When asking or answering questions, please don't post screenshots of text. This is a very bad idea because:

  1. You can't copy/paste the commands into answers, google searches, local files to work on a solution, or anything else.
  2. They won't come up when searching
  3. The post is heavier (in terms of the amount of data) and will take longer to load. This can be a serious problem for people with slow connections.
  4. The post is useless to people using text based browsers or who have disabled the displaying of images
  5. The post is useless for people who have sight problems and are maybe accessing the site using text-to-speech software.
  6. The image is only guaranteed to be legible on YOUR monitor. Anyone with a different monitor (e.g. different DPI, higher resolution, viewing on a tablet etc) will be unable to read the tiny little fonts.
  7. Image questions are often ignored.

While there are sometimes valid reasons for this (discussing colored output, font problems, graphics driver glitches, terminal emulator transparency or other issues where the core of the question is visual in nature), in most cases it is not useful and causes the problems listed above.

In addition, it is harder to do. Copy pasting your terminal text and putting it inside a code block is much simpler and faster. For help on formatting your posts, please see here.

One other notable valid reason is that a camera snapshot or VM window snapshot is often the only way of posting BIOS, boot-loader, or kernel error messages (although even this is sometimes avoidable if you go to the trouble of setting up a serial console - reasonably easy and highly recommended for VMs, not so easy for physical machines as it requires another machine and a null-modem cable to connect with).

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    This is a problem on many stack exchange sites - should this question be migrated to meta.SE? The nearest I found there is How valuable are images containing text, compared with markdown? – Toby Speight Jul 8 '16 at 12:27
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    @TobySpeight migrated, no. I don't think so. This is certainly a good idea on the technical/coding sites but not, for example, in photography. – terdon Jul 8 '16 at 12:28
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    I agree with Toby. Perhaps your PSA needs to be amended to be less dismissive of the common-sense special cases, such as (1) if the visual appearance of the text is essential to the content of the post, and (2) if technical difficulties prevent the poster from doing copy and paste. (Another example of this would be a user who had a virtual machine, but he was having a problem getting networking up on the VM, so he could access it only through the console.) Even on the photography site, I cannot think of any reason to post an image of text when the only information to be conveyed is the text. – G-Man Jul 10 '16 at 17:17
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    @G-Man you mean putting it in caps as well as bold? There are already two paragraphs there stating that it's fine in certain cases. The visual appearance of text bit is in bold and the last paragraph also gives other examples. I'm not trying to say it's never good, I'm trying to stop people from posting screenshots of their terminals or shell scripts. – terdon Jul 10 '16 at 17:24
  • Well, (1) I agree with Toby that this is not specific to U&L or even the technical/coding sites in general, but is relevant to the entire SE network, and (2) it just seems to me that your two non-sequential paragraphs have a dismissive tone, as if you're making an obligatory reference to the weird uncle that nobody wants to talk about — sort of "don't ever post images of text (mumble mumble mumble)".  I was suggesting that your advisory's tone could be more balanced, as in "don't post images of text except in the following cases…." – G-Man Jul 10 '16 at 18:40
  • As for 1) perhaps, but all I really wanted here is a local meta posts I can point to when people post screenshots of their terminals. 2) I really don't see. but feel free to edit. – terdon Jul 10 '16 at 18:42
  • @G-Man the only reason the paragraphs are non-consecutive is that I changed "In addition..." from a sentence into a separate paragraph. I'd have moved it above "While there are sometimes valid...", but it makes the most sense immediately after "in most cases it is not useful". As for tone, it doesn't feel dismissive to me, and it's not meant to be. It's describing what should be the default - don't post images, but here's a non-exclusive list of some valid exceptions. – cas Jul 11 '16 at 3:00
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    I'd add a point to the above list: The image is of no help to someone who wants to use a service like Google Translate to render the page in another language. – Monty Harder Jul 14 '16 at 18:25
  • To be fair, it is not always "easier" to copy&paste the text; if it was, people would do it. The image questions I see are either terminals or compiler output in an IDE. The latter often requires some special shortcut or menu interaction to copy. The former is also unintuitive to many, many people I’ve worked with. Terminals won’t allow you to copy with Ctrl+C for reasons obvious to advanced users, but novices may be confused by that and assume they cannot copy. – Jonas Schäfer Jul 16 '16 at 11:17
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    @JonasWielicki well, while terminals might not allow Ctrl+C, most if not all modern terminals have the classic Edit->copy paste and, of course, select and middle click paste. I have never once seen compiler output from an IDE here. That might be common on SO, I guess, but not here. – terdon Jul 16 '16 at 11:21
  • @terdon xterm doesn't support copy or paste; it just has middle-click copy&paste (both at the same time.) – EKons Jul 16 '16 at 13:26
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    @ΈρικΚωνσταντόπουλος yes, that's why I specified modern terminals. – terdon Jul 16 '16 at 15:13
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    @ΈρικΚωνσταντόπουλος redirection do wonders one those cases, ie. thing that fails &> log – Braiam Jul 16 '16 at 23:03
  • @Braiam What if you want to copy the prompt itself? – EKons Jul 17 '16 at 8:37

About the only time it's appropriate to post a screenshot of text is when it's the appearance that is the issue, and the text itself is not important. Examples might include

  • problems selecting the desired font on a particular system
  • problems relating to an editor's syntax-highlighting feature

The question itself, and any code used, must be present in ordinary Markdown text, for all the reasons mentioned. As a reminder, it's best to use a cut+paste facility if you have one (e.g. Mouse-1 and Mouse-2 in X11), to avoid transcription errors which could affect the answers.

  • ... and problems such as unix.stackexchange.com/questions/294845 where the question was about the precise visual behaviour of the terminal ("I refer to the rectangles with the numbers in it."). – JdeBP Jul 10 '16 at 9:29

Counterexample: boot spew. Consider the case where a (possibly new) user cannot successfuly boot, but gets a large quantity of boot spew (e.g., white text on black background) before abend. Should not the user be able to take camera snapshots of the spew and post those to a question? The user should type in the last few lines for use in the question (at least, for its title), but should s/he be required to type in all the spew (which can be a lot)?

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    That's different than terdon's point, I think – cat Jul 10 '16 at 0:05
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    If you can copy-paste the text then you should do so. If you can't, then that's almost always a valid reason to post a screenshot. Preferably not fuzzy and blurred and/or drowned out by the glare of the flash or the reflection of you and your camera from the screen :). – cas Jul 10 '16 at 7:41
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    An exception that proves the rule? – muru Jul 10 '16 at 12:46
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    @cas: Thanks for adding my counterexample as a valid exception to terdon's claim--I was unsure whether that would be presumptuous. You might also point to instructions for setting up a serial console, since I'm guessing that, for a new user, that option will be not only unintuitive but unknown. – TomRoche Jul 11 '16 at 2:38
  • (part 1 of 2) @cat: Precisely. My counterexample counters terdon's original point that posting screenshots is bad except (as is better expressed in cas' edit) when the problem is inherently visual (as opposed to textual). I also disagree with terdon's original point that if one can produce text, one should: as is always the case in life, one must account for cost and capability.... – TomRoche Jul 11 '16 at 2:40
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    (part 2 of 2) @cat: ... A new user especially (and even more experienced but less intelligent users like myself) will probably not know which part of a boot spew is important; s/he should not be required to type it all in. – TomRoche Jul 11 '16 at 2:40
  • @muru: exceptions never prove a categorical claim, they only disprove. No individual exception can disprove a probabilitic claim, but This is a very bad idea is hardly that. – TomRoche Jul 11 '16 at 2:43
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    @muru that 'exception that proves the rule' cliche uses and old, almost obsolete meaning of "prove" that (in current english) is roughly equivalent to "test" or even "challenge". i.e. it indicates a significant enough exception that the rule is put in doubt, or "to the test". – cas Jul 11 '16 at 3:05
  • @TomRoche - good idea. i'll hunt for a post and add a link. – cas Jul 11 '16 at 3:06
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    Still better to use a serial console in this case (of course, the asker may still need to be pointed at the instructions to do so, if they're really so new). – Toby Speight Jul 11 '16 at 8:26
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    @muru actually, it's probably from the legal meaning of, e.g., the sign saying "no parking 9pm–6am" proves the general rule (that parking is allowed other times). See snopes, or Wikipedia, or English.SE. – derobert Jul 11 '16 at 15:47
  • Here's an example: askubuntu.com/q/149443/32034 , Setting up a serial console sounds a lot of work though compared to just taking pictures. – Farid Nouri Neshat Jul 12 '16 at 5:32
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    less work for the asker, more work for the readers / answerers. being inconsiderate of other people's time is a guaranteed way to encourage them to help. – cas Jul 12 '16 at 15:07
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    @FaridNouriNeshat that's an example where it's quite complex to set things up in order to copy and where it also requires a certain level of technical competence. Posting images for such cases is fine. This post is mainly for cases where posting the text simply involves copy/paste. – terdon Jul 12 '16 at 16:11
  • A lot of services like Google Docs and the Microsoft equivalent are trying to do OCR now, maybe this would be an overkill here but it would be nice nevertheless. The quality of the photo has to be good enough but smart phone cameras are getting better every year. – phk Jul 15 '16 at 17:26

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