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When should the tag be used? Should it be added to any question when the OP is using Linux? Should it only be used when the question is about the Linux kernel or GNU/Linux operating systems?

I've seen some people use it to indicate that they are running Linux, although the question isn't actually about Linux. So when should we use this tag?

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    Some answers are OS-specific, for example answers under this question. An identical node number will (almost) never work outside Linux. – iBug Dec 23 '19 at 15:02
  • @iBug yes, and that particular example seems like a very good use of the Linux tag. – terdon Dec 23 '19 at 15:59
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  • The problem is that the word Linux is poorly defined: It sometimes is used to mean Gnu/Linux, and sometimes to mean Linux-the-kernel, and I have even seen it used to mean Gnu+Linux-Linux (Gnu/Linux, but without Linux). Microsoft's WSL does this. – ctrl-alt-delor Jan 19 at 11:22
16

In my opinion, this tag should only be used for cases where a question is asking about how a Linux OS works. Not when the OP just happens to be using Linux, and not as a way of stating that the OP is using Linux. Tags should describe the question and help guide experts to questions they can answer. So the tag should only be used when the question is asking about some aspect of a Linux system.

For example, I would tag these (hypothetical) questions with :

  • Do all Linux systems default to having home directories in /home?
  • How does the /proc filesystem work on Linux?
  • When is the /tmp directory created on a Linux system?
  • Are there Linux systems without GNU tools?

So, questions that are generally about Linux, the operating system should have the tag. Conversely, questions that are not about how inux works but are simply asked in the context of a Linux system, shouldn't have the tag and instead they should just mention Linux in the body of the question.

For example, I would not tag the following questions with :

  • How can I replace / with sed on Ubuntu?
  • How can I find all executable files on a Linux machine?
  • Why is my Gnome so slow on Slackware?
  • How can I create a new user on RedHat?

These questions are asked by people using Linux but they aren't actually about Linux as such. They are about doing specific things on a Linux system, but not about how the OS works.

In summary, I suggest we only use for questions that are about the actual system and not about performing actions on the system. The tag should be used for broader questions that need an overview of how the OS works. If we just use it as a way of indicating that the OP is running Linux, then considering how many questions we get from Linux users, the tag is essentially useless and could be applied to >70% of all questions on the site.

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    The problem is that there's no such thing as a Linux system. There are just a wide variety of systems using Linux as their kernel. In the 90s, using Linux to refer to them or at least Linux distribution may have made sense, but nowadays it doesn't. There's more variation between two Linux-based systems (think openwrt, chromeos and CentOS for instance) than between Debian, Solaris and FreeBSD for instance (and Debian can use other kernels than Linux). I'd reserve the "linux" tag to the Linux kernel API. – Stéphane Chazelas Dec 20 '19 at 20:59
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    @StéphaneChazelas it might even make more sense to get rid of the tag, to be honest. I agree with everything you said and it doesn't really tell you anything about the question. We can't use it for the kernel and API, though. First because it's confusing (linux-api would be better) and second because we already have linux-kernel for kernel stuff. My main point here is that it doesn't make sense to put it on any question that happens to involve a machine running a Linux-based system. – terdon Dec 20 '19 at 21:07
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    Perhaps we need to push people towards the gnu more, so as to differentiate GNU tools from (say) BSD? – roaima Dec 21 '19 at 21:32
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    @roaima I don't think that would help. "GNU system" decisions are not necessarily those of Linux distributions. – mattdm Dec 21 '19 at 21:59
  • @mattdm if you don't want a Linux tag but you want some way of saying "GNU tools are good for my situation". – roaima Dec 21 '19 at 22:02
  • Sure, but I don't think it's useful for the questions suggested here as appropriate for linux – mattdm Dec 21 '19 at 22:04
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    @roaima I think simply mentioning your OS in the body of the question is a more effective way of saying you can use GNU tools. – terdon Dec 22 '19 at 11:57
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    @StéphaneChazelas "I'd reserve the "linux" tag to the Linux kernel API." There's a tag for that: linux-kernel – Braiam Dec 23 '19 at 19:03
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    I think this answer sounds nice, but I don't think it's practical to try to enforce this usage. linux is the most used tag on the site, with 15.7% of all questions having it (over 23 thousand). – Wildcard Dec 24 '19 at 18:33
  • I agree with this answer's examples, but I think the wording leaves some incorrect edge cases. I personally use the linux tag to indicate when I [as the OP] believe some behavior is peculiar to Linux. Note that I suggest what matter's is the OP's belief not the outcome (the answers) which should result in a tag. So an imaginary question "why does Ubuntu keep randomly deleting my files" should have a linux tag at the OP's discretion. Arguably the question should have some reason stated to explain why the Linux OS / Kernel may be to blame. – Philip Couling Dec 29 '19 at 0:19
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    As one of the confused users, I'll point out that "How can I find all executable files on a Linux machine" can be solved directly with GNU find's -executable option, or portably in other ways. Knowing the (default) available tools helps to guide a good/useful answer (e.g. one that doesn't have to be strictly portable). – Jeff Schaller Jan 9 at 17:32
  • @JeffSchaller indeed, mentioning your OS is essential. The question is whether the best way to indicate your OS is using the Linux tag given that people basically just slap it onto anything that seems Linux related so it ends up being uninformative. – terdon Jan 9 at 17:37
8

We can discuss anything we want, but without the effort to actually enforce a meaning for , we are wasting our time. If anyone wants a definitive solution, that is, one that will not be a continuous effort for anyone, that is just blacklisting and burning the tag.

It is so, because "Linux" is an overloaded term, it implies many things to many people. If we try to define it by current usage, it would be so broad that it is meaningless. If we try to narrow it, then we get ourselves into a battle against the tide trying to enforce it.

We already have a tag, and other linux-* related tags. Lets just do what it is usually done when SE sites are created and blacklist the tag which is also part of the topic and name of this site.

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    You're basically saying "Let's just blacklist the tag entirely", right? – terdon Dec 23 '19 at 20:31
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    @terdon if we are going to do anything about it, this is the most cost-effective solution. – Braiam Dec 23 '19 at 21:05
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    Yes indeed. This might be the best solution. I just wanted to clarify that this was indeed what you were suggesting. – terdon Dec 23 '19 at 23:28
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    Four things: unix is only inherently blacklisted. linux was explicitly deblacklisted in 2011 in response to "what is usually done". bash is just as mis-used (as has been long since noted). And blacklisting will store up trouble for you down the line. – JdeBP Dec 24 '19 at 18:32
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    @JdeBP when we "deblacklisted", we were too naive. We were thinking that SU and AU would whoos up all the traffic and leave use with only heavy users. Reality proved differently. People post questions in any text box they can find, and the bash situation is lacking a tag warning instead. – Braiam Dec 24 '19 at 20:07
  • That is not the reasoning that people gave at the time, nor is it the thinking to be found in places like unix.meta.stackexchange.com/a/110/5132 , unix.meta.stackexchange.com/q/512/5132 , unix.meta.stackexchange.com/q/631/5132 , and unix.meta.stackexchange.com/q/168/5132 . – JdeBP Dec 27 '19 at 9:38
  • @JdeBP "Unfortunately, I think it's likely to get put on lots of questions that aren't actually Linux-specific", "I think this makes sense for migrated questions, as people from, for example, SO have no idea about our policy on the linux tag here.", "I'm sure there are many examples, but I don't know how "there are other tagging problems" means "we shouldn't solve this case"" "It is possible to blacklist tags as a last resort, but I'm still hoping enough of the community will handle retagging that it won't be an issue" Quotes from the questions you linked. – Braiam Dec 27 '19 at 9:44
  • The problem was observed back then, we were naive, as the last quote points to, that our community could deal with it. We couldn't. Now is time to correct course. – Braiam Dec 27 '19 at 9:46
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    @JdeBP "blacklisting will store up trouble for you down the line" ... how? – chicks Dec 31 '19 at 0:24
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[all this is of course just my opinion]

Tags are used by people to define the scope of their questions, and they should keep being useful that way.

The tag should be used when the OP only cares about information and solutions that apply to a typical GNU/Linux system, and doesn't want their question hijacked into a portability and system comparison discussion.

Similarly to when they absolutely don't care about portable shell scripts, and are perfectly fine with using features like arrays, process substitutions, etc.

Trying to micro-manage tags and turn them into a curated ontology completely destroys their utility. The tag should only be force-added to another user's question when it's absolutely clear that any relevant answers could only apply to Linux-based system, not when they just mentioned (or it could be guessed) that they're using a Linux system, and should not be force-removed unless it's clear that the user is confused and they're not using Linux in any way or form.


Just in case it wasn't clear enough, I reject any pretension of "consensus" for blacklisting the tag -- as long as you're not going to ask all the people who already tagged their own questions with the tag in the way I've described it, and you absolutely don't care about its effect on new users asking questions, I'll consider this just a way to enforce the groupthink of some close-knit club of users. Or worse.

Removing the tag could only make sense if GNU/Linux is assumed as the "default" system -- it that's the purpose of this, better be crystal clear about it.

  • 1
    Are you saying that Linux should be added to all questions that are about Linux and the tag should just mean "I only care about Linux"? If so, I don't really understand why we would use a tag for that. The OP can simply state they don't want portability discussions. Tags are more for categorizing questions. – terdon Dec 21 '19 at 16:56
  • "categorizing questions" doesn't mean much by itself. It may be "help people define the scope of their questions without extra verbiage", "let OCD types try to fit the reality into rigid categories" or "let busybodies micromanage stuff". Only one of those should be encouraged IMHO. – mosvy Dec 22 '19 at 4:32
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    It's not really on to go around calling other Stack Exchange users "OCD types" and "busybodies". – JdeBP Dec 22 '19 at 11:20
  • @mosvy please explain what you mean. Preferably without insulting other users. Tags are for categorizing questions. You don't seem to agree with that but I don't understand what you are suggesting. – terdon Dec 22 '19 at 11:55
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    @JdeBP stop this ridiculous pettiness of trying to land blows on me by misconstruing my words. Pointing the potential of abuse of any policy or mechanism is not calling anybody anything. – mosvy Dec 22 '19 at 15:05
  • @terdon Tags are to help people define the scope of their questions without extra verbiage. You are actually insulting me: I should've already known better from past experience than trying to engage you in a good faith discussion. – mosvy Dec 22 '19 at 15:10
  • It seems that you're trying to push an agenda and put another hurdle in the way of the people trying to ask Qs, and no doubt you'll be able to push it through, consequences be damned. – mosvy Dec 22 '19 at 15:18
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    @mosvy I quite honestly have no idea what you are talking about. You are the one who started calling people "OCD types" and "busybodies". And of course I have an "agenda"! What a silly thing to say. I have expressed what I think the tag should be used for, and came here to see if the community agrees. You don't seem to agree, but you haven't made clear why or what you propose. At least not to me. So you can try and make it clearer or just assume I am out to get you. Your call. – terdon Dec 22 '19 at 15:34
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    If you think my proposed use of the tag (which is simply "don't put it on all questions that mention Linux") is somehow adding hurdles and has dire consequences, please explain what those hurdles and consequences are. You could be absolutely right! The whole point of this post is to get a discussion going. But if you just leave vague accusations like "trying to push an agenda and put another hurdle in the way of the people trying to ask Qs" and "consequences be damned", it is very hard to understand what, exactly, you are objecting to. – terdon Dec 22 '19 at 15:37
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    100% in agreement with @mosvy. Maybe we need a non-linux tag or a posixly_correct one (or its predecessor posix_me_harder :))... – xenoid Jan 13 at 23:20
  • So the tag should be Gnu/Linux – ctrl-alt-delor Jan 19 at 11:18
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The tag adds information. Maybe poor information, but information even an unexperienced user actually provides. Very often I saw a question about how to solve some problem, but with very poor border conditions given. Only after I saw the linux tag, I was able to guess a lot of things like the OP probably uses the GNU version of the described tools.

I grew up with HP-UX, Solaris, NetBSD, later MacOSX, so "linux" is not my default thinking, while for most people on the site it seems to be. They don't write "btw, it's a ubuntu 16.04.6 amd64 machine", but at least they use the "linux" tag. Not much, but enough to sometimes skip two times asking back in a comment.

More experienced users can replace the tag with "linux-something" to make filtering more useful, but you don't lose anything by allowing the linux tag. I doubt you can tame it to be used more specificly by the majority of users, so don't have too high expectations on a redefinition. And removing it won't help, but it will even kill the tiny contribution it did.

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