@BeastOfCaerbannog and I were having a chat discussion today debating the role of "general" programming questions here on Ask Ubuntu. The current on-topic help text includes:

Questions you may ask:


  • Development on Ubuntu.

There's also this older Meta post from @Oli who mentioned:

Development is on-topic here unless it really has nothing to do with Ubuntu.

I wouldn't object to Python questions here but you might get better service on Stack Overflow which is really all about programming. If your questions involve Ubuntu peculiarities or packaging a Python application, then we're probably the best bet. But again, this is on-topic on both sites.


... As well as several others (links below in footnote).

That's pretty open, and the help text indicates that any development being done on Ubuntu is on-topic, even if the development is not unique to (or about) Ubuntu. Under this guidance, I've typically supported not "Closing" questions about programming, as long as they have some relevance to Ubuntu (even if the developer is just using Ubuntu as their target platform).

@BeastOfCaerbannog felt that questions that were "general programming" should be closed.

And I'm fully supportive of that, assuming we officially update the help-text. The reasons, as @BeastOfCaerbannog and I both agree is that "General programming questions":

  • ... are not "about Ubuntu" and don't require Ubuntu expertise (unless the question specifically is about how to do something on Ubuntu).

  • ... are more appropriate on Stack Overflow.

  • ... will typically receive a faster response on Stack Overflow due to its more active developer user-base.

  • ... will typically receive higher-quality responses on Stack Overflow due to its more active developer user-base.

  • ... should not be cross-posted (as with any question) to more than one Stack Exchange site at a time.

As such, it's really in the OP's best interest that the question be closed or migrated as quickly as possible, so that they can repost (if needed) on Stack Overflow.

If the community is in agreement with this, what changes should we make to the "on-topic" wording to clarify this?

If, however, you don't agree that a change is warranted, then please provide feedback on this proposal as well.

Footnote: Additional Meta links

  • 1
    It would help if you would link (or otherwise demonstrate) a few examples for such questions that would definitely be closed / redirected to stackoverflow by this policy (e.g. something with java, or php). At the same time, it would also be useful to demonstrate which kind of questions, despite containing / being oriented towards code could still enjoy a secure welcome on this site (e.g. something with bash, or even maybe, who knows, python, as long as it's oriented at some OS-related task).
    – Levente
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 17:15
  • (I was hoping maybe you were specifically after those typically low-effort crowd-sourcing-attempts where students try to gain fully written scripts through copy-pasting their 2-line description into a question from their homework.)
    – Levente
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 17:17
  • We could keep this strict to python and bash... since Ubuntu uses these two languages a bit heavily...
    – Rishon_JR
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 12:11

3 Answers 3


My proposal is to change the on-topic wording to:

Questions you may ask:


Writing software for Ubuntu or setting up a software development environment on Ubuntu. Note that general-programming questions are usually better suited for Stack Overflow and may be closed here on Ask Ubuntu.

With the link to this Meta post (or a future Community Wiki) with examples (to be added) of questions that would be appropriate and those that would not.

The small wording change puts the burden on the question being about Ubuntu, rather than just something that the developer may be tangentially using. It also prevents boat-meme types of questions, where "on Ubuntu" is appended just to try to make a general programming question on-topic.

Examples and guidance for on-topic questions

  • An answer to the question is likely to be Ubuntu-specific.

  • Shell-scripting questions, within reason, since shell-scripting is a common system-administration task of high importance to Ubuntu users.

  • Installing or fixing issues with development tools or libraries on Ubuntu.

More to be added

Examples and guidance for off-topic questions

To be added

  • Sounds reasonable.. 👍 Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 18:56
  • Suggestion only: Perhaps leaving the door open a little more for an Ask Ubuntu answer and acknowledging that migration does not always work: "Note that general-programming questions are usually better suited for Stack Overflow. If a such a question is not easily answered here on Ask Ubuntu the question may be closed on Ask Ubuntu or migrated to Stack Overflow (if the original poster undertakes to follow up there)."
    – andrew.46 Mod
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 4:34
  • perhaps "Development topics requiring Ubuntu expertise." ?
    – lofidevops
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 21:49
  • @lofidevops While I like the phraseology of that, my experience (with WSL and Ubuntu, as well as programming) is that it is often not known in advance whether or not Ubuntu expertise is required. This is especially true of the person asking the question, but can also be true of the community and the Mods. Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 1:41
  • I'm thinking of this WSL question, which was originally closed because it was thought to be a Microsoft error. However, we discovered a few days later in this question that it was a Canonical bug, and a pretty serious one. The same thing can often happen with programming topics, from what I've seen, and since the community-at-large isn't necessary development-focused, it's tough to close based on that. Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 1:43
  • @andrew.46 "if the original poster undertakes to follow up there" I'll be honest, I've noodled on this one a bit, and I'm still not sure what it would mean :-). Wouldn't we close (or attempt to migrate) regardless of whether or not the OP followed-up? Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 1:46
  • However, I do like, (potentially), "Note that general-programming questions are better suited for Stack Overflow and may be closed or migrated and the poster asked to follow-up there." Thoughts? Or just not needed. I mean, if a post is closed or migrated, then it's kind of assumed that they would either need to repost on the appropriate site, or if it is migrated, that they would need to follow up there, right? Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 1:48
  • @NotTheDr01ds One of the sins of migrating questions (apart from the big one of migrating crap) is to dump a question on another site where either the OP then ignores it completely or worse does not even have a presence there. However your version looks better than mine :)
    – andrew.46 Mod
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 3:17
  • In practice I don't think we migrate to SO. It is much more famous and discoverable than our little site and people posting general programming questions here instead of there are usually found to be doing so to evade a question ban.
    – Zanna Mod
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 13:11
  • I somewhat disapprove of comments of the form this question is better suited to [site] because if the question is on topic here, we should just answer it, and if it is not on topic here, we should close it and comment this question is off topic here, but it is on topic on [site]. If one feels inclined to comment this question is better suited to [site], then there is probably a problem with the scope of the site, and we should be fixing it. I appreciate that fixing stuff is hard and there may be an interim period when one feels inclined to write such comments because one fears ...
    – Zanna Mod
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 13:14
  • ... that the question is not going to be answered. In such cases I write something like Your question is on topic here, but it might be more likely to get an answer on [site]. If you want to ask there instead, you can flag it and ask for migration...
    – Zanna Mod
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 13:20
  • 1
    @Zanna Agreed, I usually use a similar comment. As for the on the help-topic, though, I think it accurately conveys what we are trying to say. If a question is off-topic here, but on-topic on [site], then it is inherently "better suited to [site]", right? ;-) Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 15:26
  • 1
    @Zanna "In practice I don't think we migrate to SO." - Fair enough. Removed "migrated" from the wording based on that. Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 15:29
  • @NotTheDr01ds The smallest suggestion: Where you have ' may be closed here...' could you add emphasis / italics to make it: ' may be closed here...' I am keen to avoid a wholesale closing of all such questions and this might alert the keen close voter to think a little more :)
    – andrew.46 Mod
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 5:24
  • 1
    @NotTheDr01ds And perhaps also this: 'questions are better suited for Stack Overflow...' could become: 'questions are usually better suited for Stack Overflow...' for the same reason as above.
    – andrew.46 Mod
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 5:25

"Development on Ubuntu" in the on-topic guidance refers to developing Ubuntu itself i.e. writing software for Ubuntu. This is always on topic regardless of the tools being used. I don't think that should be changed, even though the relevant expertise may be scant here.

General programming questions are already off topic with the exception of shell scripting which our community has extensive knowledge about, as you mentioned in your answer.

It's also on topic to ask about setting up a development environment on Ubuntu, and so on. See the pirate test.

Perhaps the wording of the page could make these things clearer.

BTW, a mod needs a lot of courage to migrate to SO.

  • Zanna then perhaps the wording should be: "Developing software for Ubuntu." This is much more precise than "Developing on Ubuntu." Added to @NotTheDr01ds list. Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 8:23
  • @ArturMeinild I agree that the current wording is very ambiguous and needs improvement
    – Zanna Mod
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 10:11
  • @Zanna That's excellent clarity (of course), and "Perhaps the wording of the page could make these things clearer." -- I've incorporated some of that into my proposed wording. Does that look more apropos? Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 11:22
  • @NotTheDr01ds yes, looks good, thanks! There may be room for more discussion and/or a more expansive wording but it's getting better :)
    – Zanna Mod
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 13:09
  • 1
    I have also always read that as meaning "developing software using Ubuntu as the OS you are developing on". Otherwise, that would have to read "developing for Ubuntu". This is the first time I've heard anyone read that phrase as meaning developing software for Ubuntu as opposed to on Ubuntu which is, after all, what is actually written. Are you saying that something like "I am developing Windows programs on Ubuntu, how can I compile them for Windows on my Ubuntu machine?" would be off topic?
    – terdon
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 17:58
  • @terdon considering your comment for some time, I've arrived at the conclusion that my answer above is just wrong :) I guess I understood the text this way because stuff like your example would "obviously" be on topic and most of the "development on Ubuntu" that would be on topic would just come under using 3rd party applications. So the "Development on Ubuntu" line must refer to something special. As mentioned at the start of this comment, it seems that I'm completely wrong.
    – Zanna Mod
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 17:32
  • I also found this super relevant old meta post which confirms that I am wrong, but more importantly has material for the rest of the present discussion
    – Zanna Mod
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 17:32
  • Possibly I will figure out what I should do with my wrong answer, but in the meantime, jokerdino suggested the suitably expansive wording "Development on and for Ubuntu" :)
    – Zanna Mod
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 17:33
  • Heh, yes, that sounds good. I seem to remember an old meta post by Oli that touched on this and clarified that yes, questions about developers who are writing software using Ubuntu as their OS are on topic, but I can't seem to find it now :/.
    – terdon
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 12:14
  • @terdon (and by extension Zanna since it's her post) - I think Zanna's point that "It's also on topic to ask about setting up a development environment on Ubuntu" covers the Windows development on Ubuntu. That's why I like the expanded wording that clarifies that. I'm not a fan of "Development on and for Ubuntu" personally since that simply doesn't fix the original issue that any programming question (no matter how generic) can be made on-topic simply by adding "I'm using Ubuntu.". See the boat-meme discussion. Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 15:23
  • @NotTheDr01ds I am really sympathetic to your point and I strongly believe generic programming questions should remain off topic because this community does not have the knowledge to answer them well and such knowledge is in abundance nearby on SO, but I don't want to accidentally narrow the existing scope. What do you think of the distinction in meta.askubuntu.com/a/5750/527764 - perhaps we'll get some good wording thinking along these lines...
    – Zanna Mod
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 6:12
  • @Zanna and NotTheDroids: Are we there yet? :). Looks like 250 views and a fortnight on display and certainly the addition to the 'On-Topic' page looks pretty robust IMHO...
    – andrew.46 Mod
    Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 2:04
  • @andrew.46 Sorry I missed this one - I didn't get notified on it since I wasn't tagged. I think Zanna's point that we don't want to unintentionally narrow the scope too much is important, and one that we haven't fully addressed yet. I honestly took a break from thinking about this one to see if I could come back and look at it with fresh eyes to make an updated suggestion. Still not there yet, I'm afraid. Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 22:05

Regarding the on-topic policy for programming questions, a few considerations pop into my mind:

  • There is no functional reason whatsoever to create a strict line between the different SE sites. On the contrary, some overlap is extremely useful to have different angles of insight, different styles to approach a subject. It is non-sense furthermore to assume strictly Ubuntu-related programming even exists.
  • It seems quite weird to allow (for example) text processing, as long as it is awk, grep, sed, wc or alike, then suddenly say if we do the same with (e.g.) python, it is off-topic. Also note that all of these tools aren't specifically Ubuntu at all, not even Linux-specific. Note also that the vast majority of questions, tagged as "bash" are not about bash at all, but people often assume that anything that happens in the terminal is about bash. And again, if anything is not Ubuntu specific, it would be bash.
  • I learned a lot by writing stuff on Ask Ubuntu; scripts, tools, mini-apps. Some more or less specifically for Ubuntu, but much stuff could and would easily be considered off-topic in a rigid conception. Would I be better off on SO? I doubt that, but it simply wasn't my environment.

In short: If there is no way to relate a question or answer to Ubuntu or programming for- or on Ubuntu, let's close it. But also: let's not practice over-management, be too eager to create an artificial line that does not exist in reality, closing off a big potential of the site.

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