The Great Split

by Vegard Engen / May 2000

In the beginning there was IRC. Only IRC. One network, that's it. This was more or less anarchy, and probably it worked very much like the smaller networks now. IRC-operators had a lot of powers, and things were small enough that one could semi-know things about channel ownership.

The net grew. One began to think whether or not there has to be limits as to who are to link servers to the network, etc. There was a part of the network that didn't like these limitations at all. One of these servers were called Eris, it's location is quite irrelevant. Anyways, this was the first time the famous Q-line was used. Eris was a so-called server-open server, which meant anyone could link a server to it. Some of the admins of that time decided this wasn't a terribly good idea, but was unable to convince Eris to change it's policy. Thus, one installed the Q-lines. A Q-line basically means that "I'll drop the link to whatever server that introduces this server". Eris and a few other servers decided to form a network on it's own, Anet, for Anarchy-network. How successfull it was, I don't know, it died after a while anyhow.

For a while, there was peace. More or less. But, more and more people wanted to run servers. At the same time, the requirements for running a server got stricter and stricter, more and more bandwidth was required, and most people who wanted to link their server was rejected. Thus was born Undernet, or the underground network. Dalnet was not long after.

EFnet, however, or whatever you choose to call it, continued to grow and get larger. Around 95/96, two fractions began to appear on EFNet/IRCnet. And between these two fractions, there were basically two things one disagreed about:

  1. What strategy one should adopt to limit nick collisions. Timestamps or nick delay.

  2. The role of the IRC-ops/administrators. Should an IRC-operator have ALL rights, or should one have rules for the conduct of an IRC-operator.

The limit between these two went more or less along the Atlantic, with Europe on one side and US on the other, with a few servers on each side siding with the other side.

Summer '96, several things happened.

There was an attempt going, mainly driven by Europe, to introduce a common set of rules. In Europe, we'd had such a ruleset for some time already, so we decided we'd try to work on it, and try to find a common set of rules that everyone agreed to. In Europe, it was basically a definite requirement for the rules that only things disruptive to servers or to the net as a whole warranted operator-invention, while channel trouble was to be left to the channel operators. In US, some operators were not willing at all to give up their rights to /kill. Unfortunately, one of these US operators was running the largest US hub, and several US admins were afraid to go against him, in fear of losing their link.

The link between US and Europe was quite weak and kept breaking a lot. There was basically one decent uplink, was ran by a person disliked by many US admins, basically because of his young age, and some serious mistakes done by him. Europe thought the link was important enough to keep his server, at LEAST until a decent replacement was found. Some US admins disagreed, but it was agreed upon in general that stayed until a replacement was in place. However, a few IRC-admins in US took things in their own hands, and several times delinked the server, thereby breaking the US/Europe link. This without attempting any rerouting, and leaving the link in limbo. Thus, some Europeans got quite angry at this.

During this time, it became apparent to the european part that we were not going to get these rules through while these admins were in control. So, we started lobbying for a change of network structure, calling it a "new network". Originally, we'd planned for the new network to include most of the old one. But, we knew that once these powerful admins got to know about this effort, they'd try to blow the plan. So, we tried to keep it secret until we had enough support on the US side.

However, the plan failed. One of the admins we thought to be trustable forwarded our mail to this powerful hub-admin which opposed any rules. Now, suddenly, we saw all the people who'd privately given us their support, vanish into the air. Some of them bluntly said that they could not support us, because that if this plan failed, they'd not have a link.

But, we still hoped that if we went through with it, enough people would come around.

Now, even at the european side, only 3-4 persons knew about this "new network"-effort. We'd planned to inform them later, knowing that since all of them supported the rules, they'd also support this initiative. But, we didn't want anyone to blow the plan.

Anyways, one night when 4 of us were discussing this plan, trying to fix a time for the separation, the before-mentioned US admin did it again. He split the link between US and Europe, not even trying to warn anyone. Suddenly it occured to us: Why not just declare the split to have happened NOW? So, while we sat there, we didn't try to relink, and 15 minutes later, a mail was sent off to operlist declaring the split to have happened.

The following days were followed by talks between admins in various parts of the world, when people tried to find out which side they wanted to be on. In the end, basically Europe, Australia and Japan ended up on one side, the rest joined the american side. This meant that the absolute largest part of the network was EFnet. While the other was largest, we DID however contain Finland and Oulu, where IRC was born. Thus, we decided "why not call it IRCNet? After all, the very first parts of IRC is with us, so we have a claim to be THE IRC-network". And not only that, but the coder who coded the IRC-server, which basically was common between US/Europe, minus TS on one side and Nick/Channel-delay on the other, was Australian, and thus now coded for the IRCnet server. EFnet, however, now started maintaining their own IRC-server, but the code-base was common up until this point.

Vegard Engen