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According to Miriam-Webster, reverse engineer (RE) means “to disassemble and examine or analyze in detail (as a product or device) to discover the concepts involved in manufacture usually in order to produce something similar”, was used for the first time in 1973, and is exemplified, at least apparently paradoxical, only by “They reverse engineered the software”. Wikipedia, which contains some 10 A4 pages on RE, plus many other ones on Wikibooks and Wikimedia Commons, defines it as “the process of discovering the technological principles of a device, object, or system through analysis of its structure, function, and operation. It often involves taking something (a mechanical device, electronic component, computer program, or biological, chemical, or organic matter) apart and analyzing its workings in detail to be used in maintenance, or to try to make a new device or program that does the same thing without using or simply duplicating (without understanding) the original”. Moreover, Wikipedia considers that RE originated in the analysis of hardware for commercial or military advantage and was only later applied to legacy software systems, not for industrial or defense ends, but rather to replace incorrect, incomplete, or otherwise unavailable documentation. My opinion is that, just like Molière’s Mr. Jourdain, Le bourgeois gentilhomme who discovered very late that he was speaking in prose for forty years without knowing it, mankind always reverse engineered and will continue to do it forever. (Should Reverse Engineering Remain a Computer Science Cinderella?, Christian Mancas)
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Last date updated on June, 2014

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