What Is Discord and How Does It Work?

Voice and text chat on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS

Discord is a free app that combines the voice chat aspects of services like Skype and Teamspeak with the text chat aspects of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and instant messaging services. Here's how to use the Discord app for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, and web browsers.

What Is Discord Used For?

Discord was made for online gamers as a free alternative to voice chat services like TeamSpeak, Mumble, and Ventrilo. These services facilitate Voice over IP (VoIP) communication between members of gaming clans, guilds, and other groups. Instead of using the voice communication tools built into games, which are often of lower quality and lack features, gamers use these services to play together.

The downside is that most VoIP services require a server, which usually isn't free. Some hosting companies provide a free VoIP server when a regular game server is rented. However, there is usually a cost associated with running a TeamSpeak, Mumble, or Ventrilo server.

Discord offers a similar service at no cost. The Discord app is free to download, signing up for a Discord account is free, and anyone can create a Discord server for free.

Discord offers a premium service called Discord Nitro. Paying for this premium service comes with perks like larger image uploads and the ability to choose the numbers that are added to your Discord username.

How to Get Started With Discord

To get started with Discord, create a temporary account. You can register this account to make it permanent, or discard it when you're done. You can add an avatar or profile picture to your account, but it's not required.

  1. Open a web browser and go to the Discord app website.

  2. Select Open Discord in your browser.

    Open Discord in your browser button
  3. Enter your desired username and select the arrow to the right of the text field.

    Username field on Discord web site

    Your username doesn't need to be unique. It will be combined with a four-digit number to differentiate it from other users who use the same name.

  4. Select the I am not a robot check box, then complete the captcha if one is presented.

    I am not a robot Captcha
  5. Select Skip to immediately start using Discord, or select Get Started for a tutorial.

    Skip tutorial button for Discord
  6. Enter your email and password, then select Claim Account to register your account, or select outside the pop-up window to skip this step.

    Claim Account button for Discord
  7. Start searching for communities and servers to join.

  8. When someone gives you an invitation link to a server, click the link to join.

If you don't finalize your account creation, the account is lost when you close the browser. Select Claim Account, enter your email address, then follow the instructions in the email to make your account permanent.

Discord Web Version vs. Discord Desktop App

Discord Web App
  • More or less identical to the desktop app.

  • Push-to-talk only works when the browser window is in focus. It's unavailable while gaming.

  • Doesn't require a download. Use it anywhere, on any computer.

Discord Desktop App
  • More or less identical to the web version.

  • Push-to-talk and game viewing are enabled all the time.

Discord is available as a web app that runs in most browsers. You can also download a desktop version for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. The desktop and web versions of Discord are functionally identical in almost every way and look nearly the same.

There are a few differences between the browser and desktop versions of Discord. In the desktop app, push-to-talk is enabled all the time. In the web app, push-to-talk only works when the browser window is in focus, so it's unavailable while playing. The desktop version allows you to show your friends what game you're playing. The major benefit of the web version is that it doesn't require a download. You can use it anywhere, on any computer, without waiting to download and install anything.

If you use Discord a lot, the desktop app is a worthwhile download, but the web app is great because it lowers the bar for entry; for example, when you're playing a game with your friends and want to invite an outside player into voice chat. With a service like TeamSpeak or Mumble, they must download the app, create an account, and enter your server information. With Discord, all they do is click your invite link, type a temporary username if they don't have one, and they're ready to go.

Discord Mobile App

In addition to the desktop and web apps, Discord is available as an app for iOS and Android. The Discord mobile app has a similar look to the desktop app, but it's modified to work on smaller screens. When you're on a server, swipe right to see a list of voice and text channels, and swipe left to see a list of the members on the server.

Voice chat on the mobile Discord app works like the desktop app. You can use it to communicate with your friends or teammates when you're playing on a console that doesn't support Discord.

You have the same abilities to adjust the volume of other users, mute people, so that you can't hear them, and mute yourself if you don't want your friends to hear what's going on in your house.

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How to Join a Server on Discord

Although Discord features many servers that anyone can join, there is no central list of available servers. To join a Discord server, you often need a member or admin of that server to give you a link. Some servers have permanent links, and others expire within a day.

If you have a link to a Discord server, select the link or join through the Discord app:

  1. Open the Discord app or open Discord in a browser.

  2. Select the plus (+) in the left pane.

    Add a Server button on Discord
  3. Select Join a Server.

    Join a server on Discord web site
  4. Enter the invite link, then select Join.

    Join button on Discord website
  5. To leave a Discord server, right-click the server's name in Discord, then select Leave Server.

How to Find Servers to Join

If you have a friend with a Discord server that you want to join, ask for an invite. If you're a member of a community that uses Discord, ask for an invite or look on the community website, subreddit, forum, wiki, or wherever else you think a permanent link might be stored.

You can also search for public servers that anyone can join by selecting the magnifying glass in the left pane of the Discord app.

Server Discovery magnifying glass

Another way to find Discord communities is to run a query on your favorite search engine. For example, if you play Final Fantasy XIV, search for final fantasy xiv discord server.

How to Create a Server on Discord

Creating servers on Discord is free, but you need to create an account first. After making your account, log in to Discord on your platform of choice, and then:

  1. Open Discord and select the plus (+) on the left side of the window.

  2. Select Create a Server.

  3. Enter a server name and select a region.

  4. Select Create.

    Create server button in Discord
  5. Your server is ready to go immediately, and you're given a link to share with others. Select the Set this link to never expire check box if you want to create a permanent link for your community.

    Set this link to never expire checkbox
  6. Select Invite People from the server page to see the invitation link. To invite friends and people from other servers, right-click their user icon in Discord and select Invite to server > Your server.

    Invite to Server button in Discord

How to Delete a Server on Discord

To take down the Discord server you created:

  1. Select the server from the list in the left pane.

    Server selection in Discord
  2. Select the down arrow next to the server name.

    Downward arrow for Discord server options
  3. Select Server Settings from the drop-down menu.

    Server Settings menu in Discord
  4. Select Delete Server.

    Delete Server button in Discord
  5. Reenter the server name when prompted.

  6. Select Delete Server to confirm.

    Enter Server Name, Delete Server buttons in Discord

You cannot undo a server deletion. Before taking down your Discord server, be absolutely certain that you want to delete it.

How to Add Friends on Discord

There is no way to search for friends by email address or username, so you will need someone's full discord tag or be friends with them on another platform before you can add them on Discord.

When you sign up for Discord, you enter a username. This is only part of your Discord tag. In addition to the name you choose, Discord adds four digits in this format: Username#1234.

Look in the lower-left corner of your Discord home screen to find your full Discord tag under your username.

If you have your friend's full Discord tag, including the numbers, you can send a friend request:

  1. Open Discord.

  2. Select the Home icon in the upper-left corner.

    Home button in Discord
  3. Select Friends.

    Friends button in Discord
  4. Select Add Friend and enter your friend's full Discord tag, then select Send Friend Request.

    Send Friend Request in Discord
  5. Your friend appears in the Pending tab until they accept the request.

How to Find Friends on Discord From Other Services

The desktop version of Discord allows you to link your Discord account with other services like Battle.net, Steam, and Reddit.

You don't have to link accounts, but doing so makes it easier to find your friends. Linking some accounts, like Xbox One, also provides the ability for your friends to see what you're playing on the other platform.

To link accounts on Discord, select Connect Accounts at the bottom of the Add Friend screen.

Connect Accounts button in Discord

This gives you the option to select the type of account you want to connect. You can also choose which connected accounts you want to display on your Discord profile.

Accounts to connect to Discord

When you link your accounts, Discord automatically pulls your friends list from the other service and checks to see if any of your friends are on Discord. If it finds anyone, you can send a friend request.

How to Make Group Calls for Screen Sharing

In addition to servers, Discord supports direct messages (DMs) to communicate privately with friends and group direct messages to communicate with small groups of friends. These exist separately from servers, so you and your friends don't need to be members of the same server to use this feature.

To create a group DM with your friends for a private voice chat, video chat, and screen sharing:

  1. Open Discord.

  2. Select the Home icon in the upper-left corner.

  3. Select Friends.

  4. Select the New Group DM icon in the upper-right corner of the app.

    New Group DM button in Discord
  5. Choose friends to invite, then select Create Group DM.

    Create Group DM button in Discord
  6. Select the phone icon to start a voice call. Or, select the video camera icon to start a video call.

    Voice and Video call buttons in Discord

    With a voice or video call in progress, select the camera icon to turn on your webcam, or select the monitor icon to share your screen.

  7. Select Leave Call to end the call when you are done.

Up to 10 people can participate in a Discord group DM at once, so it's a good way for small groups to communicate without creating a separate server. If you want more than 10 people on a call at one time, create a voice channel on a Discord server and use that instead.

  • How does Discord Overlay work?

    Discord’s Overlay feature lets users voice chat and message other players while gaming. To use this feature, select User Settings (gear icon) next to your username. Under App Settings, select Overlay, then click the slider to toggle on Enable In-Game Overlay.

  • How does blocking on Discord work?

    When you block someone on Discord, that person won't be able to chat with you. You won't see their messages or receive message reminders. The person will also be removed from your Friends list. The blocked person can, however, still read your messages and see when you're online. To block someone on the Discord desktop app, right-click their name and select Block. On the Discord mobile app, tap the person's profile picture, then tap the three-dot menu and select Block. If you decide you want to view the blocked user's messages, select Show Message (desktop) or Blocked Messages (app).

  • How does push-to-talk work on Discord?

    When you enable push-to-talk in Discord, your microphone is muted until you're ready to speak. This helps if background noise is interfering with your voice-chat communication. To turn on push-to-talk, select Settings (gear icon) > App Settings > Voice & Video. Under Input Mode, check the Push to Talk box to enable the feature.

  • How does Discord streaming work?

    Streaming on Discord means you can share your screen or broadcast video via your webcam in a livestream. To start a stream on Discord, open the app and join a voice channel. At the bottom of the app, select Video to stream from your webcam, or select Screen to share your computer screen. (Streaming from your screen is only possible using the Discord desktop app, not the mobile app or browser version.) When you select Video, you'll begin streaming right away. If you select Screen, you'll choose what window you want to share, along with a resolution and frame rate. If you're on a PC, you'll also have the option of enabling sound. Select Go Live to start streaming.

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