What this book is about, is writing the chess engine, not the chess program. There is a distinct difference. Most people know chess programs in one way or another; many operating systems even include one in their default installation. So what is the difference?
The part of the software that people normally call the "chess program" is only the user interface, which the player uses to interact with the engine. In the past, the user interface and the engine were often the same piece of software, but nowadays this is mostly not the case. The user interface cannot play chess, while the engine has only very limited means to interact with a user, from a user's point of view.
So, they go together, like this:
The chess engine is on the left, the user interface is on the right. They communicate with one another. This is done through strict rules, which are called a "protocol." In the chess programming world, there are two main protocols:
- XBoard: designed by Tim Mann and others in the early 1990's.
- UCI: designed by Stephan Meyer-Kahlen in 2001.
Both protocols are designed to do the same thing: create a standardized way for a user interface and a chess engine to communicate with one another. While there are advantages and disadvantages to either protocol, both can accomplish this task equally well. In the "Communication" chapter, we'll look deeper into both protocols.
Why do it like this? Well, because both protocols are standardized, user interfaces and engines that understand the same protocol, should be compatible. This means that chess programs and engines are interchangeable; one program can run many engines, and one engine can run under many different programs. This way, the user will be able to select the chess program he likes best, and then also use his favorite engine.