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Is it ever ok to provide an answer to a question that's essentially a link only answer to another Stack Exchange question or answer?

Often I do this when

  • The answers of the other question could be helpful to others in resolving similar problems
  • The question is very close to a duplicate of another question, but not quite.

If it turns out the question is a complete duplicate of another question, then it should be closed as a duplicate of course, but I don't think this applies to all situations.

EDIT: I assume the scenario where it's a link to another question/answer on the same stack exchange site is the same then - link only answers not allowed? For example, a stack overflow answer thank links to another stack overflow answer?

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Link-only answers don't stop being link-only answers if the link is local. All of these considerations still apply, particularly:

  • The reader has to click the link to even find out what shape the answer takes.

  • The target could no longer be there.

You don't have to reproduce the content of the link, but you should provide enough of a summary that if the linked content goes away, the reader isn't left hanging.

  • One source of truth is generally speaking a good thing, imho. Though I do understand context, and how it can be more relevant than a link of course. And link's to sites that Stack Exchange itself controls don't always have to be deleted - that's up to Stack Exchange, and is a point that could be up for discussion. I understand that link only answers are weak if it's somewhere else on the internet, but Stack Exchange controls all Stack Exchange links, and could conceptually let a local link live forever. – Brad Parks May 10 at 0:31
  • @BradParks with 175 different sites, each with their own norms and cultures, you can't really assume that an answer on one site is always a good answer to a question on another site. (Consider the religion sites, for example, or Ask Ubuntu vs Unix & Linux.) If you mean just on the local site, there's still the problem that we're placing a hurdle before the person who came to this page looking for an answer. You might ask what's the big deal with one little local link, but if you're trying to review all the answers together, it just got harder. – Monica Cellio May 10 at 0:52
  • agreed... that's why i said "Though I do understand context, and how it can be more relevant than a link of course"... all good points! – Brad Parks May 10 at 10:43
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If an answer that is just a link to another answer on the same site is sufficient to answer the question, then the question is a duplicate of that question.

If the question is a cross-site duplicate, then it's better to just mention that in a comment (linking to the proper place) and not answer.

  • 1
    Agreed, but StackExchange doesn't always allow flagging it as a duplicate - I've encountered several questions where the question needed to be asked on SuperUser because it was home networking, but the exact answer needed was found on ServerFault, because it had been asked there about corporate networking. I've also encountered some overlap between SU and SO. – Jeff Zeitlin May 7 at 17:16
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    @JeffZeitlin: I said "on the same site". – Nicol Bolas May 7 at 17:17
  • OK, mea culpa - I missed that. – Jeff Zeitlin May 7 at 17:18
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    @JeffZeitlin But in that case it's an external link and link-only answers are bad in their own right anyway. – Christian Rau May 7 at 17:18
  • It's not wrong to ask similar questions on more than one SE site, so long as the questions are tuned for the sites they're asked on. If that happens, I don't see why an answer that uses info from another SE site should be treated differently from one that uses info from some other reference. – Monica Cellio May 7 at 18:12
  • @MonicaCellio: There is a difference between "uses info from" and "essentially a link only answer". We're discussing the latter. – Nicol Bolas May 7 at 18:19
  • @NicolBolas if you only intend to provide the link then yeah, leave it in a comment at best -- but that doesn't depend on where it is. If you intend to provide an answer that uses the link (but isn't link-only), then it also doesn't matter where the link points. Either way, that clashes with "if it's a cross-site duplicate it's better to..." in your answer -- why would we counsel people to not answer an on-topic question? – Monica Cellio May 7 at 18:24
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    @MonicaCellio: The question asks about an answer "that's essentially a link only answer". The answer to that question is "no, don't do that." If a user cannot do better than "a link only answer", then it's best for them to do nothing at all. – Nicol Bolas May 7 at 18:29
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    I'm talking about your second paragraph. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear. Link-only answers aren't ok (which I already said in my own answer). The question asks if we can make exceptions if the link is to SE. – Monica Cellio May 7 at 20:25

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