What is meta? ×
Meta Stack Exchange is where users like you discuss bugs, features, and support issues that affect the software powering all 150 Stack Exchange communities.

I know that SO questions should have limited scope with the potential for a definitive answer. I also know that it is OK to ask a question to which you know the answer and then post an answer if the question and answer are generally useful. (Though this can also raise hackles - it can be a fine line)

My hobby is exploring the capabilities of Windows batch programming - a system with woefully inadequate documentation and loads of inconsistencies. I've invested a significant amount of timing determining undocumented features / bugs / limitations of various Windows commands. I think the info is of general use. The issue is how to get the info out there.

Would it be appropriate to ask a [batch-file] question on SO like "What are the undocumented features / limitations / bugs of the Windows FINDSTR command?" and then provide a sizeable (but manageable) answer? Or is such a question too broad?

As a developer, I know I would like a one stop shop for such info.


Well I finally posted the question and answer at What are the undocumented features and limitations of the Windows FINDSTR command?. Results have been encouraging: An initial flurry of up votes for both the question and answer within 24 hours, followed by a couple straggling up votes over the next 10 days. Thankfully, no down votes or negative comments. Not bad for a low traffic volume subject like [batch-file].

I believe the way I phrased the question post really helps to limit the scope of the answer(s) to something manageable, and discourages answers that are not truly undocumented features.

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

Yes, definitely. If the question takes hold, you end up with a huge list of answers of dubious quality. Case in point: Hidden features of Windows batch files, 98 answers. That's no way to present information: if I'm looking for a specific feature, I'll have to slog through all of these. And if I feel like adding another feature, I would have to go through that whole list to check that mine is not a duplicate. The answers are ordered partly by age and partly by popularity, and not at all by usefulness.

To compound the problem, everyone has their own definition of what it means for a feature is hidden: a feature is hidden if I just learned about it or was surprised when I learned about it. The top answers on that batch file list are ^ for line continuation, the pushd and popd builtins and a use of the start command, all of which are documented (hence not hidden by any reasonable definition).

Collections of “hidden features” are not useful in themselves. Knowing about hidden features of X won't make me a better user of X. Knowing about features of X (especially the ones that are not hidden) will make me a better user of X. “Hidden features of X” is not the right goal: the right goal is “Advanced X”. And that's a goal for a book, not for a Stack Exchange question.

Don't try to put everything in the same post. Use all those tricks that you know to answer existing questions, to solve someone's problem. If you think that one of those tricks is useful to solve a particular problem and it hasn't come up on SO, feel free to ask and answer your own question. Again, make it about a specific issue.

share|improve this answer
+1, the real problem is most hidden features are usually things to avoid in practice. – user7116 May 2 '12 at 15:24

There is a tag on Stack Overflow. Historically these kinds of questions have been begrudgingly accepted by management.

Your question, however, seems a bit too localized. It might be a decent post if it were "Hidden Features of Batch Files", but we already have one of those.

share|improve this answer
And here I thought it might be too broad - You might be surprised how many undocumented details there are with a single command. "Undocumented features of Batch Files" would require a sizeable book. With regard to the linked question, I think there is a big difference between "underused" and "undocumented". – dbenham Jan 5 '12 at 23:30
You can always try and post a new question, and see how it is accepted by the community. I can switch it to Community Wiki to make it more palatable. It's a crap-shoot, though. Do you want to try? – Robert Harvey Jan 5 '12 at 23:33
I think ultimately it should be a Community Wiki, but I could use the rep. I'm game for trying as a normal question. I'm still running experiments and gathering info, so it may be a few days before I post. – dbenham Jan 5 '12 at 23:44
I think the linked question shows why these kinds of questions are disliked. Most of the top voted answers aren't "hidden features" at all, except in the eyes of someone who never used a batch file for anything more than a list of commands. – hammar Jan 5 '12 at 23:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .