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Let me clarify first. I love Firebug and use it constantly.

However, I see it all the time, somebody answers a question with, 'look at Firebug', and I just don't think that's a good answer.

At best it could be considered a comment, but not an answer, looking at Firebug won't fix the problem, ever. It may lead one to find the problem, but it's never an answer. Okay, I shouldn't speak in absolutes, but rare are the occasions when looking at Firebug fixes anything.

Does anybody else feel this way?

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If the question is about debugging and no real specifics are given .. it should probably be closed. There are some times, however when specifics can't be given (and that's noted in the question) where people take shots in the dark. I don't think its really helpful .. but yeah, it is an answer. – Tim Post Jul 27 '10 at 20:21
Link it, or it never happened. – Ladybug Killer Jul 27 '10 at 21:57

5 Answers 5

I've posted answers suggesting Firebug before. "Teach a man to fish" and so on.

But I try to also answer the question. After all, if I can't answer it using Firebug, what's the point of recommending it?

Questions that can't be answered because the user didn't provide enough information (no test case illustrating the problem) probably shouldn't be answered at all. But "Get Firebug" in a comment might help...

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I put these all into the 'RTFM', 'turn up your tool's error logging', and 'post some gdamd code already' classification of answers. :) – Ether Jul 27 '10 at 20:31


"I suggest you try debugging" is never a (complete) valid answer to any StackOverflow question. As suggested by the other answerers, if a question is so vague that the only thing an answerer can think of is "use firebug" then it means that there is not enough information to answer it.

However, there are often questions which do have valid answers, and the poster is still told to simply use firebug. This is NOT the behaviour we should be encouraging. Any teacher will tell you that the answer alone will not usually help anyone.

To use the standard analogy. If you give a starving man a fishing pole, well, he still can't eat that.

The best response is both. An answer along the lines of

"In Firebug (link) there is a 'Something' panel. If you use that, you'll notice that XYZ is causing your problem of ABC. To resolve it, you could foo the bar. [Code sample of you fooing a bar]"

That way you have both solved their problem, and grown them as a programmer.

Answer the question AND encourage them to use firebug.

  • It is not accusatory and condescending the way "Use Firebug" is.
  • It encourages them to solve their own problems in the future by giving them the tools.
  • It solves their problem directly, which encourages them to return to StackOverflow in the future.
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Do you have an example where someone did that? "We need more information, can you check Firebug and add what it says to your question" is fine; "use Firebug to fix it yourself" isn't, I would probably downvote an answer that did that

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Alone, as an answer, it's not very helpful. Often, though, it's clear that the OP doesn't have a clue how to debug their javascript code and pointing out that there are tools you can use, like Firebug or the IE8 Developer tools, can make an answer more helpful than others that don't mention the tools at all. I know that I've often ended an answer with "... and if that doesn't work, it's time to fire up Firebug and debug the javascript" or something similar.

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See This question For an example. The "big gray block" is the background for the page showing through his footer, Which at least 7 people (I assume using firebug) located without any problem. If we can see the answer when looking at the question through the proper lens (Firebug), Then I suggest that directing the questioner to the proper tool is part of a valid answer. "Look at firebug" is not an answer. However, (imho) "This is the answer and this is how I found the answer" is a better answer than just "this is the answer".

It seems to me people should at least try to look at the code with a debugger before asking "What is this big gray block?" kind of questions. If they don't, then I assume that they do not know how and try to steer them in the right direction. We can't assume that everyone knows what we do. Perhaps this should be suggested as part of the "how to ask good questions" section.

People here seem to have all different levels of expertise, and I think it should be encouraged for the more experienced among us to be patient with the newbie. Teaching to fish is a much more valid answer than the "this is a stupid question" type of attitude I sometimes encounter when dealing with the very knowledgeable. I knew how to locate the problem easily, but this person didn't. I hope that I helped him to know how for next time. Just a simple answer without the suggestion to try Firebug definitely would not.

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