I was originally going to ask a question about this, but found its been asked here a lot already (in numerous variation). Since I've now spent the time digging through meta, I'll document what I've found.

The question: Are programming questions on-topic?


When its been directly asked on meta before, there seems to be general agreement that programming questions are, with some exceptions, off topic here:

Some views are more complex:

And some disagree:

The common exception (also mentioned in the FAQ) is, to quote-mine one of the above, questions that are about "common unix interfaces" and are "essentially language-agnostic."


My guideline is and remains: what type of person might ask the question, be interested in the topic and know the answer?

  • Topics for users and administrators: ask here.
  • Topics for programmers: ask on Stack Overflow.

My judgements on all the cases that have arisen is based on this guideline. Scripting and text processing with shells, awk, etc., are commonly performed by power users and administrators and therefore are on-topic here. (They are also programming tasks and therefore on-topic on SO as well.) Power users tend to have a working knowledge of some low-level interfaces (through strace, by reading source code that they half-understand to understand why a program is behaving, ...), so questions involving these are also ok here. Questions requiring serious knowledge of an “advanced” programming language (pointers in C, objects in Perl, etc.) are off-topic.

  • I assume of course that there is an implicit "Unix and/or Linux" in that guideline somewhere, as we'd surely close a question about Windows Powershell. But that leaves a problem when we get a generic question such as unix.stackexchange.com/questions/50238/… (which is currently closed). That's something that a non-programmer may want to do, and it can be solved with Unix tools (but so can most things). – derobert Oct 19 '12 at 15:51
  • @derobert I don't think that question is off-topic. In the initial version, it was hard to tell what was required, so “not a real question” might have applied. U&L might not be the best site for that question though; this looks like a Cross Validated kind of problem. – Gilles Oct 19 '12 at 16:06

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