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Please add a system to allow file uploads attached to questions and answers

I often come across questions which merit the use of some file attachment functionality, for example, when the owner of the question is asked to provide some supporting data such as log files, packet captures, etc.

Of course it's possible to provide snippets of supporting data in a question using the blockquote and codesample tags, but if the supporting data is more than a few lines long, the actual question can quickly become difficult to find. When a large portion of a question consists of supporting data, does this not lower the overall perceived quality of the question, thereby deterring potential experts from answering the question? By keeping questions as concise as possible, we can encourage great answers, as discussed in Optimizing For Pearls, Not Sand while still providing the facility for uploading necessary supporting data.

To prevent visual clutter, some people upload related data to external hosts such as Pastebin. The problems with uploading related data to an external host:

  • It removes knowledge from SE. It could be argued that knowledge lies within the answer, but since the question causes the answer, the question and its supporting data does form part of the knowledge-base. If the externally-hosted supporting data becomes unavailable, we essentially lose part of that knowledge-base.
  • Users may not always be aware of the implications of providing certain data. For example, a packet capture may contain passwords and by uploading this file to an external host we lose control over the data, whereas if the file was hosted on SE, knowlegable members of our community can easily flag or remove a sensitive file altogether.

What are the pros and cons to providing a file upload facility, and what restrictions should the file upload facility be subject to?

Off the top of my head, some restictions that could be imposed on file uploads:

  • Only allow non-binary uploads
  • Impose a small filesize limit (eg. 5-10kb) to encourage conciseness.
  • Only users above a certain reputation threshold may upload files

Summary: Should we have a file upload facility on SE, and what are the pros and cons of such a facility?

Edit: This isn't an exact duplicate of this question. I'm asking for the pros and cons of a file upload facility, and the restrictions that should be imposed on such a facility. This question is not asking for "please let us upload any file we want".

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migrated from Jun 5 '12 at 10:33

This question came from our discussion, support, and feature requests site for system and network administrators.

marked as duplicate by Time Traveling Bobby, Manishearth, Shadow Wizard, Tim Post Jun 5 '12 at 11:59

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

You are talking about SO? Or about particular SEs? I don't know about Server Fault for example. But on SO, as soon as a question requires much more data to be answerable than SO itself allows, it's often a problematic question to begin with. – Bart Jun 5 '12 at 10:36
It would be nice to have ideone/jsFiddle like features integrated directly into the site though. – Flexo Jun 5 '12 at 10:42
I'm primarily active on SO, so the question was originally asked of that community, but since it's been migrated to here I'll edit it to reflect the whole SE group. – Richard Keller Jun 5 '12 at 10:45
@RichardKeller: Out of curiosity, if this is for SO...why does it come from the SF meta?! – Time Traveling Bobby Jun 5 '12 at 10:52
Sorry, how stupid of me - I somehow managed to confuse SF with SO. What I meant to say was that I'm primarily active on ServerFault, so this question was originally directed at that community. I'm not entirely sure why it was moved to here, but I assume it's because my feature-request would affect all the StackExchange sites, not just ServerFault. – Richard Keller Jun 5 '12 at 11:01
@RichardKeller That is indeed why it got migrated here. It's not a small change, and has come up before (on mSO), so needs wider debate. – sysadmin1138 Jun 5 '12 at 11:32
+1 I agree. For SQL Server performance questions it is often useful when the asker provides additional info such as actual execution plans too. – Martin Smith Jun 5 '12 at 12:12

On ServerFault, the primary reasons for file-attachments would be:

  • To keep excruciatingly large log-snippets out of questions (they already put scroll-bars in, but if they're big enough even that isn't convenient).
  • To present data that isn't amenable to log-snippeting or screen-capping, such as packet captures.

The few times I've seen people actually present these non-text formats they've self-hosted them. I can think of a specific question where the asker posted a packet capture somewhere and it was what broke the problem for them. So there is some need.

However, I believe such a system presents more problems than it solves.

By not accepting whole file uploads:

  • We force askers to snippet information down to what is actually needed.
  • We put the google-bait somewhere it'll get picked up, which won't happen if we do whole file uploads.
  • We encourage a culture of "present only what's needed, we'll ask for more if we want it" instead of "upload everything, we'll sort it out later" which doesn't lead to good, understandable questions.
  • We provide a disincentive to 'over-share'. We already have people posting sensitive information they don't actually want on the Internet, and coming to the mod-staff to try and expunge it. An upload system will make that worse, and potentially expose StackExchange to legal liability if a user over-shares something under NDA.
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