We intend for all the specs we put out to be backwards-compatible. In other words, if an old client connects to a server that supports IRCv3 extensions, that old client should work without an issue. Likewise, if a new client connects to a server that doesn’t support IRCv3 it’ll work fine (just without some of the new features that IRCv3 allows).
Where there is only one client-to-server (C2S) protocol, there are a multitude of server-to-server (S2S) protocols. The client protocol can be extended in a relatively standard way, whereas the server protocol cannot because there is no single ‘server protocol’ in use today.
Almost every IRC server out there has its own, or its own variant of an, S2S protocol. As such, we’re not working on the server-to-server protocol at this time. The only thing that users see is the client-to-server (C2S) protocol, which is why we’re chartered to prototype, develop and specify extensions to it.
The client protocol is how clients and servers talk to each other. The server-to-server side, as mentioned above, is very fragmented and features are handled in many different ways by server software.
Plain and simple, a server’s S2S protocol only needs to be understood by that same server software or services software. Even if we wanted to mandate server-to-server implementation details or architecture, servers could disregard these without clients being able to tell in any way (as the server would still expose the same protocol to the client). We don’t work on the S2S protocols because they’re an implementation detail. So long as those servers expose the client protocol, it’s IRC.
Originally, we were setup by the Atheme group to develop extensions to the IRC client protocol. These days, the direction of the IRCv3 WG is led by the technical board.
We’re just a collection of server, client, and bot/library developers that work together to produce new specifications and try to push IRC forward. Anyone’s free to join, and as long as you agree with our charter we’re happy to get your suggestions, ideas and feedback.
We do have a roadmap which roughly lays out where we want to go and what we’re focusing on, which you can find here.
In terms of a timeline, work happens whenever someone writes something up or posts their thoughts on existing documents. Almost all of the people involved with us do so on a volunteer basis, so activity happens when they have free time to contribute. If you want to see something move forward and nobody else has commited to working on it, feel free to write it up and submit it as per our contribution docs!
Various people are working on updated IRC core protocol specifications, but there aren’t any we can recommend at this time. If you have trouble understanding / implementing a specific piece of the IRC client protocol, feel free to have a chat to us. We can try to work it out and/or point you in the right direction.
As a note, the RFCs are old, outdated, and don’t properly represent how the IRC client or server protocols have grown over time. The best place to see how real-world IRC software works is that software itself.