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Why was "Why is `ls -al & ; ls -al` invalid?" closed as "off-topic" by a moderator, with precisely zero community votes to that effect?

The previous concensus appears to be (example) that Bash "programming" is on-topic on Stack Overflow. I struggle to find a way to use Bash without programming, though.

It seems a shame that once again I must come to meta to find community concensus on the issue, because the original mechanism to apply community concensus (that is, voting) has been overridden! [edit: I forget that flags can lead to this outcome. Still. That's why I don't like that flags can override the voting mechanism.]

Never mind; @BoltClock has re-opened it.

I guess that settles that!

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closed as off-topic by CRABOLO, Martijn Pieters, Lance Roberts, Fundamental, mmyers Jan 22 at 17:01

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question pertains only to a specific site in the Stack Exchange Network. Questions on Meta Stack Exchange should pertain to our network or software that drives it as a whole, within the guidelines defined in the help center. You should ask this question on the meta site where your concern originated." – CRABOLO, Martijn Pieters, Community, mmyers
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Also note the downvotes for self-answering which remains an ongoing problem born out of ignorance. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 8 '13 at 13:20
Moderators respond to flags; if a moderator closed it then that is usually because there were a number of flags raised on the question by users that do not yet have the right to vote to close. – Martijn Pieters Feb 8 '13 at 13:22
Frankly, I just think it was a very uninteresting question. It seemd not a realistic problem, or at least way too localized. I can come up with so many 'questions' of that type... – sehe Feb 8 '13 at 13:22
@MartijnPieters: Oh I always forget about that factor – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 8 '13 at 13:22
@sehe: It's pretty realistic (it was reported to me by students who had been taught the incorrect version by their lecturer), and it's not localised because people use "&" all the time. That you can come up with similar questions doesn't seem relevant – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 8 '13 at 13:23
I reopened it. I don't see why it should have been closed. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Feb 8 '13 at 13:23
@BoltClock'saUnicorn: Thanks! – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 8 '13 at 13:24
As a not-so-active Linux user I would go "that's not programming" on gut instinct. More a SU/linux-related-SE question. That said, I would have stayed out of voting on that one. It's one of those tricky edge situations I'd say. – Bart Feb 8 '13 at 13:25
@Bart: Perhaps some of the problem is that I have a well-honed abstraction skill. Even when the question comes from a real problem (which, of course, *ahem* it always does) the localised specifics get abstracted away to leave just the question about the language. I guess that can lead to it looking like I just made it up without actually doing any physical programming. I make no apology for it because I think it's positive (and are we going to have webcams on people making sure that they're really programming?), but I can see how it may make a question appear to approach that line. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 8 '13 at 13:27
@LightnessRacesinOrbit Hah, that might be the case indeed. – Bart Feb 8 '13 at 13:28
@TimPost hmm I've been trained not to put answers in questions. Is that different here on meta? – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 8 '13 at 14:52
You've abstracted all the script away and all you have left is "how do I run ls both in the background and foreground in a bash shell?" which is off topic. – Won't Feb 8 '13 at 17:24
@Won't: Nope - I stopped abstracting when I hit an unexpected syntax error that I could not explain. :) The question is not about ls; it is about why that semicolon is invalid in that position in an arbitrary command in Bash. It is a question about a programming language which is what we are here for. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 8 '13 at 17:48
@LightnessRacesinOrbit: Oh it was a bash command question. Well, that certainly would have been off topic on U&L and completely on topic on a programming Q&A site. I have been appropriately chastised. – Won't Feb 8 '13 at 18:21

1 Answer 1

It's a tricky edge question. If you tag something , you're talking about one of two things:

  • Writing a shell script (using bash as an interpreter)
  • Typing commands in the shell directly (also using bash as an interpreter)

The question of on topic really boils down to what you were trying to do in either scenario. If it was more in the realm of manipulating or moving files around, installing a package or something else that really isn't about writing a stored program for bash to run, then you're in the realm of off topic. Super User, Unix or possibly Ask Ubuntu would be the spot for that.

Now, if you were doing something like this:

[ -d home ] || { echo "Oh, NOEZ!"; }

... Then you're getting into the programming realm.

Your question is clearly about bash not parsing something that you think it should parse, so I believe it is on topic. However, I can see why someone would say 'this is someone typing commands in the shell, it's not about programming'.

You could just as easy have said "I have this in my bash script" - so I don't see any reason to close it.

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I guess it comes down to the idea of forming commands rather than simply using them. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 8 '13 at 14:24
That's probably the best way to describe it. Usually the distinction is a bit more cut and dry. If it was just struggling with find or something, that's different. Though, I would not consider a question about an awk pattern categorically off topic. But semantics of the parser itself? I think you're generally safe. – Tim Post Feb 8 '13 at 14:30

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