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What is Stack Overflow? A forum for all who code

What is Stack Overflow? It's a public forum where you find answers to questions about computer programming from colleagues, peers, and experts worldwide.
Written by Melissa Sartore on
Developers pointing at code on a PC in an office.
Luis Alvarez/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Stack Overflow is a question-and-answer website that unites computer programmers worldwide.

The site serves as a repository of information about computer programming. It's named after the software error that occurs when a program runs out of memory. 

Stack Overflow facilitates collaboration, problem-solving, and knowledge-sharing among individuals, groups, and organizations.

Stack Overflow pros

  • Ask questions and get practical, detailed answers
  • Tags and filters make questions and answers easy to find
  • Communities of like-minded computer programmers sharing information
  • No advertisements or spam
  • Voting system to promote accurate answers
  • Smart participants with fast responses 

Stack Overflow cons

  • Resistance to newbies asking questions
  • Guides about how to ask a question are difficult for beginners
  • Down-voting by fellow users without explanation or instruction
  • No way to refine and edit existing questions and answers
  • Moderators don't always facilitate discussions efficiently

What is Stack Overflow, and how can it help you?

The flagship website of the Stack Exchange Network, Stack Overflow hosts more than 100 million visitors each month. The public platform, founded by Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky in 2008, features questions and answers about computer programming. Stack Overflow provides resources for individuals alongside products for teams, advertisers, and talent-seeking users. 

Stack Overflow houses over 22 million questions and answers. Each is tagged so you can filter for what you need. You can also filter by user. 

Participants are categorized as new users, editors, or moderators. Additional user breakdowns include voting history and reputations.

Stack Overflow's format resembles Reddit. Any visitor can search Stack Overflow, but you need a free account to participate.

Questions come from novices and experts alike, with thorough answers provided quickly. Questions about how hard it is to learn coding and the easiest programming languages to learn accompany queries about advanced computer programming topics.

The Stack Exchange Network also hosts the Software Engineering Stack Exchange. It overlaps with Stack Overflow, but the latter focuses on coding and tools. The former hosts questions and answers about systems development life cycles.


What topics does Stack Overflow cover?

Stack Overflow topics meet the needs of programming enthusiasts, professionals, and experts. Using words and phrases that describe specific topics, or tags, increases efficiency when exploring Stack Overflow. 

Popular tags include programming and scripting languages like:

Operating systems like Android and iOS rank among the top tags. 

But you'll also find information about every aspect of computer science, from the general (databases, frameworks, and algorithms) to the niche and specific.

How to get your questions answered on Stack Overflow

Stack Overflow offers tips to help you ask a question in a way that will receive an answer. Here's a breakdown:

  1. Have a concise, descriptive title.
  2. Write your question using appropriate terms, proper grammar, and language that fully explains your issue.
  3. Adding code helps, but make sure you explain the problem fully first.
  4. Provide enough information to help others recreate your issue.
  5. Use all applicable tags.
  6. Proofread before you post to ensure your question is clear and concise.
  7. Respond to feedback and provide answers to follow-up questions from fellow users.

More free coding resources

Stack Overflow can help you find answers to questions about computer programming, but additional resources exist that benefit coders and programmers. We've listed some key websites below. 

Codecademy

Codecademy is an interactive platform with free coding classes in 12 programming languages. Codeacademy also provides career path programs, projects, documents, and a blog to give you insight into the world of computer programming. Pricing varies.

Check out our full Codecademy review here

Code Project

Code Project exists for individuals who code. With question-and-answer forums, discussions, articles, and a thriving community with more than 15 million members, Code Project also features competitions and surveys. 

GitHub

GitHub is a platform where users build, distribute, and maintain software. GitHub users can accelerate their coding with software packages from the site's registry. 

Coders can also post code and share it with fellow users. This makes the site a popular coding portfolio host.

GitLab

GitLab, a complete DevOps platform, allows software professionals to carry out all project tasks from one location. GitLab is an application with free open and private repositories of content. 

Users can access GitLab's community programs, technology partnerships, and remote events.

Quora

Quora, a general-purpose question-and-answer forum, also hosts information on computer programming topics. 

Quora has forums for coding advice, general information about programming, and exploring more advanced aspects of the field. The site is searchable by keyword.

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