In this scene from the 1995 movie Hackers, Cereal pulls out several books referred to by different colors of the "technicolor rainbow", including a "green one", "luscious orange", the "Pink Shirt book", the "Devil book", "Dragon book", and a very large "Red book".

Here's the transcript, if you can't watch the video:

Speaker 1: I'm in this computer, right? I'm looking around...

Speaker 2: You got those Crayola books?

Speaker 3: Yeah, technicolor rainbow.

Speaker 3: Green one.

Speaker 1: What is that? Let me see? What are these?

Speaker 4: International UNIX environments.

Speaker 3: Luscious orange.

Speaker 4: Computer security criteria... DoD standards.

Speaker 4: The pink-shirt book... guide to IBM PCs.

Speaker 4: So-called due to the nasty pink shirt the guy wears on the cover.

Speaker 4: Devil book, the UNIX bible.

Speaker 3: What's that?

Speaker 4: Dragon book, compiler design.

Speaker 3: What's that?

Speaker 4: The Red book.
NSA-trusted networks.
Otherwise known as 'The Ugly Red Book That Won't Fit On A Shelf'.

Were these just made up flights of fancy or where these books real? I'm especially interested if the "ugly red book that won't fit on a shelf" was based on anything real.

  • 2
    While I accept the other answers, computing books being referred to by color is not uncommon. For example, Adobe has published various books about PostScript, commonly called "red book", "blue book", "green book", and "black book". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PostScript#Further_reading – RichF May 13 at 21:08
  • 2
    Colours are definitely context-sensitive. For example, here's another Red Book - though obviously not the one the movie is interested in. – another-dave May 13 at 23:23
  • It all depends on the context and subjects. For example, The OpenGL Programming Guide is also known as the Red Book in graphics programming, e.g. github.com/openglredbook/examples. Outside of computing, an example would be a series of color books from International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, that specifies various standards on chemistry researches. But in the context of information security, one can immediately recognize the DoD's Rainbow Series. – 比尔盖子 May 14 at 2:05
  • Yes they were! And thanks for reminding me that it's about time for my annual re-watching of Hackers :-D – Aaron F May 14 at 8:59
  • 1
    Well, I liked War Games. My wife asked me if that was anything like reality. I told her it was right next to it. The kid with the acoustic coupler. The research software that is redeployed without surveying the source code, the bizarre near war scenario... stuff like that really happened! – Walter Mitty May 16 at 18:22

As indicated on IMDb, the books are

  1. Green: International UNIX Environments, probably part of POSIX or The X/Open Guide.

  2. Orange: Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria, part of the Rainbow Series published by the US DoD.

  3. Pink: The Peter Norton Programmer's Guide to the IBM PC (Peter Norton wears a pink shirt in the cover photo, as can be seen in this Wikipedia article).

  4. The devil book, The Design and Implementation of the 4.3BSD Unix Operating System by Samuel J. Leffler, Marshall Kirk McKusick, Michael J. Karels and John S. Quarterman.

  5. The dragon book, Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools by Alfred V. Aho, Monica S. Lam, Ravi Sethi, and Jeffrey D. Ullman. (People who read the dragon book before 1986, or who were told about it by someone who did, would recognise Principles of Compiler Design as the dragon book instead.)

  6. Red: Trusted Network Interpretation of the Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria, also part of the Rainbow Series.

  • 2
    And the coments at the page linked to in the question also has a link to the IMDb page... – UncleBod May 13 at 13:57
  • 5
    I used to have # 3 the Norton book - not sure if I still have it somewhere. But as far as # 5 - I have an earlier "Principles of Compiler Design", by Aho & Ullman, 1977. That is what I think of as the Dragon Book. – manassehkatz May 13 at 14:36
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    @manassehkatz re #5, there are indeed three editions known as the Dragon Book, but the one in the film (timecoded at a point where the cover is visible) is the 1986 edition of Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools. – Stephen Kitt May 13 at 15:27
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    @manassehkatz indeed, I’ve updated my answer to reflect that. I still have a bunch of BYTE magazines, and the two “Best of BYTE” anthologies ;-) (and some of the Dr Dobbs’ compilations too). – Stephen Kitt May 13 at 15:43
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    Regarding the switching contextual reference of "Dragon Book": Principles of Compiler Design (1977) is referred to as the Green Dragon Book, Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools (1986) is referred to as the Red Dragon Book. They have been since before the movie was released. As of release of the 2nd edition of Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools,a 3rd reference is added to the mix and it is called the Purple Dragon Book. They are so called for the color of the dragon on their covers.Unqualified references to "Dragon Book" are to latest ed at that pt in time. – K. Alan Bates May 13 at 18:32

At least some of them were real.

The Dragon book, compiler design: definitely real, a classic textbook.

The orange book, computer security criteria: real, never personally encountered it but I remember it being referred to, back in the day.


Stephen Kitt's answers are right, but I'd like to add some context.

The writers of Hackers lifted a lot of their jargon directly from the Jargon File, also known in its print version as The (New) Hacker's Dictionary. Version 3.1.0, dated 15 Oct 1994, probably corresponds roughly to what the writers were reading.

Here are the corresponding entries for the books mentioned in the movie; you can note the similarities to the movie dialogue. Please note that the Jargon File is in the public domain, so these excerpts are legal. The curly braces indicate references to other entries in the file.

You'll also note that some of these (e.g. Pink-Shirt and Dragon) would probably not actually have been of much interest to hackers looking to break into systems.

Crayola / Rainbow Books

:crayola books: n. The {rainbow series} of National Computer Security Center (NCSC) computer security standards (see {Orange Book}). Usage: humorous and/or disparaging.

:rainbow series: n. Any of several series of technical manuals distinguished by cover color. The original rainbow series was the NCSC security manuals (see {Orange Book}, {crayola books}); the term has also been commonly applied to the PostScript reference set (see {Red Book}, {Green Book}, {Blue Book}, {White Book}). Which books are meant by "`the' rainbow series" unqualified is thus dependent on one's local technical culture.

Note that apparently, only two of the books mentioned in the dialogue are actually part of the NCSC "crayola / rainbow" series (Orange and Red).

Green Book

:Green Book: n. 1. One of the three standard {{PostScript}} references: "PostScript Language Program Design", bylined `Adobe Systems' (Addison-Wesley, 1988; QA76.73.P67P66 ISBN 0-201-14396-8); see also {Red Book}, {Blue Book}, and the {White Book} (sense 2). 2. Informal name for one of the three standard references on SmallTalk: "Smalltalk-80: Bits of History, Words of Advice", by Glenn Krasner (Addison-Wesley, 1983; QA76.8.S635S58; ISBN 0-201-11669-3) (this, too, is associated with blue and red books). 3. The "X/Open Compatibility Guide", which defines an international standard {{UNIX}} environment that is a proper superset of POSIX/SVID; also includes descriptions of a standard utility toolkit, systems administrations features, and the like. This grimoire is taken with particular seriousness in Europe. See {Purple Book}. 4. The IEEE 1003.1 POSIX Operating Systems Interface standard has been dubbed "The Ugly Green Book". 5. Any of the 1992 standards issued by the CCITT's tenth plenary assembly. These include, among other things, the X.400 email standard and the Group 1 through 4 fax standards. See also {{book titles}}.

It seems that #3 was taken for the movie. The writers mangled the phrase "an international standard UNIX environment" into "international UNIX environments".

Orange Book

:Orange Book: n. The U.S. Government's standards document "Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria, DOD standard 5200.28-STD, December, 1985" which characterize secure computing architectures and defines levels A1 (most secure) through D (least). Stock UNIXes are roughly C1, and can be upgraded to about C2 without excessive pain. See also {{crayola books}}, {{book titles}}.

Pink-Shirt Book

:Pink-Shirt Book: "The Peter Norton Programmer's Guide to the IBM PC". The original cover featured a picture of Peter Norton with a silly smirk on his face, wearing a pink shirt. Perhaps in recognition of this usage, the current edition has a different picture of Norton wearing a pink shirt. See also {{book titles}}.

Devil Book

:Devil Book: n. See {daemon book}, the term preferred by its authors.

:daemon book: n. "The Design and Implementation of the 4.3BSD UNIX Operating System", by Samuel J. Leffler, Marshall Kirk McKusick, Michael J. Karels, and John S. Quarterman (Addison-Wesley Publishers, 1989, ISBN 0-201-06196-1) -- the standard reference book on the internals of {BSD} UNIX. So called because the cover has a picture depicting a little devil (a visual play on {daemon}) in sneakers, holding a pitchfork (referring to one of the characteristic features of UNIX, the `fork(2)' system call). Also known as the {Devil Book}.

Of course it's a daemon, not a devil.

Dragon Book

:Dragon Book: n. The classic text "Compilers: Principles, Techniques and Tools", by Alfred V. Aho, Ravi Sethi, and Jeffrey D. Ullman (Addison-Wesley 1986; ISBN 0-201-10088-6), so called because of the cover design featuring a dragon labeled 'complexity of compiler design' and a knight bearing the lance 'LALR parser generator' among his other trappings. This one is more specifically known as the 'Red Dragon Book' (1986); an earlier edition, sans Sethi and titled "Principles Of Compiler Design" (Alfred V. Aho and Jeffrey D. Ullman; Addison-Wesley, 1977; ISBN 0-201-00022-9), was the 'Green Dragon Book' (1977). (Also 'New Dragon Book', ;Old Dragon Book'.) The horsed knight and the Green Dragon were warily eying each other at a distance; now the knight is typing (wearing gauntlets!) at a terminal showing a video-game representation of the Red Dragon's head while the rest of the beast extends back in normal space. See also {{book titles}}.

Red Book

:Red Book: n. 1. Informal name for one of the three standard references on {{PostScript}} ("PostScript Language Reference Manual", Adobe Systems (Addison-Wesley, 1985; QA76.73.P67P67; ISBN 0-201-10174-2, or the 1990 second edition ISBN 0-201-18127-4); the others are known as the {Green Book}, the {Blue Book}, and the {White Book} (sense 2). 2. Informal name for one of the 3 standard references on Smalltalk ("Smalltalk-80: The Interactive Programming Environment" by Adele Goldberg (Addison-Wesley, 1984; QA76.8.S635G638; ISBN 0-201-11372-4); this too is associated with blue and green books). 3. Any of the 1984 standards issued by the CCITT eighth plenary assembly. These include, among other things, the X.400 email spec and the Group 1 through 4 fax standards. 4. The new version of the {Green Book} (sense 4) -- IEEE 1003.1-1990, a.k.a ISO 9945-1 -- is (because of the color and the fact that it is printed on A4 paper) known in the U.S.A. as "the Ugly Red Book That Won't Fit On The Shelf" and in Europe as "the Ugly Red Book That's A Sensible Size". 5. The NSA "Trusted Network Interpretation" companion to the {Orange Book}. See also {{book titles}}.

The writers here conflated two different red books: #5 ("NSA-trusted networks") and #4 ("ugly red book that won't fit on the shelf").

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