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. See attack, hacker and hackathon.
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