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Triggered by this answer; quoting:

You are on the right track. Take a look at this article. There are many other articles on that topic I think, so choose one and try to understand it.

Another way I would recommend is integration of spring security with Struts 2. That way you get secured and proven configurable security stack.

It's not just a link, but it almost is, and includes a suggestion to do something other than what the OP is asking. The suggestion is valid, too, although it doesn't directly answer the question.

I'm trying to understand where the line is drawn, and this specific answer is giving me some problems. The OP's original question is too broad to be answered in a reasonable way. Chopping it down to its core makes it answerable without too much boilerplate.

Note: The original answer has since been expanded eliminating any doubt. But I appreciate everybody's input; it was all quite helpfule.

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this particular line is not straight (it is very curved), so it really depends on your X position. Ok, I suck at metaphors... But what I am trying to say it is that every case is special and is hard to draw a line that applies to all cases (therefore a curved must be drawn) –  ajax333221 Sep 4 '12 at 18:52

3 Answers 3

up vote 21 down vote accepted

For an answer with a link to be "link-only" and unable to stand on its own as an answer, I usually consider the following (all interdependent) factors:

  • If I refuse to click on the link, or if the link is dead, does the answer becomes useless?

  • Does it answer the question? Is it compromised whether by having unsubstantiated content or as a consequence of the linked resource being unavailable?

  • Where does that link point to? What does it describe? Does the content of the answer make any effort to quote or summarize the resource that's being linked to? If not, this is not a good answer.

These apply to questions as well, especially web dev questions with only links to fiddles or sites with live code and no description or reproduction of the code whatsoever.

Even your question makes for a good example: if you hadn't quoted the content of the answer and instead just provided a link, what if the answer got deleted or converted to a comment? Then users with less than 10k reputation on the main site won't be able to see the answer anymore, which would make your question less clear to those users.

If in doubt, you could cast a down vote if the answer doesn't look useful. You may also wish to post a comment requesting clarification or expansion.

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Good steps; I never really enumerated them in my head like that. –  Dave Newton Sep 4 '12 at 17:23
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the first bullet is absolutely essential –  Jeff Atwood Sep 4 '12 at 23:07

I'd draw the line right down the middle of that answer. The first half, despite having some words around the link, would still be considered link-only. The extra words don't really provide any value. The second half does make it an answer (not a great one, but an answer still).

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Fair enough. If it had just been the second part, what then? It doesn't address the technical nature of the question and instead says "here's what I think you should do instead". –  Dave Newton Sep 4 '12 at 17:26
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@DaveNewton Given that it's only two sentences, I'd probably convert that to a comment. If they'd gone into a complete and detailed alternate solution, I'd probably leave it, since it does possibly have some value. –  Bill the Lizard Sep 4 '12 at 17:37

There are plenty of other reasons why an answer can be poor beyond the presence or prevalence of links. "Link-only" is a pretty good indicator of a poor answer, but some (rare) answers consisting only of links are fine - and there are certainly many link-free answers that are complete garbage.

I would simply call that a poor answer, which could be improved somewhat by summarizing the process - whether by quoting or paraphrasing the linked article, or simply by spending a little time to go over the steps briefly before providing links to more in-depth documentation.

Another way to look at this is to mentally remove the links and read the answer - if it does not (as BoltClock notes) stand on its own to some degree, then down-vote it.

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Reading the answer as plain text is how I do it too. If that doesn't produce at least a beginning of an answer (e.g. it's “Read this article.”), then (as a moderator) I delete the answer, or convert it to a comment if the link looks helpful; (as an ordinary user) I flag as “not an answer”. This is assuming I can't or don't want to edit the answer. Before that I leave a comment encouraging the poster to add real content, if I think it's likely to spur him into editing (I don't think it often works). –  Gilles Sep 5 '12 at 0:39

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