How Software Works: The magic behind encryption, CGI, Search Engines and other everyday technologies

V. Anton Spraul

Published by

No Starch Press





Reviewed by

Mike Rees MBCS CITP, IT Consultant


8 out of 10

This book covers ‘the most commonly used processes in software’ and is aimed at the ‘casual fan of technology, a programmer in the making, or someone in between....’

Within a 200 page book, it would not have been possible to cover every possible application, so the contents include the following -

  • Passwords;
  • Web security;
  • CGI;
  • Video game graphics;  
  • Data compression;
  • Search;
  • Concurrency;
  • Map routes.

These topics were selected by the author as being ‘those that are most central to our daily lives’.

Each topic is broken down into the basic principles, followed by a much more detailed technical overview.

A typical approach is the chapter on data compression. This starts off with a bit of history, then follows a description of general compression techniques (Huffman encoding for example), and then in some detail, how .jpeg and High-Def video files are compressed.

Quite how the author consistently manages to avoid references to any programming languages, or even a single line of code, is a remarkable achievement in itself.

If you want to learn more about things like temporal compression, rendering techniques, RSA encryption, 3D CGI and a whole lot more, and are relatively comfortable with some maths, then this book is for you.

For such a well-structured, well-written book there were a surprising lack of sources, references and further reading, however there is a good index.

A highly enjoyable read into the inner workings behind these applications we take for granted, and a good all round publication.

Further information: No Starch Press

December 2015