The title says it all, will programming questions that apply to elementary OS be allowed?

On Ask Ubuntu, they allow Bash, Python - any programming language if you're on Ubuntu.

This has benefits - you're more likely to get an answer on Ask Ubuntu than Stack Overflow (perhaps) - in my experience for sure.

However, it does create a blurred line. Is PHP allowed? Can I just lie about it. This causes moderation issues. What should we do?

  • 3
    Tim, I removed the polling-style answers you posted in favor of an open discussion. If you have thoughts on the issue yourself, please feel free to post it as an answer, but it is generally better to let everyone have a voice in meta to express their own opinions rather pre-posting all sides of the conversation in a type of pseudo-poll. It's not difficult to infer what the community wants from the conversation while allowing for the possibility that there's an issue we have not considered. Polling is generally not a good substitute for discussion. Thanks. Jul 2, 2015 at 17:20

3 Answers 3


Most Stack Exchange sites about computer platforms aimed at the general public¹ exclude programming questions: Android, Apple, Unix & Linux, Windows Phone, ... The ostensible reason is that Stack Overflow existed first and already covers programming questions, including questions about programming for Apple, Android, etc.

I think the key point is who the audience of the site is. Android.SE caters to Android users; Android programmers would be a totally different audience. Apple.SE caters to users of Apple devices, etc.

Ask Ubuntu chose a different path. Initially all programming questions were declared to be on-topic, as long as the programmer was working on Ubuntu. But over the years this has become a minority view, with a majority holding that programming questions are only on-topic if they're specific to Ubuntu. The help centre still says it is on topic, however.

I think a somewhat similar policy would make sense on this site. I propose:

Programming questions are on-topic if they are specifically about elementary OS.

That is, “how do I add two numbers in PHP on elementary OS” would be off-topic because there's nothing specific about elementary OS. But “I've written an application with a gtk-based GUI, how do I make sure it blends in on elementary” would be on-topic.

Note that scripting is a different matter. It's a matter of audience: programming is done by programmers, scripting is done by users and administrators — even if scripts are programs. This should be discussed in a separate meta thread.

¹ As opposed to e.g. Mathematica, Raspberry Pi, TeX, etc. which have somewhat specialist audiences.

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    my vote is that all elementary OS app development related questions go to StackOverflow and tagged with elementaryOS or similar. I think the community there is much more suited for those sorts of questions, and as you pointed out, none of the stack exchange portals for those other operating system platforms encourage programming questions. Jul 3, 2015 at 10:04
  • @Tim My answer is about programming questions, not about scripting questions. Jul 3, 2015 at 13:40
  • @Gilles okay, similar things, but okay. I've removes the scripting part.
    – user3
    Jul 3, 2015 at 13:41

I think Ask Ubuntu has a lot of issues with allowing all programming questions to be on topic. There is a grey area where command line usage turns into bash scripts.

So, I think that bash scripting is on topic and that is it. Any other languages can be asked on Stack Overflow (or Ask Ubuntu, saying you're on Ubuntu 14.04 - although that should be discouraged too).

I realise it cuts out a lot of content, but boy is it hard work deciding what to keep and deciding the Ask Ubuntu / Stack Overflow line.

  • What do you think about including Vala to the list as well? I think that third-party developers will benefit from allowing those questions. Think of it this way: how many times have we seen Vala questions posted on Google+ community? Maybe this is the better way to ask them.
    – r3bl
    Jul 4, 2015 at 21:40
  • Imo it would be good to allow vala/gtk questions because it is special to elementary OS that almost everything is written in it. Not sure about bash scripting. Because I don't see what is special about that. Everything that is working on Ubuntu is working on elementary OS so why we should duplicate the answers?
    – Djax
    Jul 5, 2015 at 8:43

I think in general, programming questions should be on topic, but more so if they are related to elementary in some way (such as developing applications using Vala + Granite, etc).

What I'd wait for though, is seeing how the community develops, before we take a more concrete position on just what kind of programming questions we can handle.

If we have a large selection of users who are comfortable with answering general programming questions, then these questions should be tolerated (within some limit - we should still encourage questions to be elementary related in some way: "Are you programming on elementary or targeting elementary?", "Is this an issue that you only encounter on elementary?").

If, however, we have a less developer-rich community as the site matures, we should discourage most general programming questions, and keep it down to questions that are about, for example, building elementary specific apps or using a specific development platform on elementary, or maybe installing a language's compiler when it's not normally available in elementary.

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