Downloading Files from IRC

by Jolo@EFnet with help from many others
updated May 8, 2003

Trying to learn how to trade files on IRC? Please read this all the way through. The answers are all here. If you skim along just looking for easy ways to get files, you won't find any, because it's not a trivial subject. If you are patient and read carefully, however, you can learn the truth of how many people use IRC to trade files. I am neither a cop or a criminal, I'm just giving you the facts so you can decide for yourself. This file also addresses common problems like when you see "You have a DCC pending, Set your client to receive the transfer" but nothing happens, or "file type ignored" in status.

IRC: The New Napster?

IRC is not like Napster, no matter what you've been told. Yes, people use it to share not just songs but also movies, pornography, games, and other software ("warez"). No, unlike other peer-to-peer file sharing protocols, IRC is not as easy to use. The purpose of this short guide is to clarify facts and myths regarding IRC file trading.

IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat; it was designed to allow people to chat with each other in real time. mIRC for Windows is the most popular IRC client program. There are tens of thousands of experienced IRC users who trade files of all kinds, but note that word: experienced. IRC has been called a "geek-centric way to get free stuff." In my opinion, IRC file trading is not suitable for new users because it can potentially be illegal, dangerous, difficult, and unproductive, as we will explain below.

Just the Facts

Using IRC to download copyrighted files (songs, movies, games, pornography, "warez", "cracks", etc.) is potentially:
  1. Illegal. Trading these files violates international copyright laws. I'm a volunteer helper, not a cop. I don't care what you do with your bandwidth, that's your responsibility. As a helper, though, I am telling you that you risk revocation of your ISP account, suspension from school/work, civil lawsuits, and trouble with local/national/international law enforcement. Obviously these sanctions don't happen to all people who trade files, but they do happen increasingly often. Just to show a few examples, see the internationally synchronized busts described in the Dept of Justice Operation Buccaneer page, or the big legal settlements the recording industry won against ordinary college students.

  2. Dangerous. Napster specialized in songs only, but today's protocols let you trade any type of file. Sounds exciting? That means you could load up on viruses and trojan horse attacks too. New IRC users who download blindly often get infected, "hacked", or attacked, and sometimes the damage spreads to your friends/school/company. This should come as no surprise. After all, you are choosing to deal with other law breakers, hardly the most trustworthy people online. Defenses like backups, anti-virus software, and firewalls can be helpful, but are never foolproof.

  3. Difficult. IRC isn't rocket science (I should know, I have a Ph.D. in engineering), but using IRC for file trading is a relatively advanced subject. You're not going to be downloading files just minutes after installing some dummy-proof application. You can master the basics in a few hours to a few days, especially if somebody shows you the way. Even then, however, you still have to figure out the unique commands for accessing each individual providing files, since there are no standard commands for IRC file trading. (There are many web sites that maintain opt-in, unofficial file lists which are pretty complete. If you haven't found them yet on Google, that only shows once again that this is not exactly easy.)

  4. Unproductive. Once you figure out the technical basics of IRC, the real challenge comes in finding the files. IRC is not centralized, there is no official file list or search feature for IRC file trading. It takes experience and patience to find the right places and people to trade files, and even then you often spend hours waiting in line to get the file. This decentralization is one reason why file traders flocked to IRC, since unlike Napster there is no single server to shut down or company to sue, but that doesn't help you when you're trying to find something quickly. Finally, IRC's DCC file transfer protocol is slow and inefficient compared to web or FTP downloads, so expect long waits and frequent errors.

Enough with the lecture, how do I do it?

If you want to use IRC to trade files, then you must first learn how IRC works. There is no shortcut. Read help files for the commands, chat with lots of people, make friends and contacts. That's the simple, honest truth. We invite you to peruse our many general FAQs and guides. You should learn all about IRC security issues too, especially trojan horse attacks and denial of service attacks which are common among IRC file traders.

Once you learn all that, the actual file trading is straightforward. You connect to the right server, join the right channel, find the right people, and request a file. They send it to you, a window pops up, you hit the "accept" button or something like that, presto, you're done. The trick is finding the trustworthy sender in the first place. I repeat: There is no official, centralized list of files, no comprehensive list of channels to trade files, and no standardized commands for getting files.

You can try the /list command to see public channels once you connect to a particular network, or use the web-based multi-network channel search. Note however that many of the better channels are "secret" and "invite-only", which means they don't show up in those lists, and even if you knew the channel name, you can't join the channel because they don't welcome outsiders. Once you get on the channel, you'll have to ask the people there for the non-standard, special commands for listing and getting files. Don't go typing "!list" or other commands blindly, you'll just get kicked out for acting like a "newbie".

Troubleshooting for Specific Problems

Why can't I get a file? or
Why does it keep saying: "You have a DCC pending, Set your client to receive the transfer..."? or
Why does my status screen say "DCC send rejected... file type ignored"?
So you request a file but nothing seems to happen. First, make sure you can receive files. Have a buddy DCC send you a small text file. There's no point in going further until that works. If that works, mIRC automatically ignores all but a few "safe" file types such as text files for your own protection against virus and trojan horse attacks. Check your status window for telltale error messages like "file type ignored". This protective feature is there for a good reason, due to the dangers described above. If you can't figure out how to disable this feature, take it as a strong hint that you also lack the experience to tell a real game/movie/MP3/whatever from a virus or backdoor. If you really want to proceed anyway, look under alt-o | DCC | folders. Whatever you do, don't auto-get and don't disable the file ignoring entirely. Just add in the safe file types you are sure about, such as "*.mpg" or whatever. If you've done all that and the file still won't come through, chances are the sender is having problems, see the next question.

Why can't I send a file? Is this a new problem? If you used to be able to send files just fine, then think about what you changed recently. Did you switch to a new ISP, start sharing your connection with multiple PCs, install a router, load up a software firewall? Often these factors affect your ability to have identd and DCC send or initiate a DCC chat (although you can still DCC get or receive a chat). See our firewall guide for more info.

How can I speed up the DCC get or download? Short version: You can't. There are no commands for you to speed up your DCC get (anybody claiming otherwise is ignorant or trying to give you a trojan horse). Stop downloading from elsewhere to free up your bandwidth, or get a faster ISP (cable/DSL are often "capped" or limited due to excessive abuse of bandwidth from file trading), but that's about it. There are commands for a sender to optimize his sending speed (see next question), but most file servers are already sending as fast as they can, there's just too many people getting files from them at the same time and splitting up the finite available bandwidth. Also, DCC was never designed for large file transfers; it is far less efficient than protocols like FTP.

How can I speed up a DCC send? Short version: generally you're limited by the same factors described above. If you have a very fast, stable connection, sometimes you can improve that efficiency a little by adjusting your client parameters, e.g., in mIRC, the sender can type /fsend on and /dcc packetsize 4096. As explained above, those commands do not affect DCC get speeds.

Why can't I join #cracks (or other warez channel)? Channels that deal in warez are often invite-only as a result of being attacked by enemies, or just to keep the channel more manageable. If you can't figure out how to get your illegal serials update after reading the above guide, then you're on your own.

What are the commands for listing / getting files? On several occasions I've already said there are no standardized commands, since file trading is an individual activity, not a standard part of IRC. I suggest you stop skimming around and go back and re-read this guide carefully, or else you will be no closer to getting the files you want.

How do I get multiple files at the same time? Again, there are no standardized commands. There are some scripts out there that will automate the process for you, but certainly none that a responsible help channel would recommend due to problems with bugs, bloat (unnecessary features that slow down or break your IRC progarm), or security backdoors. Our best advice is to be patient and just get the files one at a time.

How do I set up a file server? I can tell you how not to - don't go downloading some big script just to serve files, at least not right away. These big scripts slow down your IRC client, can contain serious bugs that make you crash, and even security flaws that get you "hacked". Instead, start easy with the feature that are built into your IRC client already, such as /fserve for mIRC. Here are some bare bones startup tips.

If any of the above is still confusing, feel free to ask. Just remember, we're volunteer helpers who seek to promote the proper and safe use of IRC, and we will not knowingly help you break the law or get yourself attacked. That is true of all mainstream help channels like #IRChelp, #mirc, #mirchelp, #help, etc., so please don't hop from one to the next asking how to get files.

Finally, to learn more about copyright law issues, check out the educational site Soundbyting or this general MacWorld article.


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