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I often see questions that ask "X vs Y" with regard to methods or functions that are part of any specific language (trying to make this as broad as possible). In these cases the 'answer' will merely be a regurgitation of the official documentation for the said library/language.

setInterval vs setTimeout
In this instance, an edit was made which linked to the docs (which do contain all relevant information and answer his/her question).

It was my understanding that SO was not a repository of documentation. Should these "RTFD (Read the Fine documentation)" type questions really exist? If so, should we be just linking and maybe quoting the documentation?

I personally think that they are redundant, show lack of research and/or effort on the part of the OP, and are not on topic on SO (there is no problem with the code, they are just looking for us to do the research for them). Thoughts?

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I believe you meant RTFM ;-). –  ben is uǝq backwards Aug 16 '12 at 14:57
Yea I typed the post before I saw RTFD tag does not exist :( –  rlemon Aug 16 '12 at 14:59
Related: Introduce a "general reference" close reason –  Pëkka Aug 16 '12 at 15:00
Related but not quite a duplicate: Duplicating manuals as answers –  Pops Aug 16 '12 at 15:43
In some cases, official documentation doesn't clearly explain a particular feature, or doesn't explain it in a way that someone new to the langauge/library would really understand. Assuming the person asking the question has at least looked at it, the question becomes "What's the difference between foo() and bar()? The documentation says 'XYX', but I don't understand what it means by 'Z'." –  Jim Aug 16 '12 at 16:17
@Jim yes, however if you read my question you will see I don't care about those questions; they are perfectly valid. It is the gross number of other questions where the answers are "RTFD + link or snippet from link". They show no effort or research. If the OP states "I've read [this](#) doc and cannot understand the solution can someone please clarify" then sure, go for it. –  rlemon Aug 16 '12 at 16:32
possible duplicate of Are we allowed to ask "What are the differences" questions? –  kiamlaluno Aug 16 '12 at 21:47
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2 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

If they're as trivial as the example you show, then no, they shouldn't exist IMO.

If they are about finer points of the inner workings of two methods that do almost the same thing, and those finer points are not obvious from the documentation, it may be fair to ask.

I guess a good way to tell one apart from the other is the quality of the valid answers received. If they essentially restate the documentation, the question is crap. If they look more like this however, there is clearly value to having the question around.

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There are after all languages, or portions of languages, that have notably poor documentation. If a copy/paste/link of the docs is a suitable answer, then the question probably shouldn't be asked. If it's not, then it's not a bad question at all. –  Servy Aug 16 '12 at 14:57
Where do we draw the line? Some might be able to skim the docs and find the answer quickly, others may need a hand holding to get through it. Do we hold all of the hands? or do we let them read the docs... play around... get some bugs... then ask questions on said bugs? –  rlemon Aug 16 '12 at 14:58
I'm not sure there is an all encompassing answer to that. I think that's best evaluated on a case-by-case basis. –  Bart Aug 16 '12 at 14:59
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If someone is asking when there is

  • a language barrier (i.e. they read the documentation and did not understand some part of it)
  • limited or no documentation in the user's preferred language

Then I think it would be reasonable to ask and for someone to answer. This is assuming the asker makes it apparent they did attempt to do their own research first.

Though really, this probably is a low-incidence case...

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This has nothing to do with language barriers. –  rlemon Aug 16 '12 at 14:59
@rlemon Your specific example does not, but I was under the impression your question more general than that. –  Gaffi Aug 16 '12 at 15:00
Specifically my question is just touching on the Questions which are seemingly asking you for the information contained in the documentation. –  rlemon Aug 16 '12 at 15:08
@rlemon So if someone says "English is not my first language. I read Doc A and it says this, but I don't understand what that means. Can someone explain?", this is ok with you? –  Gaffi Aug 16 '12 at 15:12
well the first course of action I would take would be for them to ask someone who speeks their native language to help better translate. And I would close vote for "too localized" –  rlemon Aug 16 '12 at 15:13
For what it's worth, Stack Overflow is an English language site (see: Is English required on Stack Overflow?); while I appreciate the problem you've brought up, it's kind of moot - SO isn't a a translation service. Making the exception you've mentioned opens the door to a lot of low-quality, localized questions. –  jadarnel27 Aug 16 '12 at 15:16
@rlemon I suppose I don't wholly disagree with that, though I am not convinced the question is completely invalid, either. –  Gaffi Aug 16 '12 at 15:16
@jadarnel27 Fair enough, and I'm not proposing that SO should be for translation, but as Servy pointed out, not all documentation is as complete as it could be, especially with regard to language support. –  Gaffi Aug 16 '12 at 15:17
Yes, and in those cases (incomplete, or inconsistent documentation) I agree; if we have the answer provide it. –  rlemon Aug 16 '12 at 15:25
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