IRC is basically a network of chat rooms. The chat rooms are called channels, and each channel talks about different things. There are channels for anything you could want to talk about!
Channels are hosted by networks. Usually a network will let you start any channel you like.
Firstly you'll need to download and install an IRC client. In this example we'll use XChat. It hasn't been updated for a few years but it's still widely used.
When you start XChat you'll be presented with the following window.
"Nick name" is the name you want people to see you as when you join a channel. In the example above I used 'NotAshley'. "Second choice "and "Third choice" are the names other people will see if the other name is already taken. "Username" generally isn't seen by other people. "Real name" is obviously your real name, although you don't have to use your real name if you don't want to.
When you join a channel you are usually given a network to connect to and a channel to join. In this example we'll use the network 'synirc', and the channel '#spam'.
Add the synirc network by clicking 'Add'. A textbox will show. This is for the name of the network. Type 'synIRC' and press Enter.
Next click 'Edit', and the following window will appear.
Click 'Edit' on this new window. We now need to type the server details. We'll connect to synirc here, but you can use whatever server details you've been given instead. For synirc the server details are 'irc.synirc.net/7001'. 7001 is the SSL port for synirc so we need to tick the 'Use SSL for all the servers on this network' and 'Accept invalid SSL certificate' tick boxes. Tick the 'Auto connect to this network at startup' tick box to automagically connect to this network when XChat starts.
XChat can automatically join channels as well. Click the '...' button next to the 'Favourite channels' text box. The following window will appear.
Click 'Add', then type the name of the channel you want to join and press Enter. In this example we'll connect to '#spam' but you can use whatever channel name you've been given instead. Click 'OK' and you'll return to the previous window.
Leave the other boxes blank for now, but we'll cover the 'NickServ password' box later. Press 'Close', then 'Connect'.
Congratulations! You're in IRC! Just type to start talking. Everyone who is in the channel is listed on the right hand side.
If you don't want anyone to steal your name you can register it if it's not already taken. On the left hand side of the XChat window, click the name of the network that you want to register your name on. For example 'synIRC'. Then type the following command: '/msg NickServ REGISTER <password> <email>', where <password> is a password of your choice, and <email> is the email address that you want your confirmation email sent to.
The '/msg' part is an IRC command. In this case it's sending a private message to someone. NickServ is the person we are sending the message to (but NickServ is actually a bot). You can also use '/query <recipient>' to start a private conversation with someone.
NickServ will now send you an email confirming your nick and password. Once you've followed the instructions in this email go back to XChat. Click 'File' 'Network List'. This will bring up a window you've seen before. Select the name of the network that you are registering you nick to (for example 'synIRC') and click 'Edit'. In the 'NickServ password' box enter the password you used to register. Press 'Close' and 'Close' again. XChat will now tell NickServ that you own your nick for you every time you connect to that IRC network.
You can also tell NickServ who you are yourself with the command
'/msg NickServ IDENTIFY <password>'.
IRC bouncers are a great way of making IRC more useful. They keep you logged in so anyone can message you while you are away, and you can pick up the message when you log back in.