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I have found that the best way to search on Stack Overflow is to start to ask a question and use the suggestions it gives me. I do this since I have found the search textbox to be mostly useless.

What are some other good tips for searching Stack Overflow?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jul 14 '09 at 13:20

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

    
Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6428/… –  Chris S Jul 27 '09 at 12:52
    
for late visitors: Search Tips –  Brad Mace Aug 21 '11 at 4:24

7 Answers 7

Use Google to search Stackoverflow. If that doesn't work start asking your question. When you have typed the title look at the list of similar questions. Sometimes the list will show you a question close enough to yours that you don't need to ask your own.

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+1 exactly what I would've said. –  cletus Jul 14 '09 at 15:19

Posting a new question is probably the worst way to search Stack Overflow, since it makes it harder on those of us that are trying to kill dupes. However, it's been brought up before that the title search is a bit better than the full search. Which is odd, because according to the Powers That Be, the full search does title + text, while the title search just looks at other titles.

You can always use Google, which is really Stack Overflow's home page.

Also, use tags. The "interested" tags section highlights questions with your tags on there, making them stand out so you can peruse what interests you.

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5  
I do not create a new question, I just pose one and choose to follow one of the links that are generated. Using Tags doesn't narrow the search enough. How is that making it harder for you to kill dupes? –  Lill Lansey Jul 14 '09 at 13:31
    
Ah, so you aren't posting a new question, just using the title search. –  Eric Jul 14 '09 at 13:42

In all honesty, your best bet is to use google instead when searching. I'm not sure what the blockades are to improving the SO native-search, but for now you can use google.

    site:stackoverflow.com inurl:questions search items here

Searching with tags:

    site:stackoverflow.com inurl:questions/tagged/feature-request search terms

Searching multiple tags:

    site:stackoverflow.com inurl:questions/tagged/php+mysql search terms

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2  
Add inurl:questions to the basic search as well or you'll get a lot of user profile results. –  Joel Coehoorn Jul 14 '09 at 14:55

A few recent changes in search..

  1. Search now HEAVILY weights title in the results, since people seemed to really like that approach (used on the /ask page, which searched exclusively on title alone).

  2. Any individual search terms which map directly to the top 40 tags will be auto-converted to tag searches. So if you enter

    c++ entities

    it will convert to

    [c++] entities

automagically.

Try again and see if it is more to your liking.

For more details on advanced searching options, see

http://meta.stackoverflow.com/search

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2  
+1 Good changes –  cletus Jul 27 '09 at 13:36
    
I told you we'd change your so-search-hatin' ways!! and we haven't even gotten to advanced search operators yet.. but soon! –  Jeff Atwood Jul 27 '09 at 14:25

Click on my username and you'll find a link in my profile that says "Search StackOverflow". This points you to a Google Custom Search Engine (CSE) that will limit your query to stackoverflow questions and answers only (very similar to using the site:stackoverflow + inurl:questions operators). You can bookmark that somewhere or if you are a firefox user add it to the site using a greasemonkey script.

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That sounded a lot like you would be posting a question on StackOverflow without first checking if it is a duplicate or not (which is a quick way to get your post closed if it is).

The search function on StackOverflow does stink. You can always use Google and limit the search criteria to only search on StackOverflow.com ("site:stackoverflow.com jQuery") or use http://www.askjonskeet.com as another method.

To ask a good question:

  • Be clear and concise, but do not leave out any necessary information.
  • If you have a code snippet, make sure you post it so that people can tell what you are trying to do (but be judicious, we do not need your entire project)
  • Make sure you are actually asking a question and not just rambling without some point.
  • The more good information you give us, the more good information you are going to get out of us.
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I do not create a new question, I just pose one and choose to follow one of the links that are generated. I am not asking how to ask a question here. Read my question. –  Lill Lansey Jul 14 '09 at 13:32
    
Lill: You said "I have found that the best way to search on StackOverflow is to pose a question" You did not say one way or another whether your actually submitted the question, so it is fair to assume that you did. Next time make your statements more clear (see my directions above) and we won't have this issue next time. –  TheTXI Jul 14 '09 at 13:37

I use:

s search items here

in the address bar in the Opera web-browser (which effectively works as a command line in this case) to search using Google.

This saves a lot of typing. I am using a similar shortcut for searching in ServerFault.

"s" is something I have defined, in menu Tools/Preferences/Search/Add,

Name: StackOverflow - through Google

Keyword: s

Address: http://www.google.com/search?q=site:stackoverflow.com+%s&sourceid=opera&num=%i&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

At the time of use the "%s" in the content of the Address field will be replaced by the actual string, "search items here" in the example.

By default there is already an entry with the "s" as keyword, but it can be deleted or changed.

If only questions are to be searched (and not e.g. users) then the address field would be, using Jonathan Sampson's neat trick (see his answer):

http://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Astackoverflow.com+inurl%3Aquestions%2F+%s&btnG=S%C3%B8g&meta=
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