Ensor's IRC Extravaganza!


Connecting to Servers

By Dennis Holmes

Ever been frustrated at not being able to connect to your favorite chat server or network? Believe it or not, there are some alternatives to pulling your hair out or throwing keycaps at the cat.

If you can't connect to the server at all, check a couple of things to rule out local configuration or network problems. Can you ping the server? For example, if you're trying to connect to the San Jose Undernet server, try from your command line:

   ping sanjose.ca.us.undernet.org
No response, timeouts, lost packets, or "host unreachable" messages indicate that the server machine may be down or that current network problems between your host and the server are preventing you from reaching it; your best bet is to try another server or try again at a later time in the day. A "host unknown" message indicates a potential problem with the domain or name server configuration on your PC, a problem with your service provider's name server, or a network problem between your host and the Undernet name server. If you know the numeric IP address of the server (check your server list), you can use this in place of the server name to try to work around the problem. Note that it isn't a good idea to use the numeric addresses in your everyday use since servers may move from one machine to another as the administrator or provider upgrades equipment. Servers also may be discontinued with little warning at times; while the numeric address will no longer work in such a case, the name may be preserved for a while and redirected to another server.

A "connection refused" message usually indicates that the server is down. However, if you see this message after a long delay, it may mean that the server is just unable to process the connection queue faster than people are trying to connect. You might get through if you keep trying, or you may need to try another server. You can also try an alternate port if the server has not actually reached its user limit. Most servers listen on port 6667 by convention, but many listen on other ports in the 6660-6670 or 6600-7000 ranges. Check the server list for the network in question or the MOTD for the particular server to see what alternate ports are supported, and see your client program documentation for information on how to specify the alternate port in your client configuration.

Some servers run at or near capacity during local peak times (or some even most of the time). If you get repeated errors that are inconsistent, or find that you sometimes get through and then are disconnected before seeing the server greeting and MOTD (message of the day), this is likely the case. When this happens you may have to try a different server on the same IRC network. You'll need to obtain a list of servers for the network, usually available from the net's FAQ, ftp site, or newsgroup. Try to choose a server that is close to you on the network--a server that is geographically close will normally give you acceptable performance if you're not familiar with your provider's network connectivity.

Round-robin server names are also available on some networks. As an example, the Undernet name "us.undernet.org" cycles through several servers across the United States. If you are having difficulties connecting and don't have a list of servers, you can keep trying this name to have your client automatically try several different servers in sequence. Please note that any errors or bans you encounter normally relate to the particular server to which you are trying to connect at the moment rather than the round-robin name or the entire IRC network. If you feel the need to report a problem, be sure to try to address it to the correct server administrator.

If you've been banned from a server, you'll almost certainly see a message notifying you of this or the reason that the ban is in place. This is not always targeted at the individual user trying to connect; occasionally a server administrator will ban an entire host or site in reaction to a high level of abuse. In these cases, chances are that the service provider affected has already been notified of the problem but has not responded in a manner that the server administrator finds acceptable. You may need to correspond with your service provider; some companies respond better to requests from their own customers than from the outside. If you think that the ban may be outdated or was added as a mistake or temporary action, a request from your service provider or a polite note to the server administrator may help straighten out the problem.

You probably won't always be successful in having a ban removed. In the case of recent or severe abuse of the network, you will probably be referred back to your service provider to address the situation. Also, some bans are designed to enforce the server's policy or restrict the scope of the server's userbase. For example, the San Jose Undernet server (in California, USA) bans most European countries since capacity on the server is limited and the Undernet has several servers in Europe that are closer to those users. These ban messages also suggest another server for the user to try.

Some servers also enforce username restrictions. In some cases this is done with explicit bans on particular usernames or usernames containing a particular set of characters. In others, automatic detection algorithms within the server or a service bot determine whether the user ID is valid and issue appropriate warnings or bans. For more information on user ID definitions and policies, please refer to last week's feature article.

Article copyright © 1996 by Dennis Holmes. Reproduction or translation is prohibited without permission from the author.

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Ensor's IRC Extravaganza!
Dennis Holmes - dholmes@email.rahul.net