Typically when I see a link-only answer, I have to use a custom flag and explain in the text box that it is, usually simply in the form of typing just "link-only answer."

I think that there should be a "link-only answer" option in the flag reason dialog box. This would make it a lot easier to flag these types of answers.

Also, the community disagrees with link-only answers being OK. Why not make it easier to flag?

Furthermore, mods and/or 10k-ers don't even seem to know what to flag them as at all:

(one of my flags)
(a different user's flag from this question)

  • 9
    Currently, the consensus is to flag them with Not an Answer reason to reduce workload for community mod.
    – nhahtdh
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 4:37
  • 2
    @nhahtdh this "consensus" doesn't look strong. If consensus was really strong, I would expect this at least to be reflected in either link-only-answers or not-an-answer tag wiki - but so far, this isn't so
    – gnat
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 6:30
  • @gnat: Let me link back to your question on this issue, which is more recent compare to the link in your comment. The question also has input (in the comments to the question and answers) from the mods who actually handles the flags on SO. Their comments show support for NAA flag on link only answer.
    – nhahtdh
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 10:00
  • @nhahtdh well, accepted answer in the question you refer to, covers this as follows: "...In some meta posts or comments you may see moderators suggesting / requiring particular kind flag to be used (or to avoid) for link-only answers. Convenient litmus test in cases like that is to ask author whether this is their personal opinion or a statement that can be quoted in tag wiki (wiki for respective flag or for link-only answers). Tag wiki are quite authoritative reference; anything else, read: use at your own risk..."
    – gnat
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 11:28
  • 2
    Link only answers don't need to be flagged. Just deal with them or don't, but don't bug the mods. Commented Mar 11, 2013 at 16:21
  • 4
    +1 for the screenshot.
    – Undo
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 14:42
  • @LanceRoberts Define "deal with them"? Down-vote? Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 16:14
  • 1
    @Duncan, I would only downvote them if the link didn't answer the question. I'm perfectly happy if a link answers my question and solves my problem and saves me days of work. If you want to deal with them, then edit in appropriate text, or leave a comment for the poster to do that. Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 16:16

3 Answers 3


Ok... I stand by my original answer, but I'm adding another one to address the confusion raised by the declined flags in your screenshots. First off, let's be clear about two things:

  • Moderators do make mistakes, and different moderators handle different flags differently.

  • Discussing flag-handling without the context of the answers being flagged is pointless at best.

With that out of the way, here are the two answers that were flagged:

Here's a way to do it (including the command-line parameters) using a Gant script; see How can I run a Groovy class from the command-line within a Grails environment?

^^^ Flagged as "link-only answer". Question not flagged as a duplicate, probably because the person who posted that answer posted the actual answer he was linking to in his question. No one bothered pointing this out to him, or informing the moderator of this.

I think this is a duplicate question.
Prevent Gnome Terminal From Exiting After Execution
and possibly this
Avoid gnome-terminal close after script execution?

^^^ Flagged as "not an answer" - by eight different people - AND flagged as "Links only answer" by one person. All flags declined. Number of "duplicate" flags or votes on the question itself? Zero.

Do you see what I'm getting at in my other answer now? If you expect consistent handling for a flag reason that's trite and overly-broad, you're in for a lot of disappointment. Nine flags on that last answer, but no one bothered looking at the bigger problem: the question itself was a duplicate. This isn't even rare. Usually, the moderator handling these will mark the flag as helpful if he ends up doing anything - but sometimes, they get frustrated with stuff like this...

On Stack Overflow, the top moderators are handling hundreds of these sorts of flags every day. They generally do a really great job of it, but... Their time is precious. Most "not answers" are readily identifiable as such - so when there's a bit of subtlety to it, it's worth calling that out. If you don't, and the moderator misses it, it'll be them - not you - getting called out here on Meta, called fascists in comments, harassed via email. For this reason, they'll generally try to figure out what (if anything) actually needs to be done in response to a flag, even if the flag reason is unclear - and if they think you were flagging in good faith, they'll generally mark it as helpful.

Rather than looking at a couple of data-points, let's look at everything:

  • Not an answer - all-time "helpful" rate: 97%
  • Some variation on "link only answer" - all-time days "helpful" rate: 97%
  • Not an answer - last 90 days "helpful" rate: 96%
  • Some variation on "link only answer" - last 90 days "helpful" rate: 97%
  • "Strong candidate for linkrot" - last 90 days "helpful" rate: 100%

Moderators can make mistakes, but they're not thoughtless - if there's some validity to your flag, even if you did a really poor job of explaining the situation, chances are it'll still be marked as helpful. If you're really concerned though, take a few extra seconds and explain the specific problem.

I'll state this again for emphasis: stop looking for yet another trite bit of text you can easily slap on a dozen different types of answers; if an answer clearly "makes no effort to answer the question" then just use NAA - otherwise, describe the actual problem.


  • 5
    Your answer contains not just one, but a whole plethora of links. It even includes a link to another answer under the same question. This makes me uncomfortable and as such, I've flagged it as offensive. Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 15:02
  • I edited to clarify, @Josh - and added a couple of links to related discussions that illustrate the danger. It's easy to get hung up on a few specific examples and miss the larger picture, and I didn't really lay out that larger picture very well. FWIW, my big concern here is that another very broad default flag type would increase the number of unnecessary flags and potentially unnecessary deletions as well: we want to discourage woefully incomplete answers, not links - but "link-only" doesn't really make that clear, given that it's almost never used on answers that are only links.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 19:35
  • That means that we should have a crash-course-for-SO-moderation. Why should the SO community suffer at the hands of incompetent moderators? The OP suffered because of moderators' lack of knowledge, not mistake.
    – Sufian
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 5:43

In addition to Wesley's excellent answer, I'd like to note that "link-only answer" is kind of a crappy flag since it doesn't describe why the answer is a problem that needs moderator attention:

  • Is the link broken (and have you tried to fix it)?
  • Is it spam / excessive promotion (and why aren't you using that flag then)?
  • Does the answer make no effort to answer the question (if only there was a flag for that...)?
  • Are you upset that someone might gain rep purely for their Google skills (do you need a shoulder to cry on, or will your stack of rapidly depreciating books suffice)?

You can always leave custom flags if the stock ones don't meet your needs - but if you do, try to provide enough information that moderators can make a reasonable guess at what action you think is necessary before they invest the time looking into it.

(As an aside: actual link-only answers are blocked, and have been for some time. There's also a system for reviewing broken links in the works that'll hopefully help streamline some of this.)

  • This is what I mean.
    – Doorknob
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 13:47
  • 1
    Then refer to devinb's excellent answer there: "When someone goes on StackOverflow, the question "answer" should actually contain an answer. Not just a bunch of directions towards the answer." If the answer clearly makes no effort to answer the question, then there's already a flag for that.
    – Shog9
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 16:38
  • 1
    -1 "doesn't describe why"? give me a break. By definition ("can't stand on their own"), the difference from "classical" not-an-answer is that target URL may have an answer to the question. This makes evaluation of proposed flag as easy as it gets. Jist imagine that underlying link went 404 (for mod handling flag this means simply don't-click-the-link) and decide whether it qualifies as standard not-an-answer if transformed that way. If it does, mark flag helpful and convert-to-comment; otherwise - decline...
    – gnat
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 7:29
  • ... "Invest the time" yeah sure, just a notch above what it takes for standard not an answer, gotta be freaking hard
    – gnat
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 7:29
  • If folks limited their flagging to answers that clearly made no effort to answer the question, there'd obviously be no need for a new flag @gnat. I've seen folks flagging "link only" answers that explicitly answered the question and then included a link, or that linked to a different SO question, leaving the moderator reviewing the flag to wonder of the flagger thought the question was a duplicate or just thought the answer was too short and didn't want to waste a down-vote. Presumably if you're flagging you have a specific problem in mind - so say what it is.
    – Shog9
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 15:13
  • Your comments and bounty seem to indicate concern that there's ambiguity in the advice here - well, that's why. Look at the other flags: "not an answer", "low quality", "spam", "offensive"... They all describe specific problems... not symptoms. There's no "contains question marks" flag, or "is very short and lacks some punctuation" flag, or "links to a commercial product" flag, or "uses dirty words" flag. Folks are expected, upon seeing such symptoms, to use their heads and decide if those are signs of a more severe problem - a large amount of link in an answer is the same.
    – Shog9
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 15:19
  • 2
    @Shog9 I find it hard to believe that specific problem is that difficult to recognize. Universal adoption of reference post on link only answers makes me wonder what makes you think it's complicated? As stated there, answers that "deferred the answering to somewhere else" are eligible for flagging, anything else isn't. Put that statement to flag description and go ahead, it's sure not more complicated than one we use for another flag, "This was posted as an answer, but it does not attempt to..."
    – gnat
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 15:21
  • And why is another flag necessary for answers that "do not attempt to answer the question", @gnat? As I said, the system blocks answers that consist of nothing but a link - is it so hard to read the (minimum 30) characters that are not link and decide whether or not they address the question before flagging? Or are there answers that do attempt to answer the question asked, but you feel should be removed anyway due to the presence of links - if so, why?
    – Shog9
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 15:44
  • 1
    @Shog9 Can you please elaborate on "do not attempt"? As I already stated above, target URL may have an answer to the question - that qualifies as attempt and successful one to me. The fact that answer is deferred is a separate problem, isn't it?
    – gnat
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 15:53
  • Kinda depends on the question, doesn't it @gnat?
    – Shog9
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 15:57
  • 1
    how's that? I don't follow, sorry
    – gnat
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 16:00
  • I'm looking for specific problems here, things that can be clearly identified and agreed on by both flaggers and moderators. I'm sure you have something in mind, but I keep hearing, "I want a flag that can be used on answers with links" - which are not necessarily problems in and of themselves. Drop into chat if you wanna discuss this further, @gnat.
    – Shog9
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 16:06

As mentioned, the easiest way to properly flag these is "Not an answer". This is fairly broad, and I assume on purpose, because there are so many different reasons to flag. "Not an answer" flags also appear in the 10k moderator tools, unlike custom ones, so they can be handled by community mods without wasting valuable diamond mod resources.

"it is spam" or "it is not welcome in our community" are handled with more urgency and may have worse consequences then having your post deleted, like being banned or a reputation reduction. The only other option is "custom" which is a catch-all for anything that doesn't fit the other criteria, and I believe has the lowest priority.

I don't think we need a new flag reason specifically for every possiblility:

  • "link only answer"
  • "this is another question"
  • "this is a request for clarification"
  • "this should be a comment"
  • "this is a thank you message"
  • etc.

...or anything else that "not an answer" can cover, unless the reason is because the flag will be handled in a different manner. Otherwise, keep the UI simple for us and the moderators.

Aside: If the link does in fact answer the question and you have time to hang around, ask the author to please cite the relevant parts from the link. Feel free to downvote to get his attention. A good answer with a link is better than a flagged/removed answer. You may find the Pro-forma comments userscript useful, and you can refer them here: Are answers that just contain links elsewhere really "good answers"? Sometimes, one lecture is enough to improve the author's posting style and raise awareness of why link-only answers are bad.

  • unaccepted because this doesn't really seem to be agreed upon (see my edit to my question)
    – Doorknob
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 12:42
  • I see, and have turned my -1 to a +1. Perhaps there simply needs to be some consistency with the way these flags are handled by the mods. A "link only" flag would help that, although I still don't think it's necessary.
    – user159834
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 14:40

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