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There has been discussion about too broad questions here, but we lack the analogon for too narrow questions. Motivation for this question are the comments under Can Radare2 support word-based architectures?.

Our current guidelines for questions encourage asking specific questions. I never saw StackExchange as a collection of generic answers in the fashion of Tutorials, but I can see some specific answers are only valuable to very few people. Thus, I would like to discuss this question:

Is there something like a 'too narrow' question? And what to do about it?

The only statement I could find is about questions about reverse-engineering a specific system are off-topic, unless they show sufficient effort.

In my opinion, even though many of these questions may remain unanswered, answers to questions like these are especially valuable. I hope to see more answers to these questions (e.g. example).

  • It could be argued that the radare2 question is more about features of a specific tool/product and less about a reverse engineering problem or concept – julian Feb 3 '17 at 23:40
  • @SYS_V even if that's the case, I can see no reason to close those, as we currently do not close answers regarding IDA plugin development for example, and those seem to be considered valuable by the community. – NirIzr Feb 8 '17 at 12:06
  • @NirIzr what I am saying is that I agree with Igor: if the question has to do with specific aspects of a tool, in some cases the developers of the tool in question will be in the best position to give an appropriate answer. Irrespective of the perceived value of such questions to the community, this type of question is considered on topic but that is not the point. – julian Feb 8 '17 at 15:31
  • @SYS_V Have a look at the most popular tags here. A lot of these questions should be answered by the corresponding support. It is also a fair chance a developer would see it here (at least for re specific tools) – Nordwald Feb 8 '17 at 15:49
  • @Nordwald It might depend on how popular the tool in question is and whether developers for the tool use this site. For example, IDA is very widely used and at least one of the moderators for this site works at Hex-Rays, so very specific questions about IDA have a relatively high chance of getting a good answer. But I do not think this is the case for other tools that are not as popular (Capstone, gdb, r2 etc.). It seems like only a handful of professionals bother to answer questions here. – julian Feb 8 '17 at 16:08
  • @SYS_V if IDA is the (undeserved) baseline, then we are the IDA support forum, since there is no tool quiet as popular with RE. Sadly, questions about certain tools outnumber more general questions as is. Please also note that developers of open source projects aren't actually paid for support, so their answers are more rare and hence more valuable. – Nordwald Feb 9 '17 at 6:28
  • @Nordwald I agree with you that these kinds of questions can be asked here and that the answers to them have value. I guess I am just pessimistic about their odds of being answered here. It seems like hardly any users of this site would able to answer these kinds of tool-specific questions (like the radare2 question). – julian Feb 9 '17 at 6:39
  • @SYS_V ACK. But if we want people like these on this site, we should encourage this questions. The RE community is very loosely organized atm. – Nordwald Feb 9 '17 at 8:58
  • A lot of the support IDA sees here comes from "ordinary" members of the community, not from individuals identified with hexrays. (I had once the chance to answer my own question with quotes from hexray's email response after SO question had no answers). Other tools (such as olly, gdb, and x64dbg) also get decent answers on the site. We should encourage more such Q&As. I for instance would love seeing Q&As about hopper and binaryninja. – NirIzr Feb 10 '17 at 21:20
  • I support anything that will increase the quality of the site and the number of users. I think this is a great site and I hope that more developers, experts, professionals etc will use it. If questions about tools are a way to do that then I'm in favor of that – julian Feb 11 '17 at 2:59
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Well, actually even your question was asked before (the way I read it, anyway). The tag seems to be the focal point for the matter.

Your particular example is different, and I have to agree with @SYS_V's comment:

It could be argued that the radare2 question is more about features of a specific tool/product and less about a reverse engineering problem or concept

That said, it doesn't invalidate your other points.

What we should keep in mind, though, and that goes with a statement I made here (emphasis added):

Furthermore I think that for a Q&A site the relevance for the reader (and future internauts) needs to be considered as the prime aspect when decisions are made what to allow and what not.

... and I think I find that echoed in this statement from your question (emphasis mine):

In my opinion, even though many of these questions may remain unanswered, answers to questions like these are especially valuable.

I have to agree. As reverse engineers ("reversers") we often struggle to find the pieces of huge puzzle. I have often found myself using the smallest shreds of information I could find to "get to the next level" when reverse engineering a target. Be it information about a very similar target, be it clues about an instruction set, be it clues about that library I've never heard about before. Reverse engineering is in no small part the aspect of researching a topic, as an intrinsic part of the craft.

These questions are very specific. But they don't seem to fall into the don't-ask category, although the effort/understanding isn't always obvious.

Given how narrowly scoped this site already is, we should not always jump at the first chance of closing a question as too specific. Instead we should aim to create value for future internauts by guiding the inquirer (the person asking the question) to scope their question in a way that will encourage answers valuable to others. If the inquirer decides to ignore these efforts from the community, we can still go ahead and close such questions.

Questions such as this one should still be considered off-topic, though. They don't show the effort and are homework-like "I would like to RE this, could your do it for me" style questions.


And as a side-note: I find the notion of Real Questions Have Answers ambivalent. It's true that real questions have some kind of answer. What's not true is that a question in a very specialized fields with comparably low numbers of experts (when compared to, say, developers) which doesn't have an answer yet, is a bad question.

The distinction here being that while answers exist for real/good questions, it's by no means certain that these answers exist here and now on this Q&A site.

I remember many a case where years after initially dealing with a target, I return to it - or a newer version of it - and happen to crack the puzzle this time. Whenever I have asked a question before and remember/find that, I'll go to the effort of answering it to leave a "memo" to myself and others.

Similarly I've found myself answering questions that were years old, because there weren't any answers or the answers were outright dodging the question.

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To be honest, I would much prefer people used official support channels for IDA (and other tools) questions, especially non-trivial ones like writing plugins or advanced scripting. I keep thinking about something like

Questions about advanced, not common-use scenarios of a specific tool are offtopic and should be addressed to the author(s) of the tool, unless the tool has no identifiable or usable official support channels (which should be explained in the question).

or

Questions about a very specific and narrow situation, answers to which are unlikely to help other visitors to the site are offtopic (unless exceptions(which?)).

But the problem is that many existing questions would fall under these rules. So I'm reluctant about adding this...

  • I agree. There seems to be a main problem: most questions are very broad (e.g. 'how to reverse'), newcomer questions (e.g. 'what does this do?') or tool specific. It doesn't seem like this problem is persistent to other stackexchange communities. – Nordwald Feb 21 '17 at 7:21
  • I do not per se agree or disagree with the last part But the problem is that many existing questions would fall under these rules. So I'm reluctant about adding this... but I think that the fact that there are some existing questions that fall under this category shouldn't prevent you from putting this rule. I mean look at StackOverflow, the rules have changed a lot since it started. – HamZa Mar 29 '17 at 8:45
  • I think the rules were quite lax in the beginning. The bigger the site got the stricter the rules became to enforce structure and keep the site somehow clean. – HamZa Mar 29 '17 at 8:50

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