Before I started using Discord, I assumed that it was a platform primarily for gamers. Its voice and video chat features make it an excellent tool for gamers to speak to each other while conquering new levels and exploring new worlds.
But since its launch in 2015, Discord has added new features that make it useful for online communities of all kinds. Organized in groups called servers, Discord currently has 150 million monthly active users in 2023, according to its website. Discord has also expanded its functionality, allowing for text messaging in addition to its original voice and video chats.
Whether you’ve got a group waiting for you once you join, want to explore servers in your area or wish to connect with your fellow gamers, Discord is a great way to mingle virtually.
Here’s what you need to know about downloading, signing up for and navigating Discord.
How to download Discord
Discord recommends downloading using its desktop clients for the best experience, and so do we.
Discord may ask you to grant it access to your keystrokes from any application in a pop-up window when you open the application for the first time. This function allows Discord to log your keystrokes even when you’re not using the app. Discord said on Twitter/X that it asks for this permission to send you push-to-talk notifications. We recommend that you deny this permission as it isn’t strictly necessary.
If you want to download Discord to other operating systems, Discord has additional download packages that are compatible with iOS and Android.
How to set up your Discord
If you’re opening Discord for the first time after downloading it, the app will prompt you to log in or register for a new account.
When making a new account, you’re prompted to provide some information and pick a Display Name and username. Your Display Name is what other people will see you as on Discord — this can include your preferred nickname and emojis. Your username is what’s tied to your account, and it needs to be unique.
Once you submit your information, you have the building blocks of your account. Now, you’re ready to join your communities called servers.
You can join Discord servers by searching for them in the app or using an invite link. The first time you enter a new server, you’ll be sent through a few prompts custom to each server — usually this includes setting up your notification preferences and agreeing to a server’s community guidelines.
Each server has a unique purpose. You might want to join one focused around a specific game or one for a gaming tournament. Streamers and YouTubers also have dedicated fan servers, or you can make a server simply to chat with friends. Discord’s many functionalities can fulfill various different needs and wants.
Unlike Slack, which requires joining channels, once you’ve entered a Discord server, you’ll have access to all its channels, which are like sub-communities organized around particular topics. For example, in a “Spider-Man 2 PS5” channel, there might be channels like #Gaming-Tips, #Level-spoilers or #Character-chats. You can mute and browse channels within a server at any time.
Another way to join channels is through Roles, which you’ll likely be prompted to accept or decline when connecting to a new server. Roles are designations given to your profile that indicate what you’re interested in and also help server managers organize users. When you accept a new role, you’ll automatically gain access to the relevant private channels. As an example, in my writers group’s server, I have the roles of Sprinter and Virtual Writer, which gave me access to channels to do writing sprints and keep up with virtual writing sessions.
Discord also has voice and video chat features that are easy to use. Discord will display your voice channels below your text-based ones. They will be marked by speaker icons next to the channel name. All you have to do is click on a voice channel to join. Other people on your server will be able to see that someone is active in that voice channel, and they can do the same to join you. Video channels work similarly, and they have the ability for you to stream the game you’re playing or share your screen.
How to connect Discord to gaming consoles
You can also check out Discord’s Beginners Guide for tips like how to connect Discord with Spotify, how to make custom emojis and how to create your own server.
For more on gaming, check out CNET’s review of the Nintendo Switch OLED, all the new games coming to Apple Arcade in November and the best VR headsets of 2023.