What should we do with questions involving hobbyist 3rd party firmware such as , , and ?

I'll grudgingly admit there is a corner case for these in the small office professional environmental, but my personal experience with dd-wrt has lead me to never consider even using it at home let alone in a professional setting. And while there are certainly on topic networking questions that meet the topicality requirements of ServerFault, there's really not much troubleshooting that can be done with this firmware - in the case of dd-wrt its often that a particular feature is broken in that particular build of the firmware and the only way to know that is wade through their forums with the exact model number and revision of the posters hardware to see what their community has posted about it (for example NAT loopback has been broken for years).

I basically find myself wanting to answer any question involving hobbyist firmware, even if the firmware itself is not directly involved, with something along the lines of, "Buy a real router and then come back. You will save yourself time and money in the end".

Reasons why I think topics involving hobbyist firmware should be considered off-topic:

  • It's "hobbyist" firmware. By definition that should go on SuperUser
  • It's primarily designed for installation on COTS hardware (with the exception of the Soekris and hardware ALIX kits). COTS hardware should go on SuperUser
  • I have a feeling that many of existing questions involving hobbyist firmware are actually for home network or home test labs. Again that kind of thing should be on SuperUser.
  • Trying to answer relevant ServerFault questions when these devices are involved is largely a waste of time in my opinion. If you enter a Pinto in a Formula 1 race and you're trying to analyze why your lap times are so slow, a good crew chief will say "because your car sucks", instead of spending hours looking at your course line trying to improve it.
  • Hobbyist hackery is fun, but it's not for the workplace. Again, SuperUser is probably the right place for this.

I suggest that we consider closing or migrating as appropriate and perhaps a canonical answer of why using unsupported, 3rd party, hobbyist firmware in a professional setting is, well unprofessional.

Your thoughts?

  • 4
    As much as I think each of those firmware/distro/whatevers is a waste of good bytes based on my experiences with all of them, I don't think we should mark things as automatically OT because we don't think they're up to scratch. Because apart from anything else, I bet we've all got little lists of other technology that wouldn't be missed, and at that point we're on a dangerous road. – Rob Moir Feb 26 '12 at 8:14

No, these are not automatically off-topic by virtue of using consumer-grade solutions. See What's off-topic; anything in a home setting, or anything that was designed for home use? - MikeyB's answer actually has direct discussion of consumer routers.

But that doesn't make any of your points any less valid.

  • If it's home use or has a strong odor of home use, it's off-topic.

    Any questions with these tags deserves scrutiny! Read between the lines on the question, and if it doesn't have the texture and flavor of a professional environment, then bring that up in comments or simply vote to close.

    Looking back in the tags we've certainly got examples that are clearly professional cases - as well as a bad old poll question that should be closed, which has several of our users (including the #6 all time user and a community moderator) stating that they do (or did) use these solutions in the workplace.

  • Even if it is on topic, if it's clear that the asker is using the wrong tool for the job, telling them so is very much a valid answer - even if it's not the answer they want. I'll most likely upvote it.

Some small shops that have 2-10 people might not have a budget for managed switches, enterprise APs, and the like.

Much like , I cringe whenever I see these things, but in certain situations they're better than the alternatives in a business environment.

I do not think that home questions should be shown any mercy. I also think that the burden of proving that questions about the topicality of these firmware should fall squarely on the asker. Anything in a grey area should be closed, but I don't think that every question about them should be.

As much as we hate to see questions about this kind of thing, we'd hate it even more if our situation dictated that it was the best choice available. Let's not add insult to injury just because we have nicer budgets.

OpenWRT is a special case as it is not a "hobbyist 3rd party firmware" but a Linux distribution precompiled for a large variety of hardware platforms, including a whole bunch of consumer-grade wireless routers, x86 PCs and even Mikrotik RouterBoards. Just as a Linux question, even if it is about an "unsupported, non-enterprisey distribution of Linux" is not automatically off-topic, nor would be one about OpenWRT.

No idea about the other two, but questions regarding them would likely fall into the "too localized" category most of the times.

  • OpenWRT is indeed a special case: In most cases it is an unintended use of the manufacturer's hardware, which voids your support from the vendor at the very best (and your warranty at the very worst). I've got no problem with accepting the questions (if they're on-topic otherwise) and even giving helpful answers, but it behooves us as professionals to strongly discourage such things :-) – voretaq7 Feb 27 '12 at 16:02
  • @voretaq7 it is great for labs or non-critical equipment due to the versatility. And just because something has no support from the hardware vendor does not mean that it is entirely unsupportable. I know of a whole bunch of companies making their living by offering support contracts for third party hardware - not exactly home routers, but not their own stuff nonetheless. – the-wabbit Feb 27 '12 at 17:31
  • I'm not disputing their utility, or even that there may be appropriate questions on these alternate firmwares, I'm merely pointing out that in my personal opinion any question on the use of a device outside the manufacturer's intended scope should have answers prefaced with You REALLY shouldn't do that, but if you must:. This protects Server Fault's reputation and keeps us from degrading into a home for hackery. (Extreme example: "You can use a Cisco 65xx as an end table / space heater. Cisco won't help you if you spill your coffee on it though.)" – voretaq7 Feb 27 '12 at 19:59

Some companies have many employees working from home. There may very well be a professional system administrator administrating the computer they use for that. And it may also be the case that for many of those, a consumer grade internet connection is the right choice due to price and/or available options.

As a professional system administrator, I am not sure what is the best choice of firmware is for the combined modem, router, and access point connected to such an internet connection.

I certainly wouldn't claim I could reliably distinguish the firmware a professional system administrator would chose for that job from the one a hobbyist would chose.

  • 2
    Since I work primarily from a home office, I did evaluate these three. I found that DD-WRT was old and unmaintained (unless you purchased it from a vendor, and maybe not even then), Tomato had exploded into several largely incompatible forks, most of which were also unmaintained, and OpenWrt was actually usable and in active development. So OpenWrt is what I run. And interestingly, OpenWrt is the only one of these which is actually manageable with Puppet. Guess what else I do... – Michael Hampton Aug 14 '14 at 21:49

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