Computer Crime Research Center

How To Become A Hacker

Date: August 04, 2004
Source: The personal domain of Eric S. Raymond.
By: Eric Steven Raymond

Table of Contents


Why This Document?
What Is a Hacker?
The Hacker Attitude
      1. The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved.
      2. No problem should ever have to be solved twice.
      3. Boredom and drudgery are evil.
      4. Freedom is good.
      5. Attitude is no substitute for competence.
Basic Hacking Skills
      1. Learn how to program.
      2. Get one of the open-source Unixes and learn to use and run it.
      3. Learn how to use the World Wide Web and write HTML.
      4. If you don't have functional English, learn it.
Status in the Hacker Culture
      1. Write open-source software
      2. Help test and debug open-source software
      3. Publish useful information
      4. Help keep the infrastructure working
      5. Serve the hacker culture itself
The Hacker/Nerd Connection
Points For Style
Other Resources
Frequently Asked Questions



Why This Document?

As editor of the Jargon File and author of a few other well-known documents of similar nature, I often get email requests from enthusiastic network newbies asking (in effect) "how can I learn to be a wizardly hacker?". Back in 1996 I noticed that there didn't seem to be any other FAQs or web documents that addressed this vital question, so I started this one. A lot of people now consider it definitive, and I suppose that means it is. Still, I don't claim to be the exclusive authority on this topic; if you don't like what you read here, write your own.

If you are reading a snapshot of this document offline, the current version lives at http://catb.org/~esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html.

Note: there is a list of Frequently Asked Questions at the end of this document. Please read these "twice" before mailing me any questions about this document.

Numerous translations of this document are available: Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (Simplified), Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese (European), Spanish, Turkish, and Swedish. Note that since this document changes occasionally, they may be out of date to varying degrees.

The five-dots-in-nine-squares diagram that decorates this document is called a glider. It is a simple pattern with some surprising properties in a mathematical simulation called Life that has fascinated hackers for many years. I think it makes a good visual emblem for what hackers are like --- abstract, at first a bit mysterious-seeming, but a gateway to a whole world with an intricate logic of its own. Read more about the glider emblem here.

What Is a Hacker?

The Jargon File contains a bunch of definitions of the term "hacker", most having to do with technical adeptness and a delight in solving problems and overcoming limits. If you want to know how to become a hacker, though, only two are really relevant.

There is a community, a shared culture, of expert programmers and networking wizards that traces its history back through decades to the first time-sharing minicomputers and the earliest ARPAnet experiments. The members of this culture originated the term 'hacker'. Hackers built the Internet. Hackers made the Unix operating system what it is today. Hackers run Usenet. Hackers make the World Wide Web work. If you are part of this culture, if you have contributed to it and other people in it know who you are and call you a hacker, you're a hacker.

The hacker mind-set is not confined to this software-hacker culture. There are people who apply the hacker attitude to other things, like electronics or music --- actually, you can find it at the highest levels of any science or art. Software hackers recognize these kindred spirits elsewhere and may call them 'hackers' too --- and some claim that the hacker nature is really independent of the particular medium the hacker works in. But in the rest of this document we will focus on the skills and attitudes of software hackers, and the traditions of the shared culture that originated the term 'hacker'.

There is another group of people who loudly call themselves hackers, but aren't. These are people (mainly adolescent males) who get a kick out of breaking into computers and phreaking the phone system. Real hackers call these people 'crackers' and want nothing to do with them. Real hackers mostly think crackers are lazy, irresponsible, and not very bright, and object that being able to break security doesn't make you a hacker any more than being able to hotwire cars makes you an automotive engineer. Unfortunately, many journalists and writers have been fooled into using the word 'hacker' to describe crackers; this irritates real hackers no end.

The basic difference is this: hackers build things, crackers break them.

If you want to be a hacker, keep reading. If you want to be a cracker, go read the alt.2600 newsgroup and get ready to do five to ten in the slammer after finding out you aren't as smart as you think you are. And that's all I'm going to say about crackers.


The Hacker Attitude


      1. The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved.
      2. No problem should ever have to be solved twice.
      3. Boredom and drudgery are evil.
      4. Freedom is good.
      5. Attitude is no substitute for competence.

Hackers solve problems and build things, and they believe in freedom and voluntary mutual help. To be accepted as a hacker, you have to behave as though you have this kind of attitude yourself. And to behave as though you have the attitude, you have to really believe the attitude.

But if you think of cultivating hacker attitudes as just a way to gain acceptance in the culture, you'll miss the point. Becoming the kind of person who believes these things is important for you --- for helping you learn and keeping you motivated. As with all creative arts, the most effective way to become a master is to imitate the mind-set of masters --- not just intellectually but emotionally as well.

Or, as the following modern Zen poem has it:


To follow the path:
look to the master,
follow the master,
walk with the master,
see through the master,
become the master.

So, if you want to be a hacker, repeat the following things until you believe them:

1. The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved.

Being a hacker is lots of fun, but it's a kind of fun that takes lots of effort. The effort takes motivation. Successful athletes get their motivation from a kind of physical delight in making their bodies perform, in pushing themselves past their own physical limits. Similarly, to be a hacker you have to get a basic thrill from solving problems, sharpening your skills, and exercising your intelligence.

If you aren't the kind of person that feels this way naturally, you'll need to become one in order to make it as a hacker. Otherwise you'll find your hacking energy is sapped by distractions like sex, money, and social approval.

(You also have to develop a kind of...


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