Ok, some explanation of the capabilities system is probably in order. With most IRC bots (including the ones I’ve written myself prior to this one) “what a user can do” is set in one of two ways. On the really simple bots, each user has a numeric “level” and commands check to see if a user has a “high enough level” to perform some operation. On bots that are slightly more complicated, users have a list of “flags” whose meanings are hardcoded, and the bot checks to see if a user possesses the necessary flag before performing some operation. Both methods, IMO, are rather arbitrary, and force the user and the programmer to be unduly confined to less expressive constructs.

This bot is different. Every user has a set of “capabilities” that is consulted every time they give the bot a command. Commands, rather than checking for a user level of 100, or checking if the user has an ‘o’ flag, are instead able to check if a user has the ‘owner’ capability. At this point such a difference might not seem revolutionary, but at least we can already tell that this method is self-documenting, and easier for users and developers to understand what’s truly going on.

User Capabilities

What the heck can these capabilities DO?

If that was all, well, the capability system would be cool, but not many people would say it was awesome. But it is awesome! Several things are happening behind the scenes that make it awesome, and these are things that couldn’t happen if the bot was using numeric userlevels or single-character flags. First, whenever a user issues the bot a command, the command dispatcher checks to make sure the user doesn’t have the “anticapability” for that command. An anticapability is a capability that, instead of saying “what a user can do”, says what a user cannot do. It’s formed rather simply by adding a dash (‘-‘) to the beginning of a capability; ‘rot13’ is a capability, and ‘-rot13’ is an anticapability.

Anyway, when a user issues the bot a command, perhaps ‘calc’ or ‘help’, the bot first checks to make sure the user doesn’t have the ‘-calc’ or the ‘-help’ (anti)capabilities before even considering responding to the user. So commands can be turned on or off on a per user basis, offering fine-grained control not often (if at all!) seen in other bots. This can be further refined by limiting the (anti)capability to a command in a specific plugin or even an entire plugin. For example, the rot13 command is in the Filter plugin. If a user should be able to use another rot13 command, but not the one in the Format plugin, they would simply need to be given ‘-Format.rot13’ anticapability. Similarly, if a user were to be banned from using the Filter plugin altogether, they would simply need to be given the ‘-Filter’ anticapability.

Channel Capabilities

What if #linux wants completely different capabilities from #windows?

But that’s not all! The capabilities system also supports channel capabilities, which are capabilities that only apply to a specific channel; they’re of the form ‘#channel,capability’. Whenever a user issues a command to the bot in a channel, the command dispatcher also checks to make sure the user doesn’t have the anticapability for that command in that channel, and if the user does, the bot won’t respond to the user in the channel. Thus now, in addition to having the ability to turn individual commands on or off for an individual user, we can now turn commands on or off for an individual user on an individual channel!

So when a user ‘foo’ sends a command ‘bar’ to the bot on channel ‘#baz’, first the bot checks to see if the user has the anticapability for the command by itself, ‘-bar’. If so, it errors right then and there, telling the user that they lacks the ‘bar’ capability. If the user doesn’t have that anticapability, then the bot checks to see if the user issued the command over a channel, and if so, checks to see if the user has the antichannelcapability for that command, ‘#baz,-bar’. If so, again, it tells the user that they lack the ‘bar’ capability. If neither of these anticapabilities are present, then the bot just responds to the user like normal.

Default Capabilities

So what capabilities am I dealing with already?

There are several default capabilities the bot uses. The most important of these is the ‘owner’ capability. This capability allows the person having it to use any command. It’s best to keep this capability reserved to people who actually have access to the shell the bot is running on. It’s so important, in fact, that the bot will not allow you to add it with a command–you’ll have you edit the users file directly to give it to someone.

There is also the ‘admin’ capability for non-owners that are highly trusted to administer the bot appropriately. They can do things such as change the bot’s nick, cause the bot to ignore a given user, make the bot join or part channels, etc. They generally cannot do administration related to channels, which is reserved for people with the next capability.

People who are to administer channels with the bot should have the ‘#channel,op’ capability–whatever channel they are to administrate, they should have that channel capability for ‘op’. For example, since I want inkedmn to be an administrator in #supybot, I’ll give them the ‘#supybot,op’ capability. This is in addition to their ‘admin’ capability, since the ‘admin’ capability doesn’t give the person having it control over channels. ‘#channel,op’ is used for such things as giving/receiving ops, kickbanning people, lobotomizing the bot, ignoring users in the channel, and managing the channel capabilities. The ‘#channel,op’ capability is also basically the equivalent of the ‘owner’ capability for capabilities involving #channel–basically anyone with the #channel,op capability is considered to have all positive capabilities and no negative capabilities for #channel.

One other globally important capability exists: ‘trusted’. This is a command that basically says “This user can be trusted not to try and crash the bot.” It allows users to call commands like ‘icalc’ in the ‘Math’ plugin, which can cause the bot to begin a calculation that could potentially never return (a calculation like ‘10**10**10**10’). Another command that requires the ‘trusted’ capability is the ‘re’ command in the ‘Utilities’ plugin, which (due to the regular expression implementation in Python (and any other language that uses NFA regular expressions, like Perl or Ruby or Lua or …) which can allow a regular expression to take exponential time to process). Consider what would happen if someone gave the bot the command ‘re [format join “” s/./ [dict go] /] [dict go]’ It would basically replace every character in the output of ‘dict go’ (14,896 characters!) with the entire output of ‘dict go’, resulting in 221MB of memory allocated! And that’s not even the worst example!

Managing capabilities

User Capabilities

User capabilities are controlled with the admin capability <add|remove> and channel capability <add|remove>. Their difference is that the first one is only restricted to those who have the admin capability.

To make user1 admin, I would run:

admin capability add user1 admin

If the bot joins on a channel where there should be ops who should’t have power over any other channel, I would run:

channel capability add #channel user2 op

Note that admins cannot give anyone capability which they don’t have by themselves first, so user1 couldn’t use channel capability add unless they were made #channel,op first. The command:

admin capability add user2 #channel,op

has the same effect as channel capability add, but it requires user to have the admin capability in addition to #channel,op.

If there is abusive user who shouldn’t have op capability but still does for one reason or another, I could run either:

channel capability add user3 -op


channel capability remove user3 op

Anticapabilities are checked before normal capabilities so the first command would work even if user3 still had the op capability. Removing capability which isn’t given to user or channel adds anti-capability automatically.

User capabilities can be viewed with user capabilities command.


Channel capabilities affect everyone on the current channel including unidentified users. They are controlled with the channel capability <set|unset> commands.

If I wanted to make everyone on the channel able to voice themselves or get automatically voiced by the AutoMode plugin, I would start by unsetting the default anticapability and setting the capability.:

channel capability unset -voice
channel capability set voice

Now anyone on the channel can voice themselves or if AutoMode plugin is configured to voice voiced people, the will automatically get voiced on join.

If there was unwanted plugin or plugin which output was causing spam, Games for example, I could add anticapability for it and prevent the whole plugin from being used.:

channel capability set -Games

Note that I didn’t specify any separate command after Games.


Default capabilities affect everyone whether they are identified or not. They are controlled by the owner defaultcapability <add|remove> command and they arecommonly used for preventing users from adding/removing akas, using Unix Progstats which disabling is asked about in supybot-wizard or registering to the bot using anticapabilities.:

defaultcapability add -aka.add
defaultcapability add -aka.remove
defaultcapability add -user.register
defaultcapability add -unix.progstats

To undo this I would simply do the opposite.:

defaultcapability remove -aka.add
defaultcapability remove -aka.remove
defaultcapability remove -user.register
defaultcapability remove -unix.progstats

Defaultcapabilities can be restored with either of these two commands:

config setdefault capabilities
config capabilities [config default capabilities]


To make all this less abstract, here is a popular example of what capabilities are used for: disabling a plugin or command for everyone but a select group of people

Allowing only user foo to use the Games plugin, globally:

defaultcapability add -games
admin capability add foo games

And to undo it:

defaultcapability remove -Games
admin capability remove foo Games

Same, but only on #channel:

channel capability set #channel -games
channel capability add #channel foo games

channel capability unset #channel -games
channel capability remove #channel foo games

And to forbid only the dice command of the Games plugin instead of the entire plugin, you would use the same commands, but with -games.dice and games.dice instead of -games and games.

Final Word

From a programmer’s perspective, capabilities are flexible and easy to use. Any command can check if a user has any capability, even ones not thought of when the bot was originally written. Plugins can easily add their own capabilities–it’s as easy as just checking for a capability and documenting somewhere that a user needs that capability to do something.

From an user’s perspective, capabilities remove a lot of the mystery and esotery of bot control, in addition to giving a bot owner absolutely finegrained control over what users are allowed to do with the bot. Additionally, defaults can be set by the bot owner for both individual channels and for the bot as a whole, letting an end-user set the policy they want the bot to follow for users that haven’t yet registered in their user database. It’s really a revolution!