Engineering is the profession involved in designing, manufacturing, constructing, and maintaining of products, systems, and structures. At a higher level, there are two types of engineering: forward engineering and reverse engineering.
Forward engineering is the traditional process of moving from high-level abstractions and logical designs to the physical implementation of a system. In some situations, there may be a physical part without any technical details, such as drawings, bills-of-material, or without engineering data, such as thermal and electrical properties.
The process of duplicating an existing component, subassembly, or product, without the aid of drawings, documentation, or computer model is known as reverse engineering.
Reverse engineering can be viewed as the process of analyzing a system to:
1. Identify the system's components and their interrelationships
2. Create representations of the system in another form or a higher level of abstraction
3. Create the physical representation of that system
Reverse engineering is very common in such diverse fields as software engineering, entertainment, automotive, consumer products, microchips, chemicals, electronics, and mechanical designs. For example, when a new machine comes to market, competing manufacturers may buy one machine and disassemble it to learn how it was built and how it works. A chemical company may use reverse engineering to defeat a patent on a competitor's manufacturing process. In civil engineering, bridge and building designs are copied from past successes so there will be less chance of catastrophic failure. In software engineering, good source code is often a variation of other good source code.
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