IRCv3 chathistory extension

Copyright © 2017-2018 MuffinMedic

Copyright © 2018-2020 Darren Whitlen <>

Copyright © 2020 Shivaram Lingamneni <>

Unlimited redistribution and modification of this document is allowed provided that the above copyright notice and this permission notice remains intact.

This specification is a work-in-progress and may have major incompatible changes without warning.

This specification may change at any time and we do not recommend implementing it in a production environment.

Notes for implementing work-in-progress version

This is a work-in-progress specification.

Software implementing this work-in-progress specification MUST NOT use the unprefixed chathistory or event-playback CAP names. Instead, implementations SHOULD use the draft/chathistory and draft/event-playback CAP names to be interoperable with other software implementing a compatible work-in-progress version. The final version of the specification will use unprefixed CAP names.

The chathistory batch type is already ratified and SHOULD be used unprefixed.


This document describes the format of the chathistory extension. This enables clients to request messages that were previously sent if they are still available on the server.

The server as mentioned in this document may refer to either an IRC server or an IRC bouncer.


The chathistory extension uses the chathistory batch type and introduces a new client command, CHATHISTORY.

Full support for this extension requires support for the batch, server-time and message-tags capabilities. However, limited functionality is available to clients without support for these CAPs. Servers SHOULD NOT enforce that clients support all related capabilities before using the chathistory extension. Meanwhile, bouncers implementing the server side of this specification may not be able to provide message IDs (when they are mediating for a server that does not support the message-tags capability). Therefore, clients with full support for message-tags MAY wish to implement fallback logic that relies only on server-time.

The draft/chathistory capability MUST be negotiated. This allows the server and client to behave differently when message history is available.

An ISUPPORT token MUST be sent to the client to state the maximum number of messages a client can request in a single command, e.g., CHATHISTORY=50. If 0, the client SHOULD assume that there is no maximum number of messages.

The draft/event-playback capability MAY be negotiated. This allows the client to signal that it is capable of receiving and correctly processing lines that would normally produce a local state change (such as JOIN or MODE) in its history batches.


The client can request message history content by sending the CHATHISTORY command to the server. This command has the following general syntax:

CHATHISTORY <subcommand> <target> <timestamp | msgid> <limit>

The target parameter specifies a single buffer (channel or nickname) from which history is to be retrieved. If a nickname is given as the target then the server SHOULD include history sent between the current user and the target nickname, including outgoing messages (“self messages”). The server SHOULD attempt to include history involving other nicknames if either the current user or the target nickname has changed during the requested timeframe.

The special target * refers to all direct messages sent to or from the current user, regardless of the other party. This allows the client to retrieve conversations with users it is not yet aware of.

A timestamp parameter MUST have the format timestamp=YYYY-MM-DDThh:mm:ss.sssZ, as in the server-time extension. A msgid parameter MUST have the format msgid=foobar, as in the message-ids extension.

The server MUST reply to a successful CHATHISTORY command using a batch. The batch MUST have type chathistory and take a single additional parameter, the canonical name of the target being queried. If no content exists to return, the server SHOULD return an empty batch in order to avoid the client waiting for a reply.

If the client has not negotiated the draft/event-playback capability, the server MUST NOT send any lines other than PRIVMSG and NOTICE in the reply batch. If the client has negotiated draft/event-playback, the server SHOULD send additional lines relevant to the chat history, including but not limited to TAGMSG, JOIN, PART, QUIT, MODE, TOPIC, and NICK.


The following subcommands are used to describe how the server should return messages relative to the timestamp or msgid given.


CHATHISTORY BEFORE <target> <timestamp=YYYY-MM-DDThh:mm:ss.sssZ | msgid=1234> <limit>

Request up to limit number of messages before and excluding the given timestamp or msgid. Only one timestamp or msgid MUST be given, not both.


CHATHISTORY AFTER <target> <timestamp=YYYY-MM-DDThh:mm:ss.sssZ | msgid=1234> <limit>

Request up to limit number of messages after and excluding the given timestamp or msgid. Only one timestamp or msgid MUST be given, not both.


CHATHISTORY LATEST <target> <* | timestamp=YYYY-MM-DDThh:mm:ss.sssZ | msgid=1234> <limit>

Request up to limit number of the most recent messages that have been sent. If a timestamp or msgid is given, the returned messages are restricted to those sent after and excluding that timestamp or msgid; if a * is given, no such restriction applies. If a * is not given, only one timestamp or msgid MUST be given, not both.

This is useful for retrieving the latest conversation when first joining a channel or opening a query buffer.


CHATHISTORY AROUND <target> <timestamp=YYYY-MM-DDThh:mm:ss.sssZ | msgid=1234> <limit>

Request a number of messages before and after the timestamp or msgid with the total number of returned messages not exceeding limit. The implementation may decide how many messages to include before and after the selected message. Only one timestamp or msgid MUST be given, not both.

This is useful for retrieving conversation context around a single message.


CHATHISTORY BETWEEN <target> <timestamp=YYYY-MM-DDThh:mm:ss.sssZ | msgid=1234> <timestamp=YYYY-MM-DDThh:mm:ss.sssZ | msgid=1234> <limit>

Request up to limit number of messages between the given timestamp or msgid values. With respect to the limit, the returned messages MUST be counted starting from and excluding the first message selector, while finishing on and excluding the second. This may be forwards or backwards in time.

Returned message notes

The order of returned messages within the batch is implementation-defined, but SHOULD be ascending time order or some approximation thereof, regardless of the subcommand used. The server-time tag on each message SHOULD be the time at which the message was received by the IRC server. The msgid tag that identifies each individual message in a response MUST be the msgid tag as originally sent by the IRC server.

Servers SHOULD provide clients with a consistent message order that is valid across the lifetime of a single connection, and which determinately orders any two messages (even if they share a timestamp); this will allow BEFORE, AFTER, and BETWEEN queries that use msgids for pagination to function as expected. This order SHOULD coincide with the order in which messages are returned within a response batch. It need not coincide with the delivery order of messages when they were relayed on any particular server.

Errors and Warnings

Errors are returned using the standard replies syntax.

If the server receives a CHATHISTORY command with an unknown subcommand, the UNKNOWN_COMMAND error code MUST be returned.

FAIL CHATHISTORY UNKNOWN_COMMAND the_given_command :Unknown command

If the server receives a CHATHISTORY command with missing parameters, the NEED_MORE_PARAMS error code MUST be returned.

FAIL CHATHISTORY NEED_MORE_PARAMS the_given_command :Missing parameters

If the selectors or limit supplied were invalid, the INVALID_PARAMS error code SHOULD be returned.

FAIL CHATHISTORY INVALID_PARAMS the_given_command [the_invalid_parameters] :Invalid parameters

If the target does not exist or the client does not have permissions to query it, the INVALID_TARGET error code SHOULD be returned.

FAIL CHATHISTORY INVALID_TARGET the_given_command :Messages could not be retrieved

If no message history can be returned due to an error, the MESSAGE_ERROR error code SHOULD be returned.

FAIL CHATHISTORY MESSAGE_ERROR the_given_command the_given_target [extra_context] :Messages could not be retrieved


Requesting the latest conversation upon joining a channel

[c] CHATHISTORY LATEST #channel * 50
[s] BATCH +ID chathistory #channel
[s] @batch=ID;msgid=1234;time=2019-01-04T14:33:26.123Z :nick!ident@host PRIVMSG #channel :message
[s] @batch=ID;msgid=1235;time=2019-01-04T14:33:38.123Z :nick!ident@host NOTICE #channel :message
[s] @batch=ID;msgid=1238;time=2019-01-04T14:34:17.123Z;+client_tag=val :nick!ident@host PRIVMSG #channel :ACTION message

Requesting further message history than our client currently has

[c] CHATHISTORY BEFORE bob timestamp=2019-01-04T14:34:17.123Z 50
[s] BATCH +ID chathistory bob
[s] @batch=ID;msgid=1234;time=2019-01-04T14:34:09.123Z :bob!ident@host PRIVMSG alice :hello
[s] @batch=ID;msgid=1235;time=2019-01-04T14:34:10.123Z :alice!ident@host PRIVMSG bob :hi! how are you?
[s] @batch=ID;msgid=1238;time=2019-01-04T14:34:16.123Z; :bob!ident@host PRIVMSG alice :I'm good, thank you!

Use Cases

Upon joining a channel, a client may request the latest messages for the channel, to retrieve the immediate context of the active conversation.

Clients can use CHATHISTORY to implement “infinite scroll”. When the user scrolls to the top of the active window or engages a manual trigger, the client can request CHATHISTORY from the server and then insert the results at the top of the window. The user can repeat this action to retrieve more history, possibly until some limit is met.

Client pseudocode

A client with full support for BATCH, message IDs, and deduplication can fill in gaps in its history using the following pseudocode. FUZZ_INTERVAL is a constant that compensates for clock skew across the IRC network (perhaps 1 to 10 seconds):

lower_bound = <timestamp of last message relayed to the previous session>
lower_bound -= FUZZ_INTERVAL
upper_bound = None
retrieved_count = 0
while retrieved_count < SANITY_LIMIT:
    if upper_bound is None:
        messages = CHATHISTORY(LATEST, *)
        messages = CHATHISTORY(BEFORE, upper_bound)
    if len(messages) == 0:
    retrieved_count += len(messages)
    earliest_message = messages[0]
    if earliest_message.timestamp < lower_bound:
    upper_bound = earliest_message.msgid

A client without support for BATCH, message IDs, or deduplication can still make use of CHATHISTORY, albeit with the possibility of skipping some messages or seeing some duplicated messages. For example, on initial JOIN, the client can do the following:


To avoid the possibility of seeing duplicated messages here (messages that were relayed after the channel join, but also appear in the CHATHISTORY LATEST output), a client could ignore messages relayed to the channel until the CHATHISTORY reply batch is complete.

Infinite scroll can be implemented as:

lower_bound_msg = <last message relayed to previous session>
upper_bound_msg = <earliest message relayed or retrieved during current session>
messages = CHATHISTORY(BETWEEN, upper_bound_msg.msgid, lower_bound_msg.msgid)
upper_bound_msg = messages[0]

To fill in gaps in a client without deduplication support, iterate this infinite scrolling operation until the BETWEEN query returns no results (or until a sane limit of retrieved messages is reached).

Implementation Considerations

In the typical IRC network, there is no well-defined global linear ordering of messages, since different linked servers may see messages in different orders. Furthermore, due to clock skew between servers and between server and client, messages may be relayed, stored, and replayed in an order that differs from the timestamp order. Within the recommended constraints on message ordering described above, implementations may want to make different tradeoffs between simplicity, consistency, and correctness (i.e., neither missing nor duplicating messages).

Client implementations should account for the possibility that history reply batches may contain nicknames (as sources or parameters) that have subsequently changed. With direct message history, servers may wish to rewrite the sources or targets of messages to correspond to the current nicknames of the two users.

Security Considerations

Servers MUST ensure that users cannot obtain history they are not authorised to view. Servers SHOULD use secure identification mechanisms such as account names, internal account identifiers, or certificate fingerprints to match content to users.

Given conventional expectations around channel membership, servers MAY wish to disallow clients from querying the history of channels they are not joined to. If they do not, they SHOULD disallow clients from querying channels that they are banned from, or which are private.

While an ISUPPORT token value of 0 may be used to indicate no message limit exists, servers SHOULD set and enforce a reasonable maximum and properly throttle CHATHISTORY commands to prevent abuse.

Software supporting draft/chathistory: Oragono