How Software Works

How Software Works

The Magic Behind Encryption, CGI, Search Engines, and Other Everyday Technologies
by V. Anton Spraul
August 2015, 216 pp.

We use software every day to perform all kinds of magical, powerful tasks. It's the force behind stunning CGI graphics, safe online shopping, and speedy Google searches. Software drives the modern world, but its inner workings remain a mystery to many.

How Software Works explains how computers perform common-yet-amazing tasks that we take for granted every day.

Inside you'll learn:

  • How data is encrypted
  • How passwords are used and protected
  • How computer graphics are created
  • How video is compressed for streaming and storage
  • How data is searched (and found) in huge databases
  • How programs can work together on the same problem without conflict
  • How data travels over the Internet

How Software Works breaks down these processes with patient explanations and intuitive diagrams so that anyone can understand—no technical background is required, and you won't be reading through any code. In plain English, you'll examine the intricate logic behind the technologies you constantly use but never understood.

If you've ever wondered what really goes on behind your computer screen, How Software Works will give you fascinating look into the software all around you.

Author Bio 

V. Anton Spraul has taught introductory programming and computer science for more than 15 years. He is the author of Computer Science Made Simple (Broadway) and Think Like a Programmer (No Starch Press). He offers advice for beginning programmers in his series “Learning to Program: A Guide” on his website at

Table of contents 

Chapter 1: Encyption
Chapter 2: Passwords
Chapter 3: Web Security
Chapter 4: Movie CGI
Chapter 5: Game Graphics
Chapter 6: Data Compression
Chapter 7: Search
Chapter 8: Concurrency
Chapter 9: Map Routes

View the detailed Table of Contents (PDF)
View the Index (PDF)


"Some of the best explanations that I've ever come across for some quite complex tools...will have readers saying 'Aha!'"
—IT World

"Well-structured, well-written...a highly enjoyable read into the inner workings behind these applications we take for granted."
—BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT

"The author explains the concepts in easy language, with simple diagrams. The curious reader will be able to 'unmask the magic' or mystery of how software works."
Computing Reviews

"Explains, in uncompromisingly non-technical terms, how computers achieve their magic."
—Phil Bull

"These high-level descriptions are clear and accurate. They will be useful to anyone who is curious and wants to understand from a conceptual level, rather than only from a language-specific detail level. This is not a book about implementation, rather one about understanding."
—Matthew Helmke

"The ideal audience for this book is bright adults who aren’t programmers, but want some appreciation of the hidden complexity behind much of what goes on on the internet."
—David Merkel

"An excellent book."

"How Software Works will give you a fascinating look into the software all around you. Impressively well written, organized and presented, How Software Works is very highly recommended for high school, community, college, and university library Computer Science reference collections."
Midwest Book Review

Extra Stuff 

Can't get enough of How Software Works? Check out author V. Anton Spraul's video exploring if it's possible for software to generate truly random numbers.

Included in I Programmer's "Good Reads In Applied Programming Theory And Techniques."


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