Several questions that get asked in some form every day (Mod_rewrite, Regex, How to parse HTML...) can't be rightfully closed as exact duplicate of anything else, because they always present an individual use case, and a valid question.

This renders the whole idea of having reference questions for oft-asked topics like this one a bit moot, because there is no valid way to point to them.

Therefore, how about introducing a "Trivial variation of..." close reason? It would work just like the "close as dupe" dialogue. Like so:

alt text

It would offer the same dialog to point out the original question like the "close as dupe" dialogue. There might be potential for tweaking the dialogue later, like showing the most often pointed out originals in a tag at the top of the list - but that's not a requirement.

I realize this is a bit of an RTFM for the asker, but I haven't seen a better suggestion to deal with the influx of these kinds of questions yet. They're very tiring. Plus, in the best case, this directs the asker to a general guide that will help them.

Related: What's the most repeated question on StackOverflow?

  • We've been closing trivial variations as "exact" duplicates for years... Sounds like you want to use this for "subtle but critical variations" - questions that can't be answered directly by the answers on another question. This doesn't seem right.
    – Shog9
    Jan 7, 2011 at 16:12

5 Answers 5


I agree the exact close reason is abused. I disagree that the fix is adding a trivial close reason.

If it's not the same question, it's not the same question and it should not be closing. Let me quote Joel:

For example, if a user asks, “What does the IP address mean?” it’s OK to close that as a duplicate of a more general question like “What do IP addresses of the form a.b.c.d/e mean?” But it’s not OK to close it as a duplicate of a twenty-seven page guide to netmasks. That’s the moral equivalent of saying “RTFM.”

"What does the IP address mean?" and "What do IP addresses of the form a.b.c.d/e mean?" are exact duplicates, but you're suggesting "What do IP addresses of the form a.b.c.d/e mean?" gets closed as a trivial duplicate of "Everything you wanted to know about the TCP/IP protocol".

I agree that managing questions that are almost like each other is tricky -- see this discussion, the comments to this question. I don't think closing is the way to go.

This renders the whole idea of having reference questions for oft-asked topics like this one a bit moot, because there is no valid way to point to them.

Just answer with a quote from the general question and a link -- just like the content license encourages us to.

  • Fair enough points, and I agree the new close reason being used as a "moral equivalent to an RTFM" would be a real danger. Still, unless people are prepared to answer each and every one of them in all eternity, I think this stuff needs to be closed somehow. But maybe, as you say, the "exact duplicate" reason is enough for that. I'm not sure, interested to see how the discussion turns out
    – Pekka
    Jan 7, 2011 at 12:22
  • And @radp see for example this question from a minute ago. I don't mean to attack the OP at all - just picking a random example - but if you have to ask this, you have no idea of PHP at all. The nice Stack Overflow way is to explain to the OP what they have to do to fix it. But with the increasing influx of such questions, I'm starting to tend to pointing to a generic "what does 'undefined index' mean in a PHP script"? question. I know it's a RTFM, but how else to deal with all this?
    – Pekka
    Jan 7, 2011 at 12:35
  • @Pekka Hm, it wouldn't be RTFM in this case, because he posted the error message right there. He's just giving no weight to it.
    – badp
    Jan 7, 2011 at 12:38
  • true. Well, I can see how this could be closed as an exact dupe of a "I am getting 'undefined notice'" question. Interesting.
    – Pekka
    Jan 7, 2011 at 12:38
  • that linked question is turning into a textbook example :) Now somebody gave an answer that seems to solve the problem, but is bad practice and bad advice. That's why I feel this stuff needs to be closed and point to a canonical reference where correctness is more likely to be verified
    – Pekka
    Jan 7, 2011 at 12:40

Why not combine the trivial variation and the exact duplicate?

In order to simplify the system, there are three categories of close reasons:

  1. Question belongs on an other SE site, the question is migrated to that site.
  2. Question already asked on this site, the question is closed and merged with the original.
  3. Question does not belong on any SE site, the question is closed. There are three variants of this one, maybe they could be merged into one.

Naming of the close reasons is possibly tricky, but could include similar or equivalent.


If it would have the same UI and consequence as marking it as an "exact duplicate", can't we achieve the same effect by broadening the wording of "exact duplicate" to just "duplicate"?

  • 1
    Good point, but there is value in having a separation between exact duplicates of the exact same question, and similar ones. Also, simply broadening the close reason would lead to too many misflaggings. Better to have to clearly defined reasons instead IMO
    – Pekka
    Jan 7, 2011 at 11:33


Closing as exact duplicate doesn't seem appropriate in some cases because there are some minors differences in the questions.

This closing reason should have the same logic as the "exact duplicate" one (picking the related question and so on)


I disagree, you're introducing increased subjectivity as what a trivial variation might be.

One user's use-case for say mod_rewrite may come down the same solution used for two or three others, but the "trivial variation" may be the bit they're stuck solving. The user may not know his particular problem can be solved using a commonly used pattern.

I think this could be misused a lot by folks just doing a cursory scan of a question and not spotting the subtle but important variation in OP's use-case.

  • 2
    This is a good point that I meant to mention but forgot: The close reason mustn't be used as a RTFM for people who are stuck with something. But that tendency - like many others - could be remedied by establishing a policy one can look up in unclear cases.
    – Pekka
    Jan 7, 2011 at 12:31

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