The New Hackers Dictionary

(Or: The New Hackers Dictionary in PDF)

“The Jargon File” or “The New Hackers Dictionary” has become cultural heritage. The file is public domain and therefore simply freely usable. The current jargon site? Regularly suffers from “web-rot”.

Where to find it? Gutenberg.org and http://www.catb.org/~esr/jargon/html/ are fixed beacons, but less convenient to use than a PDF file with working links.

So I made one for you. Three downloads:

A few years ago (last century) I made a hack to convert html to pdf while maintaining hyperlinks under “windoze”. One of the most rewarding conversions was the “Jargon File” AKA “The New Hacker’s Dictionary”. It offers much more than just an answer to the question why a “hacker” is okay and a “cracker” is scum.

I had apparently removed it from the web once, but remember that the thing was often consulted, and rightly so! Every time on Wikipedia replacing the word “hacker” (good people) by “cracker” (bad people) means that there is something wrong in terms of social imaging. The superficial press and politics do not understand the definitions and contaminate the fame of hackers. That’s how I came to the conclusion that “The New Hacker’s Dictionary” had to be back on the web. Despite the fact that author Eric Raymond is occasionally criticized and despite the fact that I think it’s a bad idea to have a “Riot gun” in your trunk permanently, this action is a genuine ode to his enormous efforts.

Do you know what a “hackintosh” is? Or “leet”? “warez d00dz” ?, “lamers”, “Phreaks”, “IANAL” (I Am Not A Lawyer)? Hundreds of pages, entertaining but with a serious undertone.

For now it is enough to dump the definitions of Cracker and Hacker here:


  • Node:hacker, Next:hacker ethic, Previous:hacked up, Up:= H =

hacker n.

[originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe] 1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. 2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming. 3. A person capable of appreciating hack value. 4. A person who is good at programming quickly. 5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in ‘a Unix hacker’. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.) 6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example. 7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. 8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence ‘password hacker’, ‘network hacker’. The correct term for this sense is cracker.

The term ‘hacker’ also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net (see the network. For discussion of some of the basics of this culture, see the How To Become A Hacker FAQ. It also implies that the person described is seen to subscribe to some version of the hacker ethic (see hacker ethic).

It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not, you’ll quickly be labeled bogus). See also geek, wannabee.

This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry’s by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s.


  • Node:cracker, Next:cracking, Previous:crack root, Up:= C =

cracker n.

One who breaks security on a system. Coined ca. 1985 by hackers in defense against journalistic misuse of hacker (q.v., sense 8). An earlier attempt to establish ‘worm’ in this sense around 1981-82 on Usenet was largely a failure.

Use of both these neologisms reflects a strong revulsion against the theft and vandalism perpetrated by cracking rings. The neologism “cracker” in this sense may have been influenced not so much by the term “safe-cracker” as by the non-jargon term “cracker”, which in Middle English meant an obnoxious person (e.g., “What cracker is this same that deafs our ears / With this abundance of superfluous breath?” – Shakespeare’s King John, Act II, Scene I) and in modern colloquial American English survives as a barely gentler synonym for “white trash”.

While it is expected that any real hacker will have done some playful cracking and knows many of the basic techniques, anyone past larval stage is expected to have outgrown the desire to do so except for immediate, benign, practical reasons (for example, if it’s necessary to get around some security in order to get some work done).

Thus, there is far less overlap between hackerdom and crackerdom than the mundane reader misled by sensationalistic journalism might expect. Crackers tend to gather in small, tight-knit, very secretive groups that have little overlap with the huge, open poly-culture this lexicon describes; though crackers often like to describe themselves as hackers, most true hackers consider them a separate and lower form of life. Ethical considerations aside, hackers figure that anyone who can’t imagine a more interesting way to play with their computers than breaking into someone else’s has to be pretty losing. Some other reasons crackers are looked down on are discussed in the entries on cracking and phreaking. See also samurai, dark-side hacker, and hacker ethic. For a portrait of the typical teenage cracker, see warez d00dz.

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