IRC Formatting

This document describes what I consider to be almost universally understood formatting. It is a living specification which is updated in response to feedback and implementations as they change.

If I've missed out on some formatting character or method which is understood by a majority of IRC software in use today, or have made a mistake in this document, please open an issue or contact me.


IRC clients today understand a number of special formatting characters. These characters allow IRC software to send and receive colors and formatting codes such as bold, italics, underline and others.

Over the years, many clients have attempted to create their own methods of formatting and there have been variations and extensions of almost every method. However, the characters and codes described in this document are understood fairly consistently across clients today.

Following what’s described in this document should let your software send and interpret formatting in a fairly sane way, consistent with how most other IRC software out there does. Using formatting characters and methods not described in this document is possible, but it should be assumed they will not work across most clients (unless there is some way to fall back to what’s defined here).

The key words “MUST”, “MUST NOT”, “REQUIRED”, “SHALL”, “SHALL NOT”, “SHOULD”, “SHOULD NOT”, “RECOMMENDED”, “MAY”, and “OPTIONAL” in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC2119.

Table of Contents

Formatting Uses

Formatting is widely used in IRC. In this section, we outline the places where formatting is traditionally used by clients and allowed by servers. This is not an expansive list nor does it note everywhere formatting is used, just some of the most common places.

Messages / Numerics

Formatting characters can be used in lots of IRC messages and numerics. This is not a complete list, just some of the messages formatting codes are used with most often.

These are some of the messages and features formatting codes are normally used with:

And the numerics containing content associated with these messages and features.


Formatting is allowed and commonly used in realnames (set with the USER command when the client joins the network).

On some networks and with some server software, vhosts (vanity hostnames) may contain formatting characters and codes. Hostnames sent to clients MAY contain formatting, and clients SHOULD display them with this in mind.

The use of formatting MUST NOT be allowed in nicknames, user names or channel names. This is to avoid confusion and prevent issues, particularly with clients that have disabled the rendering of colors / formatting or cannot display certain types of formatting.

If a client sends a USER command with any formatting codes in the first parameter (in the username) during registration, the server SHOULD send the client an ERROR message and close the connection.

Client Behaviour

This section is non-normative and outlines suggested behaviour for clients and client interfaces.


If an IRC client cannot display a specified type of formatting, the client should do one of the following:

  • Simply not display the formatting.
  • Display the formatting character in an obvious way, so users are aware that it was used.

One way some clients represent formatting characters they cannot display is using an uppercase letter which represents the specific formatting character, with their default foreground and background colors switched. For example, displaying an underline formatting character as U.

Preventing Display of Formatting

Clients may allow users to prevent all or just specified formatting from displaying. This can help users that are colorblind or are visually impaired, and should be considered by client authors.

ANSI Escape Code Support

IRC clients supporting ANSI formatting was, historically, due to clients outputting messages via terminals that supported ANSI escape codes. Many IRC clients today do not display through an interface that natively supports ANSI escape codes, and so must implement this behaviour themselves if they wish to support it.

Clients can support or not support ANSI escape codes as they like. However, they should implement this feature with the knowledge that a large number of IRC clients today, even those using a terminal interface, do not support displaying text formatted using ANSI escape codes.


There are a number of formatting characters that are parsed and understood by IRC software today.

Some formatting codes work as a toggle, i.e. with the first instance of the character, the specified formatting is enabled for the following text. After the next instance of that character, that formatting is disabled for the following characters. Formatting codes that work in this way are called ‘togglable’.

These formatting characters are the ones all IRC clients should understand.


ASCII 0x02

This formatting character works as a toggle. It enables bold text (e.g. bold text).



This formatting character works as a toggle. It enables italicized text (e.g. italicised text).



This formatting character works as a toggle. It enables underlined text (e.g. underlined text).



This formatting character works as a toggle. It enables strikethrough’d text (e.g. strokethrough text).

This character is a relatively new addition, and was defined by Textual. As of right now, at least HexChat, IRCCloud, The Lounge and Textual are known to support it.


ASCII 0x11

This formatting character works as a toggle. It enables monospace’d text (e.g. monospace text).

This character is a relatively new addition, and was defined by IRCCloud. However, a number of other clients including TheLounge and Textual now support this as well, and it’s now the defacto formatting character for monospace text.


ASCII 0x03

This formatting character sets or resets colors on the following text.

With this formatting code, colors are represented as ASCII digits.

Forms of Color Codes

In the following list, <CODE> represents the color formatting character (0x03), <COLOR> represents one or two ASCII digits (either 0-9 or 00-99).

The use of this code can take on the following forms:

  • <CODE> - Reset foreground and background colors.
  • <CODE>, - Reset foreground and background colors and display the , character as text.
  • <CODE><COLOR> - Set the foreground color.
  • <CODE><COLOR>, - Set the foreground color and display the , character as text.
  • <CODE><COLOR>,<COLOR> - Set the foreground and background color.

The foreground color is the first <COLOR>, and the background color is the second <COLOR> (if sent).

If only the foreground color is set, the background color stays the same.

If there are two ASCII digits available where a <COLOR> is allowed, then two characters MUST always be read for it and displayed as described below.


The following colors are defined for use with this formatting character:

  •    - 00 - White.
  •    - 01 - Black.
  •    - 02 - Blue.
  •    - 03 - Green.
  •    - 04 - Red.
  •    - 05 - Brown.
  •    - 06 - Magenta.
  •    - 07 - Orange.
  •    - 08 - Yellow.
  •    - 09 - Light Green.
  •    - 10 - Cyan.
  •    - 11 - Light Cyan.
  •    - 12 - Light Blue.
  •    - 13 - Pink.
  •    - 14 - Grey.
  •    - 15 - Light Grey.
  •    - 99 - Default Foreground/Background - Not universally supported.

In addition, the table below describes the commonly-used colors for codes 16-98.

NOTE: The colors displayed here are simply a guide. The actual RGB values used for these codes will depend on what the client author has defined, and are often defined by the terminal color scheme for terminal-based clients.

Mistaken Eating of Text

When sending color codes 0-9, clients may use either the one-digit (3) or two-digit (03) versions of it. However, since two digits are always used if available, if the text following the color code starts with a digit, the last <COLOR> MUST use the two-digit version to be displayed correctly. This ensures that the first character of the text does not get interpreted as part of the formatting code.

If the text immediately following a code setting a foreground color consists of something like ",13", it will get interpreted as setting the background rather than text. In this example, clients can put the color code either after the comma character or before the character in front of the comma character to avoid this. They can also put a different formatting code after the comma to ensure that the number does not get interpreted as part of the color code (for instance, two bold characters in a row, which will cancel each other out as they are toggles).


If the background and foreground colors are the same for a section of text, on ‘hovering over’ or selecting this text these colours should be replaced with readable alternatives. For example:

this is spoilered text

Colors 16-98

When you receive the color codes 16-98, you should display them using the RGB values in this table:

16 470000 17 472100 18 474700 19 324700 20 004700 21 00472c 22 004747 23 002747 24 000047 25 2e0047 26 470047 27 47002a
28 740000 29 743a00 30 747400 31 517400 32 007400 33 007449 34 007474 35 004074 36 000074 37 4b0074 38 740074 39 740045
40 b50000 41 b56300 42 b5b500 43 7db500 44 00b500 45 00b571 46 00b5b5 47 0063b5 48 0000b5 49 7500b5 50 b500b5 51 b5006b
52 ff0000 53 ff8c00 54 ffff00 55 b2ff00 56 00ff00 57 00ffa0 58 00ffff 59 008cff 60 0000ff 61 a500ff 62 ff00ff 63 ff0098
64 ff5959 65 ffb459 66 ffff71 67 cfff60 68 6fff6f 69 65ffc9 70 6dffff 71 59b4ff 72 5959ff 73 c459ff 74 ff66ff 75 ff59bc
76 ff9c9c 77 ffd39c 78 ffff9c 79 e2ff9c 80 9cff9c 81 9cffdb 82 9cffff 83 9cd3ff 84 9c9cff 85 dc9cff 86 ff9cff 87 ff94d3
88 000000 89 131313 90 282828 91 363636 92 4d4d4d 93 656565 94 818181 95 9f9f9f 96 bcbcbc 97 e2e2e2 98 ffffff

If displaying this on an ANSI terminal, these ANSI color codes should be used:

16 52 17 94 18 100 19 58 20 22 21 29 22 23 23 24 24 17 25 54 26 53 27 89
28 88 29 130 30 142 31 64 32 28 33 35 34 30 35 25 36 18 37 91 38 90 39 125
40 124 41 166 42 184 43 106 44 34 45 49 46 37 47 33 48 19 49 129 50 127 51 161
52 196 53 208 54 226 55 154 56 46 57 86 58 51 59 75 60 21 61 171 62 201 63 198
64 203 65 215 66 227 67 191 68 83 69 122 70 87 71 111 72 63 73 177 74 207 75 205
76 217 77 223 78 229 79 193 80 157 81 158 82 159 83 153 84 147 85 183 86 219 87 212
88 16 89 233 90 235 91 237 92 239 93 241 94 244 95 247 96 250 97 254 98 231

Hex Color

ASCII 0x04

Some clients support an alternate form of conveying colours using hex codes.

Following this character are six hex digits representing the Red, Green and Blue values of the colour to display (e.g. FF0000 means bright red).

Keep the Forms of Color Codes section above in mind, as this method of formatting keeps these same rules – the exceptions being that <CODE> represents the hex color character (0x04) and <COLOR> represents a six-digit hex value as RRGGBB.

This method of formatting is not as widely-supported as the colors above, but clients are fine to parse them without any negative effects.

Reverse Color

ASCII 0x16

This formatting character works as a toggle. When reverse color is enabled, the foreground and background text colors are reversed. For instance, if you enable reverse color and then send the line “C3,13Test!”, you will end up with pink foreground text and green background text while the reverse color is in effect.

This code isn’t super well-supported, and mIRC seems to always treat it as applying the reverse of the default foreground and background characters, rather than the current fore/background as set by prior mIRC color codes in the message.



This formatting character resets all formatting. It removes the bold, italics, and underline formatting, and sets the foreground and background colors back to the default for the client display. The text following this character will use or display no formatting, until other formatting characters are encountered.


In this section, the color formatting character (0x03) is displayed as C, the bold character (0x02) is displayed as B, the italics character (0x1D) is displayed as I, and the reset character (0x0F) is displayed as O.

Each example displays both the raw IRC code sent, and then a formatted version of the output.

  • Code:   I love C3IRC! CIt is the C7best protocol ever!
    Output: I love IRC! It is the best protocol ever!
  • Code:   This is a IC13,9cool Cmessage
    Output: This is a cool message
  • Code:   IRC Bis C4,12so CgreatO!
    Output: IRC is so great!
  • Code:   Rules: Don't spam 5C13,8,6C,7,8, and especially not B9BI!
    Output: Rules: Don't spam 5,6,7,8, and especially not 9!


Thanks to Nei for some guidance on the extended color codes!