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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:

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

Phantom Phreak: You got those Crayola books?

Cereal Killer: Yeah, technicolor rainbow. Yeah. Green one.

Joey: What is that? Let me see? What are these?

Crash Override: International UNIX environments.

Cereal Killer: Luscious orange.

Crash Override: Computer security criteria... DoD standards.

Crash Override: The pink-shirt book... guide to IBM PCs. So-called due to the nasty pink shirt the guy wears on the cover.

Crash Override: Devil book, the UNIX bible.

Cereal Killer: What's that?

Crash Override: Dragon book, compiler design.

Cereal Killer: What's that?

Crash Override: 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.

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  • 3
    Colours are definitely context-sensitive. For example, here's another Red Book - though obviously not the one the movie is interested in.
    – dave
    May 13, 2019 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. May 14, 2019 at 2:05
  • 1
    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, 2019 at 8:59
  • There is a book titled Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Is there any connection between that book and this movie? May 14, 2019 at 10:41
  • 2
    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! May 16, 2019 at 18:22

3 Answers 3

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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. The dragon’s colour is used to distinguish the various incarnations of the book: the 1977 edition is the green dragon book, the 1986 edition seen in the film is the red dragon book, the 2006 second edition is the purple dragon book.)

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

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  • 3
    And the coments at the page linked to in the question also has a link to the IMDb page...
    – UncleBod
    May 13, 2019 at 13:57
  • 3
    @Neil yes, albeit in name only. May 14, 2019 at 7:15
  • 1
    Others have noted that the green book is difficult to identify, unlike the others. Freeze-frame leads me to believe that this is because in the movie it is a samizdat comb-bound copy of a book that probably does not actually have a green cover in its publisher's binding. My first guess is Kernighan and Pike's The Unix Programming Environment. It appears to have retained the "The" in a different typeface in the title, as the original has. And the second word of the title appears to be "UNIX".
    – JdeBP
    May 14, 2019 at 12:48
  • 2
    @NeilMeyer Yes! Peter Norton was the guy discovered DOS/Windows was not erasing files, just marking the first caracter name with a ? in the FAT. He created the UNDELETE command and get famous (if you can believe it you can be glad today you got a trash bin icon on your desktop). He started to write books and founded a company to sell Peter Norton utilitaries like the "Disk Doctor" and one of the first anti-virus
    – jean
    May 14, 2019 at 13:14
  • 2
    @jean minor nitpick: NAV came after the Symantec acquisition, probably from Symantec rather than Norton, and Peter Norton wasn’t involved (AFAIK). May 14, 2019 at 13:25
15

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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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.

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