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We need a Stack Exchange site for error messages. Imagine every error message under the sun documented in detail.

Compare a question I asked earlier with:

Title:

svn: Can't replace 'X' with a node of a differing type; the deletion must be committed and the parent updated before adding 'X'

Body:

I'm using --- to manage our repository. In trunk, file X has been replaced a directory. When trying to merge this to a branch, I get the error ---.

Tags:

Why this is a good idea:

  • every application in the world is under-documented,
  • most error messages just result in out-of-date forum postings (the problem Stack Overflow was built for),
  • very few application authors have done the legwork,
    • (open source is especially bad at this)
  • just using existing sites probably won't work (see below).

Why other solutions are worse:

Having a simple tag on each site is simple, but:

  • The tag exists on Stack Overflow, and is practically unused (it may seem like this is an argument that no-one needs it, but I don't think that's the case).
  • Setting up a workable system — and getting people to use it — would be hard.
  • People would object to error messages showing up amongst "proper questions."
  • The directions on each site seem to be against this.
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I see someone is using his word-a-day calendar. –  Brad Gilbert Jul 17 '09 at 19:04
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@Brad Gilbert - sadly the word-of-the-day got lost in a rewrite. –  Paul Biggar Jul 17 '09 at 23:10
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5 Answers

I don't see why a separate site is needed.

  • If the error message is from a development tool (i.e. a compiler or virtual machine), it goes on StackOverflow.
  • If the error message comes from some kind of server process, it goes on ServerFault.
  • Otherwise, it goes on Super User.

The fact is that a lot of error messages don't get properly tested (because the error conditions are hard for testers to hit), so it isn't uncommon that an error message could mean one of many different things, some of which have nothing to do with the error message. So having some kind of error message site which would explain error messages wouldn't be all that helpful I don't think.

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Right. Most error messages need so discussion. Some mean "there is something wrong with the X", some mean "X is wrong with the Y in the Z context" and some mean "reinstall windows". –  Paul Biggar Jul 17 '09 at 20:00
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You can propose an error messages site at Area 51. (Yes, I know A51 didn't exist when this question was posted.) I'm not endorsing such a site; I think that using the existing sites would be sufficient, and indeed preferable. But A51 is the place for site proposals.

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Why couldn't this just be a tag: tool-error-messages?

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It could, almost. This would require community support, faq entries, etc. It would need to be replicated across each site. There would be a fine line between what goes on which site (esp programming vs server). Its tricky, but in theory completely doable. However, it wouldnt be as good. Imagine a site with every error message under the sun, what problem it solves, and all the workarounds. Now imagine it implemented as tags on each site. Not so good :( –  Paul Biggar Jul 17 '09 at 17:30
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I think trying to generalize error messages is a major over simplification. Error messages pertain to a specific tool/product, and you should receive help from people using the products. Making one large database of error messages for all products will simply be filled with noise as no one is a "error message" expert. Contributors would have a daunting task of sorting through thousands of error messages on the question pages looking for ones they could actually answer.

People become familiar with the tools they use and can share that knowledge with you. Can anyone really claim to be a cross product error message expert? I mean, who here could really discuss resolutions to errors outside of maybe 20 products -- not counting obviously verbose error messages?

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All of these issues scream "stackoverflow". –  Paul Biggar Jul 18 '09 at 9:27
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An "exception" icon option next to the "code sample" icon for the editor would be nice as well. That way the exception could be color coded and made search engine friendly.

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