Getting Started with Irssi

6 minute read

Do you use IRC because you’re a l33t hacker but still use a daft UI? Then Irssi is for you!

Irssi is a command-line chat application centered around IRC. The interface is incredibly basic but can be easily extended through Perl scripts (of which there are hundreds online). With Irssi, you can connect to multile IRC servers at once.

In this blog post, I’m going to teach you enough to use Irssi as your main IRC client and give you a basic setup which (I think) looks and acts great.

My (zoomed-in) Irssi setup

Note: Ignore the (blue) tmux status bar at the bottom of the terminal window!


First, you’re going to need to install Irssi. If you are often connected to multiple IRC servers, the following commands will be important.


Once you’re connected to an IRC server, you can execute standard IRC commands (e.g. /join #rust to join the #rust channel) as normal. You’ll notice that everytime you join a channel, a new window is created. Everything in Irssi is based around windows which can occupy the entire terminal screen or can be split (like tmux and vim). To close a window, run /wc (or /window close if you’re so inclined).

The following key-bindings exist for switching between windows (meta is normally the Alt key but the Esc key also works):

Automating Stuff

You can get Irssi to automatically join servers, channels, send messages and more. Currently, I have Irssi set to automatically connect to the Freenode server, identify myself with a NickServ and join the #python and #rust channels. Although you can config this within Irssi, I prefer changing the config file located at ~/.irssi/config (which has access to environment variables)!

servers = (
    address = "";
    chatnet = "Freenode";
    port = "6697";
    use_tls = "yes";
    tls_verify = "yes";
    autoconnect = "yes";

chatnets = {
  Freenode = {
    type = "IRC";
    autosendcmd = "/^msg nickserv identify $FREENODE_PASSWORD; wait 2000";
    max_kicks = "1";
    max_msgs = "4";
    max_whois = "1";

channels = (
  { name = "#python"; chatnet = "Freenode"; autojoin = "Yes"; },
  { name = "#rust"; chatnet = "Freenode"; autojoin = "Yes"; }

Ignoring Noise

Personally, I hate messages that tell me when users join or leave channels or when users change their nicknames. I think it’s noise that makes it harder to follow a conversation. You can ignore these messages by running /ignore * JOINS PARTS QUITS NICKS or adding ignores = ({level = "JOINS PARTS QUITS NICKS";}); directly to your ~/.irssi/config file.


While not neccessary, it’s possible to spice up the look of Irssi by using themes. I currently use the bork theme by fraki which formats the Irssi status bar nicely. To install a theme, download and move the .theme file to ~/.irssi/ directory, and run /SET theme THEME_NAME within Irssi.


Irssi provides a nice scripting API and hosts a collection of popular scripts. I’m not hardcore enough to run scripts when I need them, so I just autorun them when I start Irssi. First, let’s just create the directories where these scripts will live.

mkdir ~/.irssi/scripts
mkdir ~/.irssi/scripts/autorun

To download new scripts, we can either download them manually and then move them into ~/.irssi/scripts/autorun or running /run scriptassist (once per session) and then /script install SCRIPT_NAME within Irssi. To load a script, run /script load autorun/SCRIPT_NAME and it will automatically be run everytime you start Irssi.

I recommend the following scripts:

Hilight window

I like to have my hilight window always viewable and at the top of my window. To do this, I created a new split named “hilight” like so:

/window new split
/window name hilight
/window size 4

/layout save

We need to configure keywords we want to highlight as well. To do this, execute /hilight mikeecb in Irssi, replacing mikeecb (my Freenode username) with your username. Alternatively, you can add hilights = ({text = "mikeecb"; nick = "yes"; word = "yes";}); directly to your ~/.irssi/config file.


A bunch of plugins exist that notify you (via email for example) whenever you receive new IRC messages within Irssi. I’ve found that the audible bell triggered whenever you are hilighted is sufficient for me, but feel free to try alternatives.

And that’s it! You’ve got a minimal command-line IRC client that is extremely extendible. If you find other useful scripts or functionality, I’d love know about it!

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