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The topicality of "forward engineering" came up recently in How does GDB's process recording work? The case was made that the question was not a true reverse engineering discussion and was more suited to StackOverflow or the GDB mailing list which lead to the question being closed, but was later reopened.

It is true that the question doesn't pertain to reverse engineering directly, but a topic that is of interest to many software reverse engineers and may not be adequately answered on sites like StackOverflow.

Do any existing community consensus pertain to this topic? The topic of reverse engineering is intimately tied with engineering itself making it difficult to distinguish questions concerned with the "forward" or reverse sides of a discipline. If a question contributes positively to the general topical knowledge and quality of the site, can we say it's a bad question?

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This is definitely something we need to decide on as a community. Personally I would say the reverse engineering stack exchange site should only deal with questions directly involving reverse engineering. Not topics which are of interest to reverse engineers.

In my opinion this is not a discussion site. It's a site for questions that have answers which fall directly under the topic of reverse engineering. Reddit /re is a site for discussing things which may be of interest to reverse engineers.

  • It seems like community consensus leans in your favor Peter, despite this my question was reopened by 5 people who disagree (myself included). Why do you feel the topic is a 'discussion' that doesn't fall directly under the topic of reverse engineering? – ŹV - Mar 26 '13 at 15:41
  • I don't think there's anything close to a consensus :) Personally I think that if it can be read in a manual, it's not reverse engineering. I see reverse engineering as the exploration of an engineered system for which information is not commonly available, either because that information is deliberately hidden, forgotten or simply never existed. I think with this view your question is invalidated on the grounds of GDB being open and the workings of it as a system well documented. I also consider biology disqualified on the basis of it never being engineered but evolved. – Peter Andersson Mar 26 '13 at 17:51
  • I'm also very uncertain of where we will end up but I find the journey very interesting. I also found your topic interesting as I'm not familiar with the workings of reverse debugging in GDB in detail. Is this what the community is for? The understanding of all systems, independent of how opaque and independent of whether it was engineered? – Peter Andersson Mar 26 '13 at 17:56
  • @PeterAndersson Off-topic comment, but meta.stackexchange.com/a/173858/200868 is a little worrying. There is an urgent need to get users to join the site. Area 51 stats too havent picked up in the last two days. – asheeshr Mar 28 '13 at 1:55
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I think we should define and stick to the site-scope. As we do not have a defined scope at the moment then, as the site is about reverse engineering, we should stick to questions about reverse engineering, not whatever might interest reverse engineers.

If we were to define site scope in terms of what we like, we would have had lolcats all over Stack Overflow (amongst other things).

  • 1
    -1, the lolcat reference is a very cheap and low jab. While I agree that we need to define the scope (as you also reiterate) and stick to that scope the exact problem is that the scope hasn't been outlined very clearly. And that for example you and I disagree apparently on what comprises reverse engineering (or specifically RCE). – 0xC0000022L Mar 27 '13 at 16:45
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I was one of the people who voted to reopen. In fact the first. Why?

First an ...

Interlude

Quite frankly I have had the feeling that a small group of people here seem to "reign" already, instead of the community. It's not democratic in any way, it currently just caters the whoever screams loudest will get attention faction. This shows particularly in the fast-trigger closing of questions that may well fall within the scope. My main point here is: you open your own forum and then you rule with iron fist, no one cares. But the SE sites are meant to be community driven. Not only does it seem to be a relatively successful approach, is also seems to encourage people to participate (in the community process) and, yes, contribute (expertise, knowledge). I've seen on different SE sites how the "character" of the sites differs and how much that is influenced by users with 10k+ mod tools and actual moderators. Most moderators are trying to be very even handed in their use, others not so much. Some are a plain disgrace to the community they're meant to represent. But then, they were voted for. As for the high vote users things look different. They often just benefited from being early members and from the dynamics that seems to suggest that 1.) the answer by the highest rep member must be the best or that 2.) the first answer is the best. It is very rare that some gems added later as answers still get enough attention to garner some deserved upvotes.

I wholeheartedly agree that we need to decide, presumably by majority vote and adjustable on a regular basis (just like the community ads by some kind of voting system), on topics that should be considered on topic and those that should be considered off topic. I.e. this list should not at all be carved in stone. It should be flexible.

As for the moment I think the community - and the topics considered to be on topic - have to be found. I consider fast-trigger closing highly unproductive in that process. Oftentimes closing also follows a dynamic of "ah, it's got 3/5 close votes ... yeah, really not that good, also low rep user, let's vote as well". Heck, I have done it myself. The problem here is that reopening a question is usually a lot harder to get through than closing it. Because the closed question has it harder to draw attention. It has the stigma of being [closed].

But these days I will try to get a question improved first unless it truly seems unsalvageable or is so far off-topic that it makes no sense.

Reasoning behind reopening this particular question - why it's on-topic to me

As reverse engineer (of the RCE variety), I have always profited from knowing my tools. This was the main reason behind getting that particular question (How does GDB's process recording work?) reopened. Just as circumstantial data has helped me as a bug hunter.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to have a big tool chest full of tools used during RCE. Some of them are dual use. So what? So are knives (kitchen/murder)! And yes, the RCE community at large has always benefited from people sharing their knowledge on how to wield this tool or that. Why should specifically a Q&A site be an exception to that? What better place to answer those questions? Reverse engineers have usually a much more inquisitive mind than people who are "mere developers", I've found. So while this would - and probably should - also fit on StackOverflow, it shouldn't be off-topic here. Just because a question on Ubuntu can be asked on AskUbuntu it doesn't mean people aren't going to ask questions related to Ubuntu also on SuperUser, ServerFault or Unix.SE.

I also think that dynamic analysis - and using a debugger during RCE qualifies as such from my point of view - is in fact very much a part of reverse engineering (or more specifically RCE), even though it also is a part of debugging during software engineering.

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    Quite frankly I'm comfortable with this going either way. I found the question to be off topic but I could see why it would be on topic. I'm curious as to why you feel the community is already being ruled by a few individuals? This particular question was closed, then reopened and answered. To me this seems to indicate that people actually wanted to see it answered and it did. In this case didn't the democracy work? – Peter Andersson Mar 27 '13 at 18:59
  • @PeterAndersson: yes, in this case it clearly worked. It's the dynamics that I pointed out. Odds are against a once closed question to be reopened in a growing (or at some point big) community. Right now you can draw attention to it and go from there. If there is enough turnover on the front page, few will even look over the questions with [closed]. As for the other question we should perhaps move that into a chat at some point, just not today. It is the same dynamics as on all SE sites. High rep (or early) members get to make the rules/rule. It's by design. And IMO a flaw. – 0xC0000022L Mar 27 '13 at 19:21
  • @0xC0000022L At the moment, if you believe certain member are overreaching then I think you should call them out directly. There is just one member with Mod Tools access, and a total of 6 members at over 500 rep. If you see privileges being misused then discussing those directly then and there will be the best way to be heard. As for majority vote, that is happening as we speak. This thread along with the others are testimony to that. The quick close/reopen votes are something that will probably reduce over time. – asheeshr Mar 28 '13 at 12:20
  • Moreover, if there are some very topics that you do feel could be controversial but should be a part of the site, then they should be brought up here . I for one have started discussions on Biology and Sociology, which have gotten mixed responses. You are completely correct to suggest that the first response should not be to close but to salvage which is something that I think some users do try to do. – asheeshr Mar 28 '13 at 12:22

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