Connecting to a Server
IRC is a collection of servers and clients. Now, you might ask what in the hell that means? It means that your system (the client) sends out messages to the major computers (the servers) which hold a number of clients (anywhere between 1 and several hundred clients at once). These servers are also linked with each other, forming the network, which is IRC.
Now, what does this information have to do with you? Well, for EFNet, which is the major network that most people use (I might add an UnderNet link someday if someone wants to tell me a good spot to send people), so I'll talk about that. Also, it's the one that has the most problems because of the heavy traffic. There are two things that you might see while on IRC that relate to the connections I was talking about. There is Lag and there are Netsplits.
Now, going into a little bit more detail on this connection. When you're on IRC, what you type goes through your client to the server your client has a connection with. That server then has the major role of sending it out through all its connections to all the other servers it's linked to. There is a web of servers that are connected. When you type something, keep in mind the number of servers it MIGHT have to jump through.
If there is a heavy load on a server, meaning that that particular server has a lot of people sending stuff to it, then it can be slower putting it out, and if there is either one slow server or a string of slow servers, it's conceivable that their might be a delay from the time that you type something and it appears on your screen to the time something appears on the screen of a person on the other side of the planet. However, if two people are IRCing and one of them chooses a server that's lagged, then there's a chance that it might take several minutes for something to get to the computer right next to him! To check this lag, there is a command in ircII and many other clients called ping.
Ping sends out a signal that travels the server route, hits the target nick, then returns to the original client, timing how long it takes to get there and back. The usual form for this command is
(i.e. /ping edge)
Generally (if you're pinging a system that has a ping return), you'll get a response, something like:
*** CTCP PING reply from Edge: 3 second
The time interval is how long it takes the signal to get to the other person and back. So, if you add the time it takes for the other person to type in what they want to say, if you send something to a person, it takes 3 seconds, plus their thinking and typing time for a response to appear on your screen. Generally a ping under 15 seconds is decent, under 5 is preferred. Anything over 20 seconds or so is pretty lagged. I've seen lags over 10 minutes before, so it can get pretty bad.
Generally when lag gets bad, it might be a good idea to change servers. If you have lag with a whole channel, you can guess that it is your server that is lagged, if it's with a person, you might want to change to the same server as that person, so there is no linkage to the network going on
The other thing that might happen that would encourage changing servers would be a netsplit. Imagine this as one of the linked servers losing either one or several of it's links to other servers, so that some systems end up isolated. Now, to really understand this, you must know that there are some larger servers and some smaller servers.
Generally, the larger servers send out signals to a lot of servers, while the smaller servers might only be connected to one larger server. Such servers as dewey.cc.utexas.edu and irc.colorado.edu are a couple of prime examples.
Let's say the connection from the TAMU server to UTexas goes down. Since it is only linked to UTexas, if that link goes down, the people (clients) on TAMU can basically only talk to themselves, so we say that TAMU split off from the rest of irc. Sometimes if server such as the ones between California and Australia go down, it's possible to lose an entire continent. Which is when we say that there was a major netsplit and Oz (Australia) split off. The simple solution is to switch servers and see if you crossed over the netsplit back to wherever your friends might be.
Now, for a simple list of servers, you can check out the Server List on the main IRC page in this section. Keep in mind, the closer the server, the better the service so, choose a server closer to you.
One thing you might note is that some of the servers you can't connect to. You might get a "No Authorization" error. This means that many servers try to restrict the clients to clients from the surrounding area.
Others put up K-lines on certain sites. This resticts certain sites from using it. For example, a k-line on NETCOM means anyone from netcom who tries to use that server will get a "No Authorization" error on connection.
So keep that in mind when trying to hook up to servers, that not all of them are accessable world-wide. Keep in mind also, some of these servers are like yo-yos, they are up one moment, down the next.