rcirc Manual

rcirc is an Emacs IRC client.

IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is a multi-user chat protocol. Users communicate with each other in real-time. Communication occurs both in topic channels which are collections of many users, or privately, with just one other user.

Copyright © 2006–2019 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with the Front-Cover Texts being “A GNU Manual”, and with the Back-Cover Texts as in (a) below. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU Free Documentation License”.

(a) The FSF's Back-Cover Text is: “You have the freedom to copy and modify this GNU manual.”

Fighting Information Overload
Hacking and Tweaking
GNU Free Documentation License
Key Index
Variable Index

Detailed Node Listing

Internet Relay Chat
Getting started with rcirc
rcirc commands
Useful IRC commands
Fighting Information Overload
Hacking and Tweaking
Skipping /away messages using handlers
Using fly spell mode
Scrolling conservatively
Changing the time stamp format
Defining a new command

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1 Basics

This chapter contains a brief introduction to IRC (Internet Relay Chat), and a quick tutorial on rcirc.

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1.1 Internet Relay Chat

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a form of instant communication over the Internet. It is mainly designed for group (many-to-many) communication in discussion forums called channels, but also allows one-to-one communication.

Contrary to most Instant Messenger (IM) systems, users usually don't connect to a central server. Instead, users connect to a random server in a network, and servers relay messages from one to the next.

Here's a typical example:

When you connect to the Freenode network (http://freenode.net/), you point your IRC client at the server irc.freenode.net. That server will redirect your client to a random server on the network, such as zelazny.freenode.net.

Once you're connected, you can send messages to all other users connected to the same network, and you can join all channels on the same network. You might join the #emacs and the #rcirc channels, for example. (Typically, channel names begin with a hash character.)

Once you have joined a channel, anything you type will be broadcast to all the other users on the same channel.

If you want to address someone specifically, for example as an answer to a question, it is customary to prefix the message with the nick followed by a colon, like this:

     deego: fsbot rules!

Since this is so common, you can use <TAB> to do nick completion.

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1.2 Getting started with rcirc

Use the command M-x irc to connect using the defaults. See Configuration, if you want to change the defaults.

Use C-u M-x irc if you don't want to use the defaults, e.g., if you want to connect to a different network, or connect to the same network using a different nick. This will prompt you for four things:

IRC Server
What server do you want to connect to? All the servers in a particular network are equivalent. Some networks use a round-robin system where a single server redirects new connections to a random server in the network. irc.freenode.net is such a server for the Freenode network. Freenode provides the network “for the Free and Open Source Software communities, for not-for-profit organizations and for related communities and organizations.”

IRC Port
All network connections require a port. Just as web servers and clients use port 80 per default, IRC uses port 6667 per default. You rarely have to use a different port.

IRC Nick
Every users needs a handle on-line. You will automatically be assigned a slightly different nick if your chosen nick is already in use. If your user-login-name is alex, and this nick is already in use, you might for example get assigned the nick alex`.

IRC Channels
A space separated list of channels you want to join when connecting. You don't need to join any channels, if you just want to have one-to-one conversations with friends on the same network. If you're new to the Freenode network, join #emacs, the channel about all things Emacs, or join #rcirc, the channel about rcirc.

When you have answered these questions, rcirc will create a server buffer, which will be named something like *irc.freenode.net*, and a channel buffer for each of the channels you wanted to join.

To talk in a channel, just type what you want to say in a channel buffer, and press <RET>.

If you want to paste multiple lines, such as source code, you can use C-c C-c to edit your message in a separate buffer. Use C-c C-c to finish editing. You still need to press <RET> to send it, though. Generally, IRC users don't like people pasting more than around four lines of code, so use with care.

Once you are connected to multiple channels, or once you've turned you attention to other buffers in Emacs, you probably want to be notified of any activity in channels not currently visible. All you need to do is switch channel tracking on using M-x rcirc-track-minor-mode. To make this permanent, add the following to your init file:

     (rcirc-track-minor-mode 1)

Use C-c C-<SPC> to switch to these buffers.

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2 Reference

This is the reference section of the manual. It is not complete. For complete listings of rcirc features, use Emacs built-in documentation.

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2.1 rcirc commands

This is a list of commands that you may use in rcirc. It is not complete. For a complete listing, press C-h m in an rcirc buffer.

In addition to using regular Emacs key bindings, you can call them by typing them into an rcirc buffer.

For instance, instead of using the command C-c C-j to join a new channel, you may type this in an rcirc buffer, and press <RET>:

     /join #emacs

This is why you cannot start a message with a slash. You will have to precede the command with a space, or rewrite your message in order to send it to a channel.

Many commands take parameters. IRC commands usually ignore string delimiters. Neither apostrophe nor double-quote have special meanings in IRC.

     /nick "alex schroeder"

This will try to change your nick to "alex. Usually this will fail because the double quote character is not a valid character for nicks.

These commands are case insensitive.

If a command isn't known by rcirc, it will simply be sent along to the server. There is a list of some useful commands like that in the next section.

C-c C-j
This joins a channel such as #rcirc or #emacs. On most networks, anybody can create new channels. If you want to talk with some friends, for example, all you have to do is agree on a valid channel name and join that channel. (Also /join #emacs.)
C-c C-p
This leaves the current channel. You can optionally provide a reason for parting. When you kill a channel buffer, you automatically part the corresponding channel. (Also /part you are too weird!.)
C-c C-r
This changes your nick to some other name. Your nick must be unique across the network. Most networks don't allow too many nick changes in quick succession, and have restrictions on the valid characters in nick names. (Also /nick alex-test)
C-c C-w
Gives you some basic information about a nick. This often includes what other channels people are on. (Also /whois fsbot.)
C-c C-q
Starts a one-to-one conversation with another person on the same network. A new buffer will be created for this conversation. It works like a channel with only two members. (Also /query fsbot.)
C-c <RET>
This sends a single message to a nick. Like with C-c C-q, a new buffer is created, where the response from the other party will show up. (Also /msg nickserv identify secret.)
C-c C-x
This disconnects from the server and parts all channels. You can optionally provide a reason for quitting. When you kill the server buffer, you automatically quit the server and part all channels. (Also /quit ZZZzzz....)
This reconnects after you have lost the connection.

If you're chatting from a laptop, then you might be familiar with this problem: When your laptop falls asleep and wakes up later, your IRC client doesn't realize that it has been disconnected. It takes several minutes until the client decides that the connection has in fact been lost. The simple solution is to use M-x rcirc. The problem is that this opens an additional connection, so you'll have two copies of every channel buffer, one dead and one live.

The real answer, therefore, is the /reconnect command.

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2.2 Useful IRC commands

As mentioned, if a command isn't known by rcirc, it will simply be sent along to the server. Some such commands are available on nearly all IRC servers, such as:

This sets your status as “being away” if you provide a reason, or sets your status as “being back” if you do not. People can use the C-c C-w command to check your status. Example: /away food.

Typical IRC servers implement many more commands. You can read more about the fantastic world of IRC online at the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) help archive.

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2.3 Configuration

These are some variables you can change to configure rcirc to your liking.

This variable contains an alist of servers to connect to by default and the keywords parameters to use. The keyword parameters are optional. If you don't provide any, the defaults as documented below will be used.

The most important parameter is the :channels parameter. It controls which channels you will join by default as soon as you are connected to the server.

Here's an example of how to set it:

          (add-to-list 'rcirc-server-alist
                         :channels ("#FUDGE" "#game-design")))

By default you will be connected to the rcirc support channel: #rcirc on irc.freenode.net.

This overrides rcirc-default-nick.
This overrides rcirc-default-port.
This overrides rcirc-default-user-name.
This overrides rcirc-default-full-name.
This describes which channels to join when connecting to the server. If absent, no channels will be connected to automatically.

This variable is used for the default nick. It defaults to the login name returned by user-login-name.
          (setq rcirc-default-nick "kensanata")

This variable contains the default port to connect to. It is 6667 by default and rarely needs changing.
This variable contains the default user name to report to the server. It defaults to the login name returned by user-login-name, just like rcirc-default-nick.
This variable is used to set your “real name” on IRC. It defaults to the name returned by user-full-name. If you want to hide your full name, you might want to set it to some pseudonym.
          (setq rcirc-default-full-name "Curious Minds Want To Know")

This variable is an alist used to automatically identify yourself on networks. Each sublist starts with a regular expression that is compared to the server address you're connecting to. The second element in the list is a symbol representing the method to use, followed by the arguments this method requires.

Here is an example to illustrate how you would set it:

          (setq rcirc-authinfo
                '(("freenode" nickserv "bob" "p455w0rd")
                  ("freenode" chanserv "bob" "#bobland" "passwd99")
                  ("bitlbee" bitlbee "robert" "sekrit")))

And here are the valid method symbols and the arguments they require:

Use this symbol if you need to identify yourself as follows when connecting to a network: /msg nickserv identify secret. The necessary arguments are the nickname you want to use this for, and the password to use.

Before you can use this method, you will have to register your nick and pick a password for it. Contact nickserv and check out the details. (Using /msg nickserv help, for example.)

Use this symbol if you need to identify yourself as follows if you want to join a particular channel: /msg chanserv identify #underground secret. The necessary arguments are the nickname and channel you want to use this for, and the password to use.

Before you can use this method, a channel contact must tell you about the password to use. Contact chanserv and check out the details. (Using /msg chanserv help, for example.)

Use this symbol if you need to identify yourself in the Bitlbee channel as follows: identify secret. The necessary arguments are the nickname you want to use this for, and the password to use.

Bitlbee acts like an IRC server, but in fact it is a gateway to a lot of other instant messaging services. You can either install Bitlbee locally or use a public Bitlbee server. There, you need to create an account with a password. This is the nick and password you need to provide for the bitlbee authentication method.

Later, you will tell Bitlbee about your accounts and passwords on all the other instant messaging services, and Bitlbee will log you in. All rcirc needs to know, is the login to your Bitlbee account. Don't confuse the Bitlbee account with all the other accounts.

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3 Fighting Information Overload

This is the section of the manual that caters to the busy person online. There are support channels with several hundred people in them. Trying to follow a conversation in these channels can be a daunting task. This chapters tells you how rcirc can help.

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3.1 Channels

Most people want a notification when something is said on a channel they have joined, particularly if they have been addressed directly. There is a global minor mode that will do this kind of tracking for you. All you need to do is switch it on using M-x rcirc-track-minor-mode. To make this permanent, add the following to your init file:

     (rcirc-track-minor-mode 1)

When other people say things in buffers that are currently buried (no window is showing them), the mode line will now show you the abbreviated channel or nick name. Use C-c C-<SPC> to switch to these buffers.

If you prefer not to load rcirc immediately, you can delay the activation of this mode:

     (add-hook 'rcirc-mode-hook
               (lambda ()
                 (rcirc-track-minor-mode 1)))

If you've joined a very active support channel, tracking activity is no longer useful. The channel will be always active. Switching to active channels using C-c C-<SPC> no longer works as expected.

The solution is to mark this channel as a low priority channel. Use C-c C-l to make the current channel a low-priority channel. Low priority channels have the modeline indicator “LowPri”. C-c C-<SPC> will not switch to low priority channels unless you use the C-u prefix.

If you prefer a channel to never show up in the modeline, then you have to ignore it. Use C-c <TAB> to ignore the current channel.

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3.2 People

The most important command available to the discerning IRC user is /ignore. It's the big equalizer online: If people aggravate you, just ignore them.

This is of course a crude all-or-nothing solution. Fear not, rcirc offers alternatives: You can “brighten” your buddies and “dim” certain other nicks that you don't want to ignore altogether.

This command toggles the ignore status of a nick, if you provide one. If you don't provide a nick, the command lists all the nicks you are ignoring. All messages by ignored nicks are—you guessed it—ignored. Since only “operators” can kick people from channels, the ignore command is often the only way to deal with some of the more obnoxious fellows online. Example: /ignore rudybot.
This command toggles the bright status of a nick, if you provide one. If you don't provide a nick, the command lists all the “brightened” nicks. All messages by brightened nicks are—you guessed it—brightened. Use this for your friends. Example: /bright rcy.
This command toggles the dim status of a nick, if you provide one. If you don't provide a nick, the command lists all the “dimmed” nicks. All messages by dimmed nicks are—you guessed it—dimmed. Use this for boring people and bots. If you are tracking channel activity, messages by dimmed nicks will not register as activity. Example: /dim fsbot.

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3.3 Keywords

On a busy channel, you might want to ignore all activity (using C-c <TAB>) and just watch for certain keywords. The following command allows you to highlight certain keywords:

This command toggles the highlighting of a keyword, if you provide one. If you don't provide a keyword, the current keywords are listed. Example: /keyword manual.

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3.4 Notices

In busy channels you might not be interested in all the joining, parting, quitting, and renaming that goes on. You can omit those notices using C-c C-o.

You can control which notices get omitted via the rcirc-omit-responses variable. Here's an example of how to omit away messages:

     (setq rcirc-omit-responses '("JOIN" "PART" "QUIT" "NICK" "AWAY"))

Notice that these messages will not be omitted if the nick in question has recently been active. After all, you don't want to continue a conversation with somebody who just left. That's why rcirc checks recent lines in the buffer to figure out if a nick has been active and only omits a message if the nick has not been active. The window rcirc considers is controlled by the rcirc-omit-threshold variable.

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4 Hacking and Tweaking

Here are some examples of stuff you can do to configure rcirc.

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4.1 Skipping /away messages using handlers

The IRC protocol specifies how certain events are signaled from server to client. These events have numbers and are dealt with using so-called handlers. You can override existing handlers by exploiting the naming convention adopted for rcirc.

Here's how to stop rcirc from printing /away messages. Since rcirc doesn't define a 301 handler, you don't need to require rcirc before defining the handler:

     (defun rcirc-handler-301 (process cmd sender args)
       "/away message handler.")

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4.2 Using fly spell mode

The following code activates Fly Spell Mode for rcirc buffers:

     (add-hook 'rcirc-mode-hook (lambda ()
                                  (flyspell-mode 1)))

See Flyspell mode, for details.

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4.3 Scrolling conservatively

IRC buffers are constantly growing. If you want to see as much as possible at all times, you would want the prompt at the bottom of the window when possible. The following snippet uses a local value for scroll-conservatively to achieve this:

     (add-hook 'rcirc-mode-hook
               (lambda ()
                 (set (make-local-variable 'scroll-conservatively)

See Scrolling conservatively, for details.

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4.4 Changing the time stamp format

rcirc-time-format is the format used for the time stamp. Here's how to include the date in the time stamp:

     (setq rcirc-time-format "%Y-%m-%d %H:%M ")

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4.5 Defining a new command

Here's a simple new command, /sv. With it, you can boast about your IRC client. It shows how you can use defun-rcirc-command to define new commands.

We're waiting for the definition of this command until rcirc is loaded because defun-rcirc-command is not yet available, and without rcirc loaded, the command wouldn't do us much good anyway.

     (with-eval-after-load 'rcirc
       (defun-rcirc-command sv (arg)
         "Boast about rcirc."
         (interactive "i")
         (rcirc-send-message process target
                              (concat "I use " rcirc-id-string))))

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Appendix A GNU Free Documentation License

Version 1.3, 3 November 2008
     Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2008 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
     Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies
     of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.

    The purpose of this License is to make a manual, textbook, or other functional and useful document free in the sense of freedom: to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either commercially or noncommercially. Secondarily, this License preserves for the author and publisher a way to get credit for their work, while not being considered responsible for modifications made by others.

    This License is a kind of “copyleft”, which means that derivative works of the document must themselves be free in the same sense. It complements the GNU General Public License, which is a copyleft license designed for free software.

    We have designed this License in order to use it for manuals for free software, because free software needs free documentation: a free program should come with manuals providing the same freedoms that the software does. But this License is not limited to software manuals; it can be used for any textual work, regardless of subject matter or whether it is published as a printed book. We recommend this License principally for works whose purpose is instruction or reference.


    This License applies to any manual or other work, in any medium, that contains a notice placed by the copyright holder saying it can be distributed under the terms of this License. Such a notice grants a world-wide, royalty-free license, unlimited in duration, to use that work under the conditions stated herein. The “Document”, below, refers to any such manual or work. Any member of the public is a licensee, and is addressed as “you”. You accept the license if you copy, modify or distribute the work in a way requiring permission under copyright law.

    A “Modified Version” of the Document means any work containing the Document or a portion of it, either copied verbatim, or with modifications and/or translated into another language.

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    11. For any section Entitled “Acknowledgements” or “Dedications”, Preserve the Title of the section, and preserve in the section all the substance and tone of each of the contributor acknowledgements and/or dedications given therein.
    12. Preserve all the Invariant Sections of the Document, unaltered in their text and in their titles. Section numbers or the equivalent are not considered part of the section titles.
    13. Delete any section Entitled “Endorsements”. Such a section may not be included in the Modified Version.
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    15. Preserve any Warranty Disclaimers.

    If the Modified Version includes new front-matter sections or appendices that qualify as Secondary Sections and contain no material copied from the Document, you may at your option designate some or all of these sections as invariant. To do this, add their titles to the list of Invariant Sections in the Modified Version's license notice. These titles must be distinct from any other section titles.

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    You may add a passage of up to five words as a Front-Cover Text, and a passage of up to 25 words as a Back-Cover Text, to the end of the list of Cover Texts in the Modified Version. Only one passage of Front-Cover Text and one of Back-Cover Text may be added by (or through arrangements made by) any one entity. If the Document already includes a cover text for the same cover, previously added by you or by arrangement made by the same entity you are acting on behalf of, you may not add another; but you may replace the old one, on explicit permission from the previous publisher that added the old one.

    The author(s) and publisher(s) of the Document do not by this License give permission to use their names for publicity for or to assert or imply endorsement of any Modified Version.


    You may combine the Document with other documents released under this License, under the terms defined in section 4 above for modified versions, provided that you include in the combination all of the Invariant Sections of all of the original documents, unmodified, and list them all as Invariant Sections of your combined work in its license notice, and that you preserve all their Warranty Disclaimers.

    The combined work need only contain one copy of this License, and multiple identical Invariant Sections may be replaced with a single copy. If there are multiple Invariant Sections with the same name but different contents, make the title of each such section unique by adding at the end of it, in parentheses, the name of the original author or publisher of that section if known, or else a unique number. Make the same adjustment to the section titles in the list of Invariant Sections in the license notice of the combined work.

    In the combination, you must combine any sections Entitled “History” in the various original documents, forming one section Entitled “History”; likewise combine any sections Entitled “Acknowledgements”, and any sections Entitled “Dedications”. You must delete all sections Entitled “Endorsements.”


    You may make a collection consisting of the Document and other documents released under this License, and replace the individual copies of this License in the various documents with a single copy that is included in the collection, provided that you follow the rules of this License for verbatim copying of each of the documents in all other respects.

    You may extract a single document from such a collection, and distribute it individually under this License, provided you insert a copy of this License into the extracted document, and follow this License in all other respects regarding verbatim copying of that document.


    A compilation of the Document or its derivatives with other separate and independent documents or works, in or on a volume of a storage or distribution medium, is called an “aggregate” if the copyright resulting from the compilation is not used to limit the legal rights of the compilation's users beyond what the individual works permit. When the Document is included in an aggregate, this License does not apply to the other works in the aggregate which are not themselves derivative works of the Document.

    If the Cover Text requirement of section 3 is applicable to these copies of the Document, then if the Document is less than one half of the entire aggregate, the Document's Cover Texts may be placed on covers that bracket the Document within the aggregate, or the electronic equivalent of covers if the Document is in electronic form. Otherwise they must appear on printed covers that bracket the whole aggregate.


    Translation is considered a kind of modification, so you may distribute translations of the Document under the terms of section 4. Replacing Invariant Sections with translations requires special permission from their copyright holders, but you may include translations of some or all Invariant Sections in addition to the original versions of these Invariant Sections. You may include a translation of this License, and all the license notices in the Document, and any Warranty Disclaimers, provided that you also include the original English version of this License and the original versions of those notices and disclaimers. In case of a disagreement between the translation and the original version of this License or a notice or disclaimer, the original version will prevail.

    If a section in the Document is Entitled “Acknowledgements”, “Dedications”, or “History”, the requirement (section 4) to Preserve its Title (section 1) will typically require changing the actual title.


    You may not copy, modify, sublicense, or distribute the Document except as expressly provided under this License. Any attempt otherwise to copy, modify, sublicense, or distribute it is void, and will automatically terminate your rights under this License.

    However, if you cease all violation of this License, then your license from a particular copyright holder is reinstated (a) provisionally, unless and until the copyright holder explicitly and finally terminates your license, and (b) permanently, if the copyright holder fails to notify you of the violation by some reasonable means prior to 60 days after the cessation.

    Moreover, your license from a particular copyright holder is reinstated permanently if the copyright holder notifies you of the violation by some reasonable means, this is the first time you have received notice of violation of this License (for any work) from that copyright holder, and you cure the violation prior to 30 days after your receipt of the notice.

    Termination of your rights under this section does not terminate the licenses of parties who have received copies or rights from you under this License. If your rights have been terminated and not permanently reinstated, receipt of a copy of some or all of the same material does not give you any rights to use it.


    The Free Software Foundation may publish new, revised versions of the GNU Free Documentation License from time to time. Such new versions will be similar in spirit to the present version, but may differ in detail to address new problems or concerns. See https://www.gnu.org/licenses/.

    Each version of the License is given a distinguishing version number. If the Document specifies that a particular numbered version of this License “or any later version” applies to it, you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that specified version or of any later version that has been published (not as a draft) by the Free Software Foundation. If the Document does not specify a version number of this License, you may choose any version ever published (not as a draft) by the Free Software Foundation. If the Document specifies that a proxy can decide which future versions of this License can be used, that proxy's public statement of acceptance of a version permanently authorizes you to choose that version for the Document.


    “Massive Multiauthor Collaboration Site” (or “MMC Site”) means any World Wide Web server that publishes copyrightable works and also provides prominent facilities for anybody to edit those works. A public wiki that anybody can edit is an example of such a server. A “Massive Multiauthor Collaboration” (or “MMC”) contained in the site means any set of copyrightable works thus published on the MMC site.

    “CC-BY-SA” means the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license published by Creative Commons Corporation, a not-for-profit corporation with a principal place of business in San Francisco, California, as well as future copyleft versions of that license published by that same organization.

    “Incorporate” means to publish or republish a Document, in whole or in part, as part of another Document.

    An MMC is “eligible for relicensing” if it is licensed under this License, and if all works that were first published under this License somewhere other than this MMC, and subsequently incorporated in whole or in part into the MMC, (1) had no cover texts or invariant sections, and (2) were thus incorporated prior to November 1, 2008.

    The operator of an MMC Site may republish an MMC contained in the site under CC-BY-SA on the same site at any time before August 1, 2009, provided the MMC is eligible for relicensing.

ADDENDUM: How to use this License for your documents

To use this License in a document you have written, include a copy of the License in the document and put the following copyright and license notices just after the title page:

       Copyright (C)  year  your name.
       Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
       under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3
       or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation;
       with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover
       Texts.  A copy of the license is included in the section entitled ``GNU
       Free Documentation License''.

If you have Invariant Sections, Front-Cover Texts and Back-Cover Texts, replace the “with...Texts.” line with this:

         with the Invariant Sections being list their titles, with
         the Front-Cover Texts being list, and with the Back-Cover Texts
         being list.

If you have Invariant Sections without Cover Texts, or some other combination of the three, merge those two alternatives to suit the situation.

If your document contains nontrivial examples of program code, we recommend releasing these examples in parallel under your choice of free software license, such as the GNU General Public License, to permit their use in free software.

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