As a noun, a hack is the source code of a program. For example, the phrase "it must be done through a hack" means someone has to write programming code to solve the problem because there is no pre-written software that does the job.
As a verb, hack refers to writing a small program or adding code to an existing program to solve a problem in a hurry. A hack used to imply a low-level programming language, even deploying a fix in machine language (see patch
). However, the term evolved, and today it can refer to code in any computer language. See machine language
You're Not Supposed To!
A hack may refer to an enhancement made to an electronic device that was not designed to be user programmable, such as a video game, music player, TV set-top box or cellphone. For example, a digital media hub (media extender) could be modified to play additional formats.
This level of modification is done by the serious hacker, who first has to find a way to expose the software. It may require opening the case and using tools such as a screwdriver, wire strippers and soldering iron. For example, to make the first AT&T iPhones work in another network, an early hack required applying voltage to a line on its circuit board. It meant scraping the surface of a single wire trace without breaking the line and soldering a wire to it; a very delicate operation. Subsequent methods used to unlock iPhones were less extreme.
"Hacked" Means a Harmful Hack
"Getting hacked" has another connotation. Although the original meaning of hack is program code that was modified, the popular definition is an illegal modification that causes a computer or online account to be compromised.
A lesser known meaning of the term is that a hack is a harmless practical joke, but one that takes a bit of technical prowess or careful planning. See attack
From "The Best of The Joy of Tech" cartoon book by Nitrozac and Snaggy (O'Reilly Media, Inc., 2003, ISBN 0-596-00578-4). (Image courtesy of GeekCulture, www.geekculture.com)
The term is often used to refer to any tip or technique for improving performance or configuring hardware or software; witness these titles from O'Reilly Media, Inc.
"The Big Book of Hacks" offers imaginative hacks from turning an old netbook into a tablet to boosting Wi-Fi with a vegetable steamer. Also included are how to make fridge magnets from a hard drive and a dipole antenna from a closet hanger. See life hack