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How far can I refactor someone else’s code?

If an answer is good and apparently correct, but contains an obvious defect (like a coding error in an SQL response), should the error be corrected directly or should one leave a comment mentioning the problem?

My inclination would be to leave a comment if the answer is very recent and just edit the question if it was "old". I'm just curious as to the proper protocol.

  • I assume you mean this I would have been fine if you had made the edit. Also since I would have been notified of the edit, I would have rolled it back if I thought you were wrong Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 0:02
  • @SomeHelpfulCommenter Yes, that's it exactly. Using comments in this case sort of "pollutes" the answer, especially now that it's corrected. I forgot about the "rollback" feature, but now I know. Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 0:09
  • 1
    You can always delete the comments afterwards. I deleted mine Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 5:48
  • @SomeHelpfulCommenter I did not know that was possible! Happy-happy joy-joy, I learned two new things. Although "thanks" may not be welcome, you have mine. Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 13:53

2 Answers 2


Both. The priority is to have correct answers to questions, not to leave obviously incorrect answers there as there's no guarantee the poster will read the comment and improve the post.

However don't totally rewrite answers - if that's what you need to do to correct it then it means its unsalvageable so should be down voted, but if it's just a correction or improvement then go ahead and do so, but leave a comment saying why the edit is appropriate. You never know, they might have been right and your edit is wrong so leaving a comment saying you've changed it because of x means other readers can be prompted about why it's changed in case they want to see the history, plus a comment is useful feedback to the original poster.


If you are absolutly sure the answer is just a typo and the answerer is offline, then just correct it, if you have the privilige.

Otherwise leave a comment.

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