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Whenever I spot a broken link in a question or an answer in StackOverflow (an other sites on StackExchange), I search for the latest version available in The Wayback Machine and replace the link. Before this idea occurred to me, I missed out several broken links myself. So, my intention in doing so was to make the answer/post available to the reader.

But, recently I stopped doing it, as I am doubtful whether pointing to a currently non-existing content from the archive is ethical or not. It might be possible that the owner of the broken-link no longer desires to show the content to anyone -- the scenario out of the possibilities that bothers me.

I am undecided. I would like to learn about the community's opinion in this matter.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 25 down vote accepted

If the link is broken, it is helping no one.

It is best to replace it with a canonical one from elsewhere, but if that doesn't exist, an archive.org link is absolutely fine.

Your apprehensions are a bit misplaced, IMHO. You can't guess as to why a page is no longer there and people who do post things on the web should know that "the web doesn't forget".

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11  
Note that if the author wishes, he can remove the content from the Archive. –  Shog9 Apr 1 '13 at 18:14
    
@Oded thanks for responding. Could you please elaborate what you meant by "a canonical one?" –  Barn Monkey Apr 1 '13 at 18:17
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@BarnMonkey - I mean, as much as possible, an official source. Say Java documentation from sun. HTML/CSS/XML documentation from W3 and such. –  Oded Apr 1 '13 at 18:21
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@Oded, I understand what you meant by "canonical" now. But, just an hour ago I was reading an answer on StackOverflow, in which the poster included a (currently broken) link to a git configuration. Things like that might be unique and may not be found at an official source say at the "git-scm.com"; site. That's all. But, now I see that my apprehensions were indeed misplaced. –  Barn Monkey Apr 1 '13 at 18:27

We almost implemented something to fix broken links automatically, if the archive had a snapshot of the page at the time of the revision where the link was introduced. Since they (the archive) now have a pretty nice REST API, it's a possibility we considered.

It was technically a tad messy, but feasible to do this, since we do have a broken link checker that's currently gathering some dust, and the ability to have the community user edit / re-bake the posts.

The problem is, posts with broken links also have other problems that generally need addressing, one of which being that the broken link is quite often the majority of the answer. Fixing the link helps, yes, but it doesn't fix the actual content that we're serving, as far as our quality standards go.

However, yes - it's okay to edit a broken link to point to the archive, just make sure that:

  • You try to point to the same version of the page that the original author was pointing to, whenever possible
  • You try to fix anything else that might be wrong. If the post depends on an external link for context - that's a problem, things should (for the most part) be able to stand on their own.
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Since minor edits are ok, links should be changed even if the rest isn't till reviewed another time. –  Jonathan Drapeau Sep 17 at 13:51
    
If the existence of broken link is a useful indicator of potential problems with the post, perhaps the link checker should be dusted off and begin channeling posts into LQ review queue [adding a message: broken link detected]? Or simply make the list of posts with broken links available to enthusiastic editors through some non-obvious URL like meta.stackexchange.com/annotated-posts –  Rafflesia arnoldii Sep 17 at 14:54

Got here because I was about to ask the same thing.

My view on this is that it is OK to link to the cached snapshot. Better still, you can copy the relevant code to the answer and improve it. This way the knowledge will be not lost for a second time, if the snapshot was removed from the archive for some reason.

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