Definition

cruft

Cruft is a collective term for the elements of a program, system or product that are either useless, poorly designed or both. In computing, cruft describes areas of redundant, improper or simply badly written code, as well as old or inferior hardware and electronics. Cruft may also be used to describe a group of hackers, just as "pod" describes a group of whales, "exultation" a group of larks and "murder" a group of crows.

Something that is "crufty" may be dirty, unpleasant, extra, sloppily implemented, duplicated elsewhere or simply useless. Cruft, for instance, could refer to a URL where internal organizational details or directories that matter to no one but the webmasters "clutter" up the address. A mobile operating system that requires a user to navigate six submenus to complete a frequently-used function is another example of cruft.

While cruft is usually used in computer programming, many coders or lovers of hacker jargon also apply it to any situation or device that may merit it. For instance, the piles of obsolete monitors, old connection cables and CRT monitors that lie in the spare supply rooms and closets of office complexes everywhere are a classic example of physical cruft.

Cruft may also be used as a verb, describing the process of putting together a program, network or physical system in a poorly designed or implemented way. Crufting together a solution to a client's specifications or organization's needs may be necessary due to time, budget or staffing constraints. It is, however, rarely a well-respected practice in consulting, though more commonly encountered than many system administrators, VARs or information architects would prefer.

Urban legend in Cambridge, Massachusetts holds that the term "cruft" was coined by MIT students as a derisive comment on the electronics-filled windows of Cruft Hall at Harvard University. Cruft was part of the old physics building at Harvard, where it served as the department's radar laboratory during WWII, which led to the existence of many kinds of wonderful but quite obsolete technological gadgets remaining on display.

This was last updated in September 2007
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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