I ran into this question:

Can the empty spaces/background in a terminal be replaced with a random(but pretty) pattern of ASCII characters?

And while I thought it a very interesting question, I questioned whether or not it belonged under "Unix & Linux", and even gave feed back about how displaying random characters around real information can make things hard or near impossible to read and wondered what they were trying to accomplish,

But the question goes into using bash to generate and/or maintain a background of an unrelated image and interspersing it around content text.

Then they go into using bash's prompt vars to aid in generating this, as well as asking about how this output is generated or comes from a "VT subsystem" (a primitive vt102 emulator that runs on the console for purposes of using the console with curses-type programs when one would like more than a simple line-oriented interface during system repair).

Then there is talk about how bash makes use of the terminfo database capabilities by including them in the prompt vars (PS1, et al), which is a misleading statement/point of view, as bash doesn't make use of that database and shouldn't -- though a user might they might do better to store output of 'tput' for various actions rather than hardcoding some terminal specific terminal codes -- though they do use tput later.

I keep wondering what the question was -- where would this be used, but it seems clear it has little to do with bash, more than other posix compatible shells.

If I knew what the question was, I might think it better on a computer-art forum or something else, but it's hard to see how this is a unix/linux question as I tried to answer how it's not the best way to communicate information as dynamically generated background around content, but somehow that got translated by him into my thinking it doesn't belong on any SE sites, which I wasn't saying though in thinking about it, it doesn't really seem to fit the Q/A format and might better belong on some QA's wiki, but not having much experience w/that, I can't say. Anyway, he was then justifying how the Q getting 22 points justified its inclusion on the unix.sa site, and saying if it wasn't allowed, he wouldn't have done 116 other contributions "which stands well above ̶y̶o̶u̶r̶s [your contribution count] at this point in time" .

At this point, I don't know what to do if anything, but hoped to bring it to the attention of those with more experience who might be able to do the right thing (if doing anything at all).

Responding to a comment by @sim, You said it belongs here. Do you mean here in meta? Or that it is a question about Unix or Linux and belongs in the original forum.

To clarify why I had a question about its current location being appropriate:

Looking at what the forum is about (from https://unix.stackexchange.com/tour):

1) Ask questions, get answers, no distractions This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat.

2) Get answers to practical, detailed questions Focus on questions about an actual problem you have faced. Include details about what you have tried and exactly what you are trying to do. Topics to ask about:

  • Using or administering a *nix desktop or server
  • The Unix foundation underlying MacOS (but generally not frontend application questions)
  • The underlying *nix OS on an embedded system or handheld device (e.g. an Android phone)
  • Shell scripting
  • Applications packaged in *nix distributions (note: being cross-platform does not disqualify)
  • UNIX C API and System Interfaces ( within reason )

---- I'm not sure ascii art in the background of normal foreground TTY traffic really fits...

Questions that don't work:

Not all questions work well in our format. Avoid questions that are primarily opinion-based, or that are likely to generate discussion rather than answers.

*Don't ask about... 1) Anything not directly related to Unix or Linux

(How is this question directly about either?)

Questions that are primarily opinion-based Questions with too many possible answers or that would require an extremely long answer

(um...how is this question not leading to extremely long answers?)

Like I said -- it is interesting, just not sure that it belongs under the Unix/Linux site, nor after thinking about it, am I sure that it fits the format of this site.

  • 3
    Looking it over this looks like it belongs here to me. The title says it all IMO what the Q is.
    – slm Mod
    Jun 22, 2019 at 14:40
  • It looks too broad to me, with a side of "not a real question". A version of what it's asking could probably exist but that isn't it. Jun 22, 2019 at 21:54
  • 1
    By today's standards, that question is possibly too broad (the site's standards are somewhat fluid over long timespans, and depends on its users), but I'm also wondering what made you pick this particular, over five years old, question and why it's important to you.
    – Kusalananda Mod
    Jun 22, 2019 at 22:24
  • Maybe because I tried to answer it, but was told it wasn't even an answer and realized that the question didn't seem answerable, which seemed to put it outside the bounds of this site.
    – Astara
    Jun 24, 2019 at 1:56
  • 1
    A historical lock on the question would resolve each of you's issues pretty well. Jun 24, 2019 at 8:05
  • @MichaelHomer This is a good idea, but since there's an active answer on it, I may hold off until that stabilises.
    – Kusalananda Mod
    Jun 24, 2019 at 8:15
  • 1
    I wouldn't close or lock the question, myself, but that's just my opinion. If others feel it's too broad, making it not answerable, then we should signal that with a lock or closure. It seems ambitious, but answerable, to me. We had a similar Meta question recently, What's the best site to post a question about weird bash prompt behavior when using ANSI colors?, whose (highly-voted) answer pointed to U&L and SuperUser as good fits for that question.
    – Jeff Schaller Mod
    Jun 25, 2019 at 13:06
  • W/regards to something that is a type of user application using ANSI colors, where would people hold a discussion regarding "csh" or "sh" and ANSI colors, how about "psh" (perl shell) or a pysh (python). Unix originally came with a Bourne shell, Linux was a raw OS, and don't know that any shell was specifically a linux shell though bash has, for many, become a defacto linux shell, but not usually in strict posix mode (strict compliance is a "configure" build option). I guess there isn't a site for 'shell' questions? :-(
    – Astara
    Jun 25, 2019 at 22:04
  • 1
    @Astara all of those are 100% on topic here. Essentially, if it is installed on/is relevant to a *nix system, then you can ask about it here.
    – terdon Mod
    Jun 26, 2019 at 16:13
  • So if this exchange was for Windows, anything about linux would be relevant because linux runs on Windows? Either I'm "way" missing something, or I can't see how, since everything is "installed" on top of our this reality, this planet, our visual system, etc... Simply being installed on some OS could make any program or OS relevant and that seems overly broad to me. So what am I missing?? How is that question not leading to some answer that is overly broad? The guidelines also say the topic must be directly related to *nix. How is ascii art directly related to either?
    – Astara
    Jun 28, 2019 at 3:57
  • The first sentence of my answer, 1st paragraph says: "Whether or not they can be is dependent on the hardware and software one is using. You got a rather 'free' random noise on analogue TV sets when tuned into nothing." That was followed by my asking why he wanted to do this -- which no one was able to answer: "However, more important is "why would you want do do something like this?" ". I then proceeded to give examples of why you wouldn't to possible reasons why, and the effects it would have. I gave an answer, asked for what it was for or why was it being done.
    – Astara
    Jun 28, 2019 at 4:15
  • (cont).. and tried to give examples of why it wasn't good to possible reasons that came to mind. So far, never got any info on why or what they were trying to do. Deleting my answer in light that you don't like it seems very much against the character of stack exchange. If they can't say why they want this or what they are trying to accomplish, how can it add to this site? It hasn't been answered in 5½ years. If the question isn't answerable, then I have a hard time with it being on a Q/A site that want short, concise answers. Also...
    – Astara
    Jun 28, 2019 at 4:21
  • Deleting my question on that page when it is referenced on this page as forming the basis for questioning the relevance of the initial topic is unnecessarily inflammatory, especially when it does answer the question. Your deletion of that answer appears to be a classic example of strong emotion causing selective reading that only supports what you already decided: that it had no answer. However, it did. Would you please revert your deletion until the issue has been discussed here with some consensus?
    – Astara
    Jun 28, 2019 at 4:26
  • @Astara I deleted your answer simply because it wasn't answering the question, as I explain in my answer below. If you want to ask the OP for clarifications, then please do so in the comments, not in an answer. Answers should only be posted if they are providing an actual answer to the question asked. As for the rest, this site isn't about Windows, so what a Windows site would do is not really relevant. This site does indeed consider pretty much anything done with a *nix machine as on topic, yes.
    – terdon Mod
    Jun 29, 2019 at 11:26

2 Answers 2


It belongs here.

However, I read your now-deleted answer, and I see what you're driving at.

There are questions on this site sometimes that ask the wrong question. We call this the X Y problem.

When you see someone (especially a beginner) asking the wrong question, when they have a real actual problem they are trying to solve but are going about it completely the wrong way, there is some justification for giving them the answer they need rather than the answer they asked for. It's almost always better to do both, though.

On the other hand, when someone is simply trying to learn more about their system and the underpinnings which hold it together, there is little use in pointing out how difficult they are making things for themselves. That is the case with this question, as has been pointed out to you in numerous comments.

The distinguishing factor is: What is the asker actually trying to accomplish?

If they are trying to accomplish a task, then they most likely want the most straightforward way to accomplish that task.

If they are trying to accomplish a depth of learning, it won't help them accomplish that to question the premise of the question.

So long as the question is on-topic (i.e. it's about Unix and Linux) and it can be answered, there is no reason to push it elsewhere.

  • Why wouldn't it be relevant on a Windows site as well since bash runs both natively on windows, under cygwin on windows and via Win's linux-subsystem where it can run any linux. Is question only about bash or is it about any display with a background with color and some form of ... what type of character? Realistically the answer to the question is "NO", since, since 1) ASCII doesn't provide arrows and boxes; those look like the OEM charset from original DOS but they definitely are not ASCII. The background that bash writes on isn't part of bash here anymore than when you use a printing tty
    – Astara
    Jun 28, 2019 at 4:10
  • So what is the real problem they want to solve? At the very least, is it about screen backgrounds? PC-OEM characters? he mentioned looking at some description of a linux terminal, though there are 15 in the terminfo database and 19 in the termcap database and bash can use either depending on how it was compiled. None of the terminal codes have anything to do with bash nor the graphics characters that show in his examples. More than one term allows programming these, but that's all outside of bash.
    – Astara
    Jun 28, 2019 at 4:37
  • @Astara you may well have a valid point that the question is unclear, but that's something you can flag it for. It doesn't make the subject off topic. And why do you focus so much on bash? That isn't the only shell that is on topic here, far from it!
    – terdon Mod
    Jun 29, 2019 at 11:21
  • I focus on bash for multiple reasons, with the main one being the users statement: (end of 1st paragraph) "The following question is geared solely at the bash shell and its implementation in the Linux terminal framework and its underpinnings. "
    – Astara
    Jun 29, 2019 at 17:13

The question seems completely on topic to me. At the end of the day, any question that asks "how can I do X on a *nix system?" is on topic here. The question you link to is indeed extremely detailed (possibly too detailed, yes) but that's normally a good thing not a problem. The main question is clearly stated in the title: Can the empty spaces/background in a terminal be replaced with a random(but pretty) pattern of ASCII characters?

Now, I quite agree with what you say here and in your (now deleted) answer, this sounds like an absolutely horrible idea, but that's besides the point. As a wise geek once said, "it is not UNIX’s job to stop you from shooting your foot. If you so choose to do so [sic], then it is UNIX’s job to deliver Mr. Bullet to Mr Foot in the most efficient way it knows". So whether or not we feel what the OP is trying to do is a good idea is irrelevant to whether or not the question itself is on topic.

And this isn't even borderline. It is a question about manipulating shells and terminals, the very backbone of the site and probably the most common general topic we have. Very few things here are more on topic than shells and terminals. You mention that you feel the question has more to do with POSIX compatible shells than with bash. That may be true, but those are 100% on topic anyway.

Now, the OP's complaint about how their contributions are more than yours, however, is completely out of line. You have every right to bring this here to meta and thank you for doing so! And new users have as much of a voice as established veterans. I don't care if you have posted 1000 times or once, you're still a member of the community and you have every right to have your voice heard!

I want to also explain why I deleted your answer. This had nothing to do with whether or not I agreed with what it was saying (I did agree, as I said above) but with the simple fact that it wasn't actually answering the question. Here's a screenshot of the answer for those who can't see it:

screenshot of deleted answer

Your entire post is making valid points about why what the OP wants is a bad idea. OK, great, but that isn't actually answering the question. If you feel the question itself isn't useful, then you should downvote it. Posting an answer that doesn't provide an answer and instead only argues for why the question's objective is not useful or why the question doesn't belong on the site isn't considered an answer and deleting it is standard operating procedure across all SE sites. You'll note that your answer was already sitting at -3 without a single upvote.

There are some cases where an answer like that would actually be considered useful, but I can only think of cases where what the question is asking for is actively dangerous (security risks, breaking the system etc). In such cases, an answer explaining why this is a dangerous idea would indeed be useful. But even then we might expect the warning and explanation to be followed by a solution. After all, if the OP wants to shoot themselves in the foot, then it's not our job to stop them. Breaking systems (preferably VMs) can be a useful educational tool, after all. But in this case, there is no danger, the worst case scenario is a probable loss of legibility in a terminal emulator.

So that's why I deleted it. Nothing emotional about it, just regular every-day SE rules.

  • 1) Answer to "Can the empty spaces/background in a terminal be replaced with a random(but pretty) pattern of ASCII characters?" IS "Whether or not they can be is dependent on the hardware and software being used". Then I gave an example: "You got a rather 'free' random noise on analogue TV sets when tuned into nothing. ". That is an answer, but for a more complete answer, I wanted to know "why", and continued with: "However, more important is 'why would you want do do something like this?'" Then continued with comments on possible answers to 'why'.
    – Astara
    Jun 29, 2019 at 16:57
  • @Astara OK, but that should have been a comment. If you need the details of the hardware to be able to answer, then ask for them in a comment and only post an answer when you feel the question is answerable. We regularly delete answers that ask for clarifications.
    – terdon Mod
    Jun 29, 2019 at 17:13
  • I gave an answer but wanted to know more information to give a better answer depending on their response. As it was, I gave the best answer I could at the time.
    – Astara
    Jun 29, 2019 at 17:44
  • @Astara I understand that. But on SE, if you need more information in order to post an answer, it is better if you ask for that information in a comment and only post when you can actually give a way of doing what the question is asking for.
    – terdon Mod
    Jun 29, 2019 at 17:48
  • I gave an answer to the question, but the question skipped around and I wasn't clear what they wanted (if anything) such that I could improve the answer. If they didn't care for a better answer, but were satisfied with what they got, then fine. If there was insufficient information for any valid answer, then I'd probably comment, as I usually tend to be over precise, or contextual, in giving an answer. Some people dislike that or feel put-off, depending on context with too many questions.
    – Astara
    Jun 29, 2019 at 18:03
  • FWIW, in response to my taking to long to compose a comment, I have had the comment input "auto-ended" and been unable to store an edit of the comment. Same goes if my comment has too much detail. Already, I've gotten feedback in such a situation that "maybe you are using the comments for the wrong things? They should mainly be used to request clarification". I can just see trying to fit my examples that followed in that question into a comment: not a good fit. This has me often stuck "in between" as my answers are often contextual, and improvable given more precise context.
    – Astara
    Jun 29, 2019 at 18:14
  • "frame challenges" are SOP on many if not most SE sites and I think the answer is an attempt at that. This question has an assumption ("assuming it is right format for stackexchange sites") that I don't think is met, however, which is really what the issue is (to me - the answers here and most of the comments don't seem to read it that way). Jun 29, 2019 at 19:55
  • @MichaelHomer if the answer had actually explained the hardware limitations and how those affect the issue at hand, that might have been the case, but it really was mostly an appeal to aesthetics for why what the OP was asking for would be ugly and unclear. As for the rest, I honestly don't see any issue with the question other than excessive length.
    – terdon Mod
    Jun 30, 2019 at 11:46
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – terdon Mod
    Jul 1, 2019 at 15:38

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