaling

well, the issue of privacy is also a concern. A collision of

channels is treated as an inclusive event (people from both nets on

channel with common name are considered to be members of it) rather

than an exclusive one such as used to solve nickname collisions.

This protocol defines "Safe Channels" which are very unlikely to be

the subject of a channel collision. Other channel types are kept for

backward compatibility.

6.2.3 Servers

Although the number of servers is usually small relative to the

number of users and channels, they too are currently REQUIRED to be

known globally, either each one separately or hidden behind a mask.

6.3 Algorithms

In some places within the server code, it has not been possible to

avoid N^2 algorithms such as checking the channel list of a set of


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In current server versions, there are only few database consistency

checks, most of the time each server assumes that a neighbouring

server is correct. This opens the door to large problems if a

connecting server is buggy or otherwise tries to introduce

contradictions to the existing net.

Currently, because of the lack of unique internal and global labels,

there are a multitude of race conditions that exist. These race

conditions generally arise from the problem of it taking time for

messages to traverse and effect the IRC network. Even by changing to

unique labels, there are problems with channel-related commands being


7. Security Considerations

7.1 Authentication

Servers only have two means of authenticating incoming connections:

plain text password, and DNS lookups. While these methods are weak

and widely recognized as unsafe, their combination has proven to be

sufficient in the past:

* public networks typically allow user connections with only few

restrictions, without requiring accurate authentication.

* private networks which operate in a controlled environment often

use home-grown authentication mechanisms not available on the

internet: reliable ident servers [IDENT], or other proprietary


The same comments apply to the authentication of IRC Operators.

It should also be noted that while there has been no real demand over

the years for stronger authentication, and no real effort to provide

better means to safely authenticate users, the current protocol

offers enough to be able to easily plug-in external authentication

methods based on the information that a client can submit to the

server upon connection: nickname, username, password.

7.2 Integrity

Since the PASS and OPER messages of the IRC protocol are sent in

clear text, a stream layer encryption mechanism (like "The TLS

Protocol" [TLS]) could be used to protect these transactions.

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8. Current support and availability

Mailing lists for IRC related discussion:

General discussion: ircd-users@irc.org

Protocol development: ircd-dev@irc.org

Software implementations:




Newsgroup: alt.irc

9. Acknowledgements

Parts of this document were copied from the RFC 1459 [IRC] which

first formally documented the IRC Protocol. It has also benefited

from many rounds of review and comments. In particular, the

following people have made significant contributions to this


Matthew Green, Michael Neumayer, Volker Paulsen, Kurt Roeckx, Vesa

Ruokonen, Magnus Tjernstrom, Stefan Zehl.

10. References

[KEYWORDS] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate

Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.

[ABNF] Crocker, D. and P. Overell, "Augmented BNF for Syntax

Specifications: ABNF", RFC 2234, November 1997.

[IRC] Oikarinen, J. and D. Reed, "Internet Relay Chat

Protocol", RFC 1459, May 1993.

[IRC-ARCH] Kalt, C., "Internet Relay Chat: Architecture", RFC 2810,

April 2000.

[IRC-CLIENT] Kalt, C., "Internet Relay Chat: Client Protocol", RFC

2812, April 2000.

[IRC-CHAN] Kalt, C., "Internet Relay Chat: Channel Management", RFC

2811, April 2000.

[ZLIB] Deutsch, P. and J-L. Gailly, "ZLIB Compressed Data

Format Specification version 3.3", RFC 1950, May 1996.

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

[DEFLATE] Deutsch, P., "DEFLATE Compressed Data Format

Specification version 1.3", RFC 1951, May 1996.

[GZIP] Deutsch, P., "GZIP file format specification version

4.3", RFC 1952, May 1996.

[IDENT] St. Johns, M., "The Identification Protocol", RFC 1413,

February 1993.

[TLS] Dierks, T. and C. Allen, "The TLS Protocol", RFC 2246,

January 1999.

11. Author's Address

Christophe Kalt

99 Teaneck Rd, Apt #117

Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660


EMail: kalt@stealth.net

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RFC 2813 Internet Relay Chat: Server Protocol April 2000

12. Full Copyright Statement

Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2000). All Rights Reserved.

This document and translations of it may be copied and furnished to

others, and derivative works that comment on or otherwise explain it

or assist in its implementation may be prepared, copied, published

and distributed, in whole or in part, without restriction of any

kind, provided that the above copyright notice and this paragraph are

included on all such copies and derivative works. However, this

document itself may not be modified in any way, such as by removing

the copyright notice or references to the Internet Society or other

Internet organizations, except as needed for the purpose of

developing Internet standards in which case the procedures for

copyrights defined in the Internet Standards process must be

followed, or as required to translate it into languages other than


The limited permissions granted above are perpetual and will not be

revoked by the Internet Society or its successors or assigns.

This document and the information contained herein is provided on an







Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the

Internet Society.

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