In Linux and UNIX environments there's a blurry line between programmer APIs, and aspects of the system which are accessed by system administrators, particularly around '/proc' and '/sys' filesystems. The answer to a programming question can well be 'parse proc'. But a question that says "What's the format of file suchandsuch in /proc?" is likely to be migrated from Stack Overflow to Unix and Linux. That creates a problem that a Linux developer has two places to look for answers. Wouldn't it be better to keep things that delve into '/proc' in a probably programmatic way on Stack Overflow?

Full disclosure: I'm writing this, because I did a double take when question Find out what device /dev/root represents in Linux? was migrated. It could come from a system administrator or a programmer, so it could legitimately live in either place: why not just leave it where it started?


Programming questions are off-topic on Unix & Linux; this is mentioned in the FAQ. The target audience of Unix & Linux is mainly users and administrators. We get the occasional programming question posted on U&L; we migrate them to Stack Overflow.

There is inevitably overlap. In particular, shell scripting is on-topic on both sites: on U&L because power users and administrators often write scripts, on SO because shells are programming languages. Interactive shell use is off-topic on SO and any question about it should be migrated to Super User, or to Unix & Linux if applicable. “Advanced” scripting languages such as Perl and Python are off-topic on U&L and any question about writing Perl or Python scripts are migrated to SO.

Another borderline subject is questions about obtaining system information, such as the one you cite. Typically a question requesting a C API call should be at home on SO, while a question requesting a shell command should be at home. Here, the question explicitly requested “solutions that would work from a shell/python script but not C”. This puts the question in the administrator-writing-a-script realm more than in the programmer-obtaining-system-information realm.

Furthermore, the specific question — finding the device associated with /dev/root — is not one that many programs need. It is very much tied to precise knowledge of how Linux boots. The people who are most likely to know that are either the people who programmed the Linux kernel, or people who administrate Linux machines and and have worked on tricky boot situations.

So the question is borderline, but on balance slightly tilted towards U&L. I think this justifies the migration.

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As the mod who migrated this and as a fairly regular Linux user I felt that this question, because of its subject, would get a better chance of a good answer on U&L.

Yes it's borderline but as Gilles says it is does lean towards U&L.

In addition to what Gilles said about "finding the device associated with /dev/root — is not one that many programs need", what also influenced my decision was this part:

I'm looking for solutions that would work from a shell/python script but not C

Asking for a shell (or python) solution suggested that the user was trying to solve an administrative/configuration task, he/she also explicitly made it clear that C based solutions were not acceptable (ok, "no C please" does not in itself stop it being a Stack Overflow question).

I also know that Gilles and Michael Mrozek (U&L site mod) would have been down on me like a ton of bricks if I had frivolously migrated this question.

That all said, if the OP strongly objected to having his question migrated and made a reasonable case for it to remain on Stack Overflow then I am happy to revert. However, having migrated the question to U&L it attracted three reasonably well upvoted answers in fairly short order.

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The whole point of a migration is to get the user better answers to their question in a faster amount of time. A question being off topic is one prerequisite for migration, but not the only one.

There are some questions that would be appropriate on more than one site. If the question you linked had even 2 - 3 lines of Python (or Bash, or Perl, ...) code that wasn't working, the migration would not have been appropriate.

What it comes down to is a simple question "Is the author of this question obviously using a programming language to solve a problem?" If yes, then the question probably meets Stack Overflow's on topic guidelines. It should then be up to the author to migrate their question. They may have asked strategically, perhaps hoping that a higher traffic site might get them a faster answer.

The example you gave did allude to Python/shell, but the meat of the question really didn't support that. I would have removed the reference to Python prior to migrating the question, however.

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Well, there's definitely a blurred line there, given the expectation that unix sysadmins will do some amount of programming as part of that.

I'd say a good way to decide is whether the question would be mostly applicable to people scripting sysadmin stuff, or whether it's something that would reasonably come up when writing a full application expected to be distributed and used as such.

The question you mention here strikes me as leaning a fair amount toward the former, where I think migration makes sense.

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There are borderline questions in nearly every OS/environment tag. For example there are tons of posts dealing with configuring IIS to get your programmed WCF service running.

My impression is that on all non-*ix borderline questions good ones are allowed to stay and not-so-good those "Help! <insert-product-name> doesn't work! Plz help!!!" are migrated/closed/downvoted.

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  • Remember, though, that migration is not a way to dump bad, unwanted questions off on other sites. The number one rule of migration is that you don't migrate crap. – Cody Gray Jul 29 '11 at 13:08
  • Since *ix is the uncharted part of my tag-universe I don't know how many bad questions show up there and what happens to them. – Filburt Jul 29 '11 at 18:40
  • I may have exaggerated the bad question example - it's not actually crap but shows that the asker shows little to no intention to master the concepts of the specific OS/environment/product. – Filburt Jul 29 '11 at 18:48

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