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Why is it so hard to get an answer to the question that I asked in #bash?

Maybe nobody knows the answer (or the people who know the answer are busy). Maybe you haven't given enough detail about the problem, or you haven't presented the problem clearly. Maybe the question you asked is answered in this FAQ, or in BashPitfalls, or in the BashGuide.

This is a big one: don't just post a URL and say "here is my script, fix it!" Only post code as a last resort, if you have a small piece of code that you don't understand. Instead, you should state what you're trying to do.

Shell scripting is largely a collection of hacks and tricks that do not generalize very well. The optimal answer to one problem may be quite different from the optimal answer to a similar-looking problem, so it's extremely important that you tell us the exact problem you want to solve.

Moreover, if you've attempted to solve a problem yourself, there's a really high probability that you've gone about it using a technique that doesn't work (or, at least, doesn't work for that particular problem). Any code you already have is probably going to be thrown away. Posting your non-working code as a substitute for a description of the problem you want to solve is usually a waste of time, and is nearly always irritating.

See NetEtiquette for more general suggestions. Try to avoid the infamous XyProblem.


  • #bash aphorism 1: The questioner's first description of the problem/question will be misleading.

    • #bash corollary 1.1: The questioner's second description of the problem/question will also be misleading.

  • #bash aphorism 2: The questioner will keep changing the original question until it drives the helpers in the channel insane.

The aphorisms given here are intended to be humorous, but with a touch of realism underlying them. Several have been suggested over time, but only the ones shown above have remained largely untouched. Others include:

  • The data is never formatted in the way that makes it easiest to manipulate.
  • 30 to 40 percent of the conversations in #bash will be about aphorisms #1 and #2.
  • The questioner will never tell you what they are really doing the first time they ask.
  • The questioner's third description of the problem will clarify two previously misdescribed elements of the problem, but will add two new irrelevant issues that will be even more difficult to unravel from the actual problem.
  • Offtopicness will continue until someone asks a bash question that falls under bashphorisms 1 and/or 2, and greycat gets pissed off.
  • The questioner will not read and apply the answers he is given but will instead continue to practice b1 and b2.
  • The ignorant will continually mis-educate the other noobies.
  • When given a choice of two solutions, the newbie will always choose the more complicated, or less portable, solution.

BashFAQ/064 (last edited 2020-12-16 22:55:27 by GreyCat)