I've asked about tools that are like sed and awk, but instead of working with regular expressions they should work with context free grammars. The question was:

Are there any tools like sed or awk that work with context free grammars instead of regular expressions?

That question was downvoted twice.

So I would like to know, knowing that questions regarding programming related tools should be asked on SO (Where is the line between programming-specific tools and programming?) what was wrong with my question?

Should I create the question again?

  • You have deleted the particular question? What was the content?
    – Bart
    Mar 3, 2013 at 16:14
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    I 'rage-deleted' it. The content was "there's any tool like sed or awk that works with context free grammars instead of regular expressions?"
    – Vandell
    Mar 3, 2013 at 16:15
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    Ah, that most likely got the negative attention because it's basically a shopping/recommendation question. And we don't do those on SO. So no, don't just create that one again.
    – Bart
    Mar 3, 2013 at 16:16
  • I see. There's any site in the SE that I can do this kind of question? Or I should just google it? Thank you for the info.
    – Vandell
    Mar 3, 2013 at 16:17
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    In that form there is no SE site to my knowledge that would be appropriate. If you can Google it, then by all means do so. An alternative would be to focus on the problem you're trying to solve. Don't explicitly ask for a tool recommendation, but explain what problem you're trying to solve and the difficulties you encounter in doing so. That might be an angle which will be more productive and on-topic.
    – Bart
    Mar 3, 2013 at 16:18
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    You can try to ask it on Quora (it requires registration even to just read content, though). They accept questions like that. Example: What programming language do people like the most? Mar 3, 2013 at 16:40
  • And another option might be a topic-related SO chatroom. Though you'd better ask them first if they would welcome such a question.
    – Bart
    Mar 3, 2013 at 16:43
  • Question on Quora closer to this question: What are the best productivity tools for programmers? Mar 3, 2013 at 18:03
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    Note that the "regular expressions" handled e.g. by Perl are far more expressive than "real" ones.
    – vonbrand
    Mar 3, 2013 at 20:30
  • Many questions on SO, but a site-wide search turns up over 300 results to pick through.
    – Rob
    May 24, 2021 at 16:07
  • @vonbrand, ...also far slower worst-case. May 24, 2022 at 22:55

3 Answers 3


The whole "questions about tools commonly used by programmers are on-topic on SO" thing seems to cause some confusion from time to time. In short, not every question related to tools used by programmers is on-topic.

Recommendation questions for example are not on topic. These questions are often referred to as shopping questions, or list questions as well. And we don't do those. In fact, I don't know of any Stack Exchange site that would support them.

So is every question that might result in a tool recommendation off topic? No, not necessarily. The subtlety lies in the question asked. You are most likely facing a programming problem. If so, present that problem to us. Don't explicitly ask us to recommend tools. The answer however might still lead to a tool recommendation. The difference being that in this case it is far less likely to end up in a list of recommended tools, the overall content of which might be of dubious quality.

There are some voices within the community that say, recommendation questions might be fine if properly researched and significantly narrowed down (i.e. there is no chance of a big list), but in practice you might still find yourself downvoted and your question being closed. The line there is a difficult one. Your best bet, in my opinion, is to steer clear from the recommendation question if at all possible.


The suitable SO format question would be

"I am using a tool X and I have tried to do Y with it, but I am encountering the issue Z."

This question can have a straight forward answer that resolves the encountered issue.

A non-suitable SO format question would be

"I want to do X. What tool can accomplish it"

The latter is a question that leads itself into a discussion for various reasons and thus is considered "Not constructive" as there may be no straight forward answer.


IMO Yes. The existing rule is one of the more unfortunate choices of the SO community. It encourages re-implementation rather than re-use. There seems to be a rather condescending attitude toward people who are looking for tools. "If you're not trying to write it yourself we're not going to waste our time on you."

Ideally a search over SO content would save you the time of re-inventing the wheel and "no shopping" derision precludes a major avenue of taking advantage of existing work.

  • 1
    As a note, we have two entire sites devoted to Software Recommendations and Hardware Recommendations and they both have very strict guidelines for what's necessary for a question to be considered answerable. It's been better for us to have these questions in a separate place rather than having them on SO itself.
    – Catija
    May 24, 2021 at 15:44
  • @catija "It's been better" is an opinion. My opinion is that it has been worse with that separation. May 24, 2021 at 15:47
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    And you're welcome to that opinion - but we aren't going to change it at this point and, to be frank, your assessment of the situation is somewhat rude. "This isn't the right place for your question, there's an entire other site devoted to just that" is not the same as what you have written here. Any platform you use will have norms that need to be followed and that doesn't make people condescending - we've had 12 years to poke at this and we've decided that this separation is better. How you choose to react to that is up to you.
    – Catija
    May 24, 2021 at 15:51

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