There are underlying causes that can result in many different symptoms. Consider, in Java, String == comparison and floating point rounding error. Often, a person who is unaware of the particular issue will see their problem in entirely different terms.

If the actual cause of a programming problem is such a frequently seen issue, but the symptom is new, should the question be marked as a duplicate?

'Char' type not converting to 'String' type as expected is an example of a possible duplicate in this class. The proposed duplicate question, How do I compare strings in Java? has a different symptom, and an unrelated title, but the same cause and solution.

I can see value in adding to the database, and retaining, questions that reflect the different symptoms, because that increases the chance that searches will hit on at least one existing question, leading the person doing the search to the actual cause. On the other hand, there are a lot of questions with these common causes.

  • So you think that the database should be flooded with duplicate answers?
    – devnull
    Mar 6, 2014 at 7:39
  • BTW, the example that you have cited is perhaps the most asked question in the Java tag. Do you see much value in similar answers to all of those questions?
    – devnull
    Mar 6, 2014 at 7:42
  • 2
    @devnull I don't know. That is why this is a discussion, not a proposal. Is the same answer to an entirely different question really a duplicate answer? I picked the example precisely because it is such a common root cause with so many different symptoms. Mar 6, 2014 at 7:44
  • Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/203063/…
    – user000001
    Mar 6, 2014 at 8:08

4 Answers 4


If the actual cause of a programming problem is such a frequently seen issue, but the symptom is new, should the question be marked as a duplicate?


It's symptoms what people would be looking for. If I will look for "what causes X?" and will be redirected to "how to solve Y?", where X and Y does not look related, I will me sure that there was a bug in duplicate system, and probably I will not even attempt to apply an answer - after all, it's not an answer to my X issue, user who wrote it didn't think about X at all.


Unless one of these question will be edited into canonical form, and will attempt to cover all known symptoms of this particular issue. Then it'll be OK to close other as duplicates of canonical one and, if needed, extend canonical one to cover new symptom set.

  • Taking this view, a good answer to this sort of question would both reference a question with answers that deal well with the general issue, and explain how the general issue relates to the specific symptoms. Mar 6, 2014 at 14:51
  • @PatriciaShanahan if the specific symptoms are too specific to be found, or feasibly incorporated into canonical question then yes. But if they are in canonical one, or represents a group important enough to incorporate them, then voting it duplicate with a comment should be all.
    – Mołot
    Mar 6, 2014 at 14:55
  • What do you think about the specific case I quoted? The OP thought the problem was related to char->String conversion, and assumed the false result from String == showed a failure to convert correctly. Mar 6, 2014 at 15:23
  • I have accepted this answer because I think the point about not seeing the relevance of the original question is important. However, it remains a difficult issue for me. Mar 7, 2014 at 3:06
  • @PatriciaShanahan Well, closing is always delicate issue. Can't really do a thing about it, it will always require quite a lot of own judgement.
    – Mołot
    Mar 7, 2014 at 13:58

If the actual cause of a programming problem is such a frequently seen issue, but the symptom is new, should the question be marked as a duplicate?

There is no reason that Stackoverflow will be flooded with duplicate answers. If the answer appears somewhere else there is nothing wrong with redirecting OP to the already existing answer.

Regarding the example you gave, the question was answered, but was marked as duplicate as well. I don't see anything wrong with that.

Regarding the search hits, since the keywords appears in the question itself, you might sometimes be directed to a question which is marked as duplicate, but that's fine.. Since if you click on the duplicate link, you'll get the answer.


I know exactly what you mean with "different questions" but having the same cause and solution.

This same story is repeatedly happening, over and over, in VBA/Excel tags when people tend to repeat the same logical error when deleting rows from sheets.

This question is not very specific (and probably not the greatest example but most recent I found) but by just looking at the last loop in the provided code I kind of get an idea what is wrong with it.

I could go on and on about what could possibly be improved in the code but then if I were to answer this it would make both the question and the answer too localized, at least for my liking. It wouldn't include nothing new, nothing that has not already been mentioned (asked and answered) on Stack Overflow...

Such questions are asked multiple times a week. Most of the time, yes, they are all different questions but the cause and solutions almost always can already be found on Stack Overflow: all it takes is a quick search on: backward iteration.

The real problem is most of the users who ask questions on C#, Java, F#, Ruby on Rails etc are already somehow familiar with a programming dictionary. They know how to come up with 2, 3 words to describe their specific problem - like backward iteration. In questions tagged with Excel/VBA, most of the time you deal with power users not proper programmers which explains why their questions aren't too clear to begin with or/and too specific and it takes more time and effort from answerers to actually narrow the question down to a specific problem using comments section.

The comments question is great for giving the OP an idea of what is wrong and what to do/link to an existing solution. Once he understand what is causing the problem for him and sees a good answer that already well explains the core concept I think he will be able to go off and figure out the solution on his own.

well known and loved

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime

This is just my preferred way of dealing with questions which in the end lead to same answers.

Additionally, if a new problem/ a problem further down the line is discovered and something is unclear then yes, a good answer to a specific problem is definitely the right thing to do.

Solving problems this way you're not only saving your own valuable time by not duplicating an already existing answer but also you make Stack Overflow a better quality site.


If the actual cause of a programming problem is such a frequently seen issue, but the symptom is new, should the question be marked as a duplicate?

By symptom, I assume that you are referring to the problem as interpreted by the OP. It isn't by an means meant to be an accurate description of the problem. Consider the example posted by you (comparing strings in Java). Depending upon what one is using the comparison for, there could be numerous interpretations of the problem. Some of the linked questions give some sense:

  • Why "F" + "alse" not == "False"
  • Comparison of two strings doesn't work in Android
  • Simple if else statement not working
  • How to use a switch statement
  • Why isn't this basic Java program working
  • ...

Instead of trying to provide the same information in n (where n would eventually tend to ∞) number of answers, isn't it better to point users to a question that already addresses the issue? If you feel that the linked question doesn't contain an answer that properly addresses the problem, add your answer to the post. As more and more questions are marked a duplicate of the post, you'll gain rep (if that is what matters).

It's somewhat annoying and sad to see the same answers repeatedly for very-often-poorly-written-questions.

We perhaps need to flag and vote-to-close duplicates more often.

  • @AnonymousCoward Could you leave a comment?
    – devnull
    Mar 6, 2014 at 9:03

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