My take on decompiling SWF

I didn’t read (or listen, I don’t remember if it was a video) Lee Brimelow article on decompilation but I know he his not against it. In the same way, I also believe decompiling other’s work is a positive thing. I remember doing my first webpage (html) and to add cool stuff to it (nice javascript and strange html tags) all you had to do was to right click, choose view source and apply it in your context. Back then you were on your own, but what you would learn there you wouldn’t forget because you worked to extract the knowledge from the cryptic code. What you learned was then added to your toolbox; you could build better webpages. The entire internet grew from the view source feature.

I believe it should be the same with Flash. Every day you can see an awesome piece of creativity if you go to theFWA.com; sometimes you know how it is done, sometimes you don’t. This is the time where you should reverse engineer the work. Learn how they did it, how they solved certain problems. You should do so, not to replicate the piece, but to make it your own. Mix it with what you already know or give it a new twist; do something even better. That is how you should pay back.

The community, platform (Flash) would grow from this. People would start decompiling your work and even better pieces would be created. In the end, we would all win from this. Better creations means more confidence in the platform, more money invested into it (Adobe, web agencies) and more jobs.

If you think individually, you’ll only see the bad sides of decompiling, but if you open your mind and have a broader view, you’ll understand the benefits.

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  1. #1 by Tyler Egeto - May 12th, 2009 at 14:57

    Hi there,

    This is definitely a debatable subject. I’m all for sharing code, I think it is by far one of the best learning resources available. I love how open the Flash community is when coming to sharing.

    However there are some major issues with decompilers, one in particular that trumps every good reason to have/use them. The fact is that there is a point where the product of the code is larger then the syntax. On a small site that simply shows pages it’s not such an issue. But ActionScript projects are growing, and they are no longer one offs, but become marketable products in themselves.

    By decompiling its not just syntax your are seeing, but systems and architectures that a company may have spent huge sums of time and money creating/developing. A company has every right to protect this code form public eyes. There (my) business depends on it.

    Tyler.

  2. #2 by Damon Edwards - May 12th, 2009 at 17:44

    “If you think individually, you’ll only see the bad sides of decompiling, but if you open your mind and have a broader view, you’ll understand the benefits.”

    Right, this works perfectly for the one decompiling the product, but do you think of the developer, or company? Maybe you want your projects to be learning pieces, but I’d rather not without my permission. Plus, as Tyler points out, think like a company would think!!! If I put my product out there, I don’t want anyone knowing how I made it, unless I put that information out there.

    There are plenty of code repositories out there, samples, tutorials, etc for people to learn from. Why steal my work??

  3. #3 by zedia.net - May 13th, 2009 at 10:44

    @Tyler
    I don’t think your business depends on your code has much as the people that work with it. Also, decompiling code and understanding all of it is two different things. If you have the good people and that they are well versed in your process this gives you the edge over just having the code. Also I don’t preach copy and pasting the code and using it for the same purpose.

    @Damon
    I’d rather not think like a company would think, these things tend to have no morality.

  4. #4 by Will - May 15th, 2009 at 16:01

    I totally agree with Tyler. While I understand the value in learning by example your argument doesn’t stand up in my book. It should be the developer’s decision on what he/she decides to make public. There are plenty of resources out there for learning Flash and IMHO there is no justifiable reason for anyone to be decompiling other peoples hard work. Yes there are people who are ‘good intentioned’ and just want to learn, but there are just as many people who are just lazy and want a ‘quick fix’ by copying and pasting code.

  5. #5 by zedia.net - May 15th, 2009 at 16:14

    Maybe my ideas come from the fact that I believe its the people are the riches in our industry. I don’t really care if you steal my code, because when I look back at it, I can do much better now, so I will always be ahead of the stealers. I have confidence in my abilities, I think you should too.

    We can’t stop the stealers from using decompilers, at least there should be some people that use them for good reasons.

  6. #6 by Jacob Dunn - May 28th, 2009 at 16:39

    Zedia, great read – and I absolutely agree. Yes, large companies may have sunk thousands of hours into developing large frameworks, and I may be a bit naive in believing so – but the benefits of people learning outweigh the negatives in my mind. I’m not saying that people should change their licensing on code – but visible code has/will not caused the mass mayhem that we have been led to fear. If someone steals your code without license, take the appropriate action, but I think the contribution of open code frameworks is a worthy cause indeed.

    At least from my point of view, I’d love for my code to be more visible, as I view it as my little contribution back to the community in general.

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