Reverse engineering is the process of extracting the knowledge or design blue-prints from anything man-made. The concept has been around since long before computers or modern technology, and probably dates back to the days of the industrial revolution. It is very similar to scientific research, in which a researcher is attempting to work out the “blueprint” of the atom or the human mind. The difference between reverse engineering and conventional scientific research is that with reverse engineering the artifact being investigated is man-made, unlike scientific research where it is a natural phenomenon.
Reverse engineering is usually conducted to obtain missing knowledge, ideas, and design philosophy when such information is unavailable. In some cases, the information is owned by someone who isn’t willing to share them. In other cases, the information has been lost or destroyed.
Traditionally, reverse engineering has been about taking shrink-wrapped products and physically dissecting them to uncover the secrets of their design.Such secrets were then typically used to make similar or better products. In many industries, reverse engineering involves examining the product under a microscope or taking it apart and figuring out what each piece does.
Not too long ago, reverse engineering was actually a fairly popular hobby, practiced by a large number of people (even if it wasn’t referred to as reverse engineering). Remember how in the early days of modern electronics, many people were so amazed by modern appliances such as the radio and television set that it became common practice to take them apart and see what goes on inside? That was reverse engineering. Of course, advances in the electronics industry have made this practice far less relevant. Modern digital electronics are so miniaturized that nowadays you really wouldn’t be able to see much of the interesting stuff by just opening the box.