We were having a discussion about that here.

I feel like I've seen it discussed elsewhere but cannot find it. Perhaps it is different in serverfault than the rest of stackexchange?

My impression was that a response should be a comment if you don't directly answer the question. However, a more seasoned serverfault user disagrees.

I want to be a good serverfault-citizen so wanted to double check.

3 Answers 3


Answers should either

  • Answer the Question as stated
  • Answer the problem the Question is trying to get at

As much as I dislike some of them, sometimes You're Doing It Wrong™ is the correct answer.

Comments can be just about anything, and it gets tricky sometimes when someone posts the answer in a comment. In general, if someone does that you are free to steal the answer and post it in an actual Answer (this is encouraged in cases where it's unlikely the commenter will post to an answer themself).

PS> Don't worry if you get in a tift with certain high rep users; some are more confrontational than others.

  • Thanks. Seems like SF leaves room for subjectivity when it comes to "problem the question is trying to get at". However, when I think about it, sysadmin work overall allows for more subjectivity over, for example, programming. Makes sense. Thanks again! Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 13:42
  • 4
    Unfortunatly it's very common for Questioners to ask how to fix a specific problem, and not explain the overall problem they're trying to fix. The question you cite is a good example of one where they're really looking to manage login accounts, but going at it by bashing their head into the wall. You can either pad the wall or tell them to stop doing that.... both would be "acceptable" in this case.
    – Chris S
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 15:54
  • 4
    @ChrisS Tell them to stop doing that. Padding the wall only changes it from a loud annoying BANG to a dull THUD...
    – voretaq7
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 16:35
  • Thank you very much @ChrisS. Very well explained and appreciate you clarifying that for me. Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 21:48
  • @BeamingMel-Bin the affectionate name for this is The XY Problem
    – MDMoore313
    Commented Feb 27, 2014 at 4:11

Another way to consider what should be a comment and what should be an answer:

  • According to StackExchange comment handling guides, Comments are ephemeral and can (and will) be deleted without given reason or notification. So don't post anything for posterity in a comment.
    • Clarifying-information request/answer cascades as happen from time to time can be trimmed after the fact to make the question/answer set more readable by future generations.
    • Snarkasm will be trimmed, no matter how funny or upvoted.
  • Answers are for posterity, and are only deleted for good reasons by a moderator, or for any reason by the answerer. Notification happens when an Answer is deleted. Answers are preserved for future generations, so make them worth it.

Answers should answer the question, and not be a "too long for a comment" me-too supporting another answer. That will be turned into a comment and crudely truncated to fit, if not outright deleted.


ServerFault's FAQ gives some indications on what comments should be used for:

If your question needs clarification, you will see comments in smaller type below your question.

That is the most common usage of comments, by far.

Above all, be honest. If you see misinformation, vote it down. Add comments indicating what, specifically, is wrong. Provide better answers of your own. Best of all — edit and improve the existing questions and answers!

That's a close second, in my experience. No other clear indicators of comment usage is given in the FAQ. So it appears that comment are mostly intended to cull more information from the original poster or to critique a poor question or answer. Usually poor questions are critiqued with "this does not belong here," and poor answers with "you will destroy someone's system, because..."

Also, read the FAQ and see how many times there is an emphasis on "better answers" and "good answers." Nothing is implied that the answers will be a direct answer to your question. Just that StackExchange is interested in quality, not scope. Good answers are preferred to tightly scoped answers. This is true for all of StackExchange, insofar as I know.

Allow me to comment on specific things in your questions:

Perhaps it is different in serverfault than the rest of stackexchange?

I haven't seen evidence that other StackExchange sites have a stated use for comments that is any different from ServerFault's.

My impression was that a response should be a comment if you don't directly answer the question. However, a more seasoned serverfault user disagrees.

Responses should be comments if it doesn't answer the question. Notice I removed the word "directly." If someone asks how to develop the next Facebook using their mobile phone as a server, we are likely to answer it, not with architectural designs that involve OMAP-based phones, but with... different advice.

Here's an example from a very recent question I answered titled "Confusion when configuring exim or postfix." A fellow wanted to know how to configure an email server, but instead of answering that direct question I told him that he probably doesn't need to install and configure an MTA. Rather, he should consider just using the mail functions of whatever CMS / language he's using. Others seemed to agree with me since, as of this writing, it's the highest rated answer.

However, a more seasoned serverfault user disagrees.

Looking at that interchange, the topic is pretty well summed up. In fact, I like Womble's screwdriver analogy a lot. =)

  • Yea his analogy made lots of sense to me and helped me get what he was getting at. Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 16:06
  • What I meant by Perhaps it is different in serverfault than the rest of stackexchange? is that, in SO for example, you wouldn't answer a question like, e.g., "How do I pass by ref in Python" by saying "Use Perl". That type of thing is acceptable here for reasons you have stated. Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 16:08
  • 3
    @BeamingMel-Bin In the "Use Perl" example, that's entirely different. That's an opinion based on preference. However, if the question has a technically defensible answer that's contrary to the original question, then that's a good answer. For example, "How do I use lexical scopes in Python?" the answer is truly, "You can't. Use Perl." Or another example would be "How do I use <> in Python?" and the answer would be "You can try fileinput.input() but you don't get the same functionality as <>. Consider using Perl if you must have while."
    – Wesley
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 16:20
  • I see your point. In the case of the original question, you could use Puppet for user management (I do and answered how I do). LDAP was suggested because it is more flexible but it didn't directly answer the question. Obviously, I am a minority here lol. And you gentlemen are high rep users so I respect your views on this. Don't really mean to argue just want to understand :-). Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 16:34
  • @BeamingMel-Bin To follow up, here's another very recent example of mine of answering the question with an answer that isn't exactly what the OP was aiming at: serverfault.com/a/383240/9770 - another satisfied customer. =)
    – Wesley
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 3:30
  • Well answered too. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 9:59

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