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There was a small debate which took place in the comments for podcast #58 regarding linking to an answer (such as MSDN, php.net, or other definitive sources) versus providing it inline. What is the community's position on the proper etiquette here?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

My usual practice is to link to the resource but either quote a short but relevant section (e.g. the "remarks" section of an MSDN page) or praise it. Creating a verbatim copy of a large amount of text is only good in the face of the resource being removed - which I suspect isn't going to happen for MSDN .NET documentation, Wikipedia or JavaDoc as three common examples. (I'm hoping the last MSDN re-org was the last for a while.) However, the document may very well be updated to become more accurate as time goes on. Copying more of a document than could reasonably be called "fair use" could run into legal issues, too.

Where possible add some extra value:

  • Explain how it's relevant to the specific question
  • Balance multiple points of view by referring to other documents
  • Give some sample code around the general point stated by the document
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I chose this as the accepted answer because its basically what I said except with more detail. –  Rob Allen Jun 29 '09 at 14:23

I think the StackOverflow sites should strive to be both authoritative and self-contained.

While a link to a pre-existing answer might be appropriate for "fair use," the most relevant information should be included (an re-authored, where appropriate) as part of a specific and complete answer to question.

I'm not advocating wholesale copy-and-pasting other people's work but a simple link to another site does not bring the content of that site under the scrutiny of the StackOverflow process (voting, comments, etc). I might up-vote a link while not necessarily agreeing with everything on that site. And a comment about the contents of another website would probably be confusing and out of place.

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I assume by "another site" you mean in some forum somewhere, rather than on ServerFault, etc.

Personally, when I find the answer to a question in a forum, I do something like this:

Sounds like your problem is X - I found this solution on WebsiteX:

\\ Code example
Example code is here

This gives attribution to the original poster on the original site, but provides the answer inline here.

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Yes, I am referring specifically to links to content not controlled by Jeff or Joel. –  Rob Allen Jun 28 '09 at 18:03

IMO, link to the original source and provide a quote of the text of the relevant section. It saves time for the reader who can then at least decide if the response is relevant before trudging their way through whatever page they land on. It also provides historical context for the original intent of the answerer in case the text on the linked page changes substantially.

Also, links move and no one is perfect when it comes to providing new locations for things. Microsoft often orphaned several help links the last time they reorganized MSDN and it wasn't for lack of trying.

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