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Another recent request pointed out an issue with the current system: answers are limited to only 30,000 characters in length.

While I personally do not feel that posting very large amounts of code in answers is particularly desirable, I do foresee other circumstances where it might be desirable to have much, much longer answers.

Consider the longest pages on Wikipedia: they exceed SO's current limit by over 10x, and they're dominated by lists. Programmers love lists. Programmer cartoons, jokes, blogs, every function in PHP... there are endless possibilities (although i've no doubt someone will soon start a list of possibilities).

And SO will inevitably fail them, unless the answer length limit is removed or increased.

Sure, we could do the usual "one list item per answer" thing. But that has an even worse effective limit, in that you only cram 30 answers on a single page, and junk up each item with irrelevant things like the author's name and icon. Printing these is frustrating at best.

So for the good and healthy future of all SO, please, please increase or remove this arbitrary, restrictive limitation from the system!

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I hate lists. –  XMLbog Aug 11 '09 at 17:51
No you don't! –  ajm Aug 11 '09 at 17:53
Prove it. –  XMLbog Aug 11 '09 at 17:54
List the ways he can prove it. ;) –  gnostradamus Aug 11 '09 at 17:57
@Welbog: sorry, i've decided that only lists of things you hate will be accepted. Stand-alone declarations of hate are too time-consuming and expensive to process. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 11 '09 at 17:57
I hate '(lists). Better? –  XMLbog Aug 11 '09 at 18:02
If it's removed I expect the number of TLDR comments will increase markedly as will the amount of poorly formatted code. –  tvanfosson Aug 11 '09 at 18:06
@tvanfosson: I hear that. The 150-character limit is the only thing keeping my moderator reports from being feature-length novels about donkeys and superintelligent bags of cotton that are plotting to destroy the world. Only a three-cheese pizza and its cohorts (John the janitor, a french fry covered in french toast and a regular toothbrush) can say the day with their giant and amazing friendship which allows them to overcome the odds, kick reason the curb and do the impossible when a lesser team (perhaps a team one toothbrush short) would have failed. The pizza knows too much and so the gover –  XMLbog Aug 11 '09 at 18:17
@shog9: Let that be a lesson to you. More space means more room for spelling and grammatical errors. –  XMLbog Aug 11 '09 at 18:21
I just have to ask... is this question a joke? –  gnostradamus Aug 11 '09 at 18:24
@gnovice: Noooooo... that never happens around here! –  GEOCHET Aug 11 '09 at 18:25
@gnovice: You want to hear a joke? OK, so there's this one guy sitting in a bar and he's waiting around for something. It's pretty obvious because he's fidgeting in his chair, always glancing at the door. The door is one of those regular brown doors you see everywhere. That's just the style of doors that usually are used for doors. The kind that let you enter and exit buildings. Not at the same time, of course. So anyway the bartender moved over to the guy and asked him what he was waiting for. The man just ignored him. The bartender got worried for the guy so he asked again. The man said, "I –  XMLbog Aug 11 '09 at 18:28
@gnovice: depends on your definition of "joke". I was laughing while i wrote it, but I'm serious in my belief that 1) code-dumps are bad, 2) long, detail answers can be appropriate, 3) printing list questions on SO is a huge pain right now. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 11 '09 at 18:34
@Shog9: OK, I just had to ask because of the way some things were phrased in the question. I thought I detected sarcasm when you mentioned that "SO will inevitably fail them", "them" being list questions like "programmer cartoons, jokes, blogs, etc.", which some people might actually want SO to fail for. ;) –  gnostradamus Aug 11 '09 at 18:46
Mayhaps I should write a 30000 character treatise on why 30k is more than enough –  devinb Aug 11 '09 at 19:17

9 Answers 9

up vote 5 down vote accepted

This simply hasn't come up enough to be a real issue IMO.

If you "need" to post more than 30k chars, that's probably symptomatic of other problems.

edit: as an aside, we've looked at posts at or near the 30k limit and with rare exceptions, they are .. problematic. So length has a strongly inverse correlation with quality. For those exceedingly rare posts which are justifiably 25-30k chars, that seems like a reasonable enough limit. For comparison this epic Steve Yegge rant is 31,000 characters!

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I disagree. 30k characters is more than enough.

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(+1). For those people who feel that 30k is not enough, perhaps the problem is not the with the SO limitation, but with your pleonastic answer. –  devinb Aug 11 '09 at 19:00

Get a blog and post a link if the space is too short for an answer.

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And when the firewall vendor blacklists the blogging site? –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Aug 11 '09 at 18:06
Get a new firewall vendor that doesn't suck? –  XMLbog Aug 11 '09 at 18:08
Have them open a hole for it? I had to do that with my ISP for my own site. –  tvanfosson Aug 11 '09 at 18:09
Also +1 for this one. A blog is where I keep my "Don't parse XML with regular expressions" standard answer for easy access. –  XMLbog Aug 11 '09 at 18:10
Stop working for a company that would restrict your access like that. –  GEOCHET Aug 11 '09 at 18:11
@Concerned -- actually, I would suggest both posting a short summary and the blog link. That way the short summary would still be useful and the lengthy material won't degrade the SO experience. IMO, 30K may be too big, not too small. –  tvanfosson Aug 11 '09 at 18:13
OMG I CALL GODWIN!!! –  GEOCHET Aug 11 '09 at 18:13
@tanoffson: I do contract work, which is kind of itinerant - you tend to work on site. The IT folk in such places may or may not be sympathetic to requests to open firewall access to a blogging site so I can put up an answer to a question on SO. –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Aug 11 '09 at 18:19
A contractor with no mobile internet connection, but with the time to be pasting 30k+ characters onto SO.com. –  GEOCHET Aug 11 '09 at 18:20
@Concubine: Start posting your code on youtube. What, your company blocks youtube? –  belgariontheking Aug 11 '09 at 18:24
Somehow I seem to have wandered into a firestorm... –  tvanfosson Aug 11 '09 at 18:26
@tvan: AD HOMINEM!!! –  GEOCHET Aug 11 '09 at 18:31
Read the old flamewar. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/13748/… –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Aug 11 '09 at 18:31

I mentioned this briefly before, but I need a limit of at least 1910000 characters to fit Bleak House in a single post. Surely this is of grave importance to the developers of StackOverflow.

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I actually had this in mind when i wrote up the suggestion. I don't know that it's directly relevant to SO, but certainly will become an issue once SE is launched and we can finally have DickensOverflow.com! –  Shogging through the snow Aug 11 '09 at 18:17
@Shog9 - That's a reasonable argument for long postings. –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Aug 11 '09 at 18:27
@ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells: yes. I'm a reasonable man... –  Shogging through the snow Aug 11 '09 at 18:37
@Shog9: nice to see a few of those around here. –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Aug 11 '09 at 22:18

If you want to get a feel for ~30k characters, several of Steve Yegge's blog posts are roughly that long:

So I guess the real question is if you want Yegge-esque answers on Stack Overflow. But since I dislike arbitrary limits, however rarely they're hit in practice, I support this feature request.

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I'm not overly concerned with a 30K limit - all it meant was that I couldn't post a large-ish SQL script in an answer to a question. Couldn't answer - big deal, maybe someone else can help. –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Aug 11 '09 at 18:10
Wait, you don't support limits? How do you propose unlimited answer lengths are going to work? –  GEOCHET Aug 11 '09 at 18:12
Perhaps we could limit the number of characters to your current site score with some lower limit for nubes. :-) –  tvanfosson Aug 11 '09 at 18:28
Personally, I don't see why answers can't be 2,147,483,647 characters in length. –  Kyralessa Aug 11 '09 at 18:29
@Kyralessa: Pfft. Why stop at 2,147,483,647 when you could have a billion!? –  XMLbog Aug 11 '09 at 18:31
@Rich B - this is the fourth time today that you have misconstrued something I wrote. I didn't say I was in favour of no limits. –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Aug 11 '09 at 22:16

Given the types of questions that SO is designed to address, I highly doubt there is a significant problem with a 30k character limit in questions or answers. SO is not Wikipedia - your answer doesn't have to tear into every corner of what you post.

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I dunno, the accepted answer on the following question is pretty long, I doubt its far off the limit - serverfault.com/questions/49765/… –  Pauk Aug 11 '09 at 18:07
It is 27893 characters. Very close to the limit. –  jjnguy Aug 11 '09 at 18:09

I wholeheartedly agree!

Just because long posts can be bad, doesn't mean they will always be bad.

We should allow people to post what they feel is an appropriate question/answer. We can let upvotes or downvotes decide if the post is any good.

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"We should allow people to post what they feel is an appropriate answer" There are ALWAYS reasonable limits. Certain things like, hate/speech, pornography, posts that are about nothing, posts that are not about programming, posts about Stack-Overflow, posts with embedded video, Blatant Advertising. There are already reasonable limits in place because there are some things that are simply not needed here. And answers which are over 30k is included in the class of things that are 'unnecessary/unhelpful to SO' –  devinb Aug 11 '09 at 21:01

The original posting was an attempt to post a SQL script in answer to someone's question. I have an ongoing issue where I work with sites such as pastebin and flickr being blocked by the company firewall. Therefore, posting code on third party web sites is not necessarily an option.

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FWIW, a lot of the distaste for long, long answers comes from the time needed to read them. The longer the answer, the fewer people reading it, and presumably fewer people voting on it. SO kinda depends on voting... The other issue comes from a tendency for some people to dump code without really taking the time to explain what they're doing - "this seems to work, copy and paste it in". Really sucks, finding answers like that... especially when the code doesn't work. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 11 '09 at 18:08
I had a canned stored procedure that did something related to what the OP wanted. It was tested and in production in various sites. It also had some 'how to use' documentation and unit tests that (one would hope) made it potentially understandable and useful. The OP was getting into a pickle solving a problem that this script did - in my opinion there was a good chance that they could have found it useful/ –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Aug 11 '09 at 18:14
@ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells: i don't understand the topic well enough to even begin to have an opinion on your specific answer; just trying to give you a feel for why some of us are reluctant to *encourage *such long, code-heavy answers... –  Shogging through the snow Aug 11 '09 at 18:16
I think the arguments against long answers are fairly clear. In fact, I don't really hold a strong opinion on this; I just posted a bug when SO silently truncated the posting. Then a flamewar erupted about whether posts of 30K characters were legitamate. Perhaps my long answer could have helped. In practice it didn't as I couldn't post the whole script. –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Aug 11 '09 at 18:26
Yes, it was the side-discussion on the appropriateness of long answers that convinced me to suggest this feature (and thus draw the controversy into a more appropriate venue). FWIW: if your employer is that strict about which sites you can visit, you might want to double-check that it's ok for you to be sharing code at all! –  Shogging through the snow Aug 11 '09 at 18:30
The code is mine - the locals here aren't really strict so much as overly bureaucratic. However, the problem in the general case is that I could be working somewhere else with different firewall policies next month. –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Aug 11 '09 at 18:34
Sounds like you need to get yourself one a them i-phones that'r all the rage with kids these days. I hear they support copy & paste now, so you could store your personal library on there & just post to your blog from wherever... –  Shogging through the snow Aug 11 '09 at 18:38
Or just tether the iphone, or get a 3g mobile card. Anything is better than spamming a site with a 30k character code 'snippet'. –  GEOCHET Aug 11 '09 at 18:41
Mobile internet is a slightly interesting proposition but commuting to work with two laptops isn't (I hope nobody's seriously advocating that I should compose SO postings on an iPhone). I suppose I could just plug it into a work machine - which is probably in violation of the local IT policy - but it doesn't solve the problem in the general case. Other people might want to actually read the posting and not be able to get at a blogging site through their firewalls. –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Aug 11 '09 at 19:46
This has gone on long enough. If you can't get to it from work, get to it when you get home. If you have a legitimate business reason to get to it from work, make your case with the firewall administrators. If they reject you, you're never more than 8 hours away from being able to read it. Have a friend from outside the firewall email you the code during the day if necessary. This isn't something that can come up often, as most of us aren't in the habit of needing more than 30 thousand characters to express ourselves. –  belgariontheking Aug 11 '09 at 20:01

Should we really be encouraging people to post that much information? SO is designed to be a Q/A site: an (ideally) direct question leads to an (ideally) direct answer. Conversely, Wikipedia is basically meant to be an encyclopedic reference covering a given topic. Those aren't really the same goals, so why would they need the same unlimited amount of space?

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