I recently had a question about Drush closed as off-topic. The question dealt with Drush failing to work on a Linux server, while connecting to another Linux server over SSH.

Obviously, besides dealing with Drush, it deals with Bash, SSH, and to some extent Linux in general. However, it is still fundamentally about Drush, and Drupal developers are more likely to have an answer to a Drush-related problem than anyone on (e.g.) unix.stackexchange.com. So I'm not sure how this could be considered off-topic. It's about Drush, and getting Drush to work in a Linux environment, which is the normal environment, and the de facto standard. Since "Server administration/deployment" is listed as an acceptable topic in the FAQ, there's an understanding that some questions will touch on dealing with the underlying operating system, and other software that Drupal (and Drush) depend(s) on. That's what this question does.

So: to those who know about these things: is this off-topic? And if so, how does one ask a question that might end up having more to do with (e.g.) server administration than any part of Drupal itself? (And remember: before you have the answer, you don't normally know where the problem lies.)

(Incidentally, I don't care that much if the question is reopened. I mostly want to clarify this publicly, so either I know that such questions are unwelcome here (even though I think they should be) or the people who close questions would understand that such questions like are welcome, and should not be closed. The main value that reopening the question would have is to set a precedence that topics can bridge the gap between Drupal and closely-related technologies.)

  • This is a tricky one, as the problem was not ACTUALLY a Drupal problem. However you clearly weren't to know that until the answer was provided (EDIT sorry, I just noticed you answered it yourself - no offence intended). I would personally have left it there, as for a few people Drush might be their first foray into the land of *nix shells; however it is inherently off-topic as the answer isn't directly Drupal related.
    – Chapabu
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 21:49
  • 2
    But we're only concerned with whether the question is off-topic. And you have to be able to determine that without knowing the answer, so making a decision based on the answer cannot be right.
    – iconoclast
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 21:51
  • Short version of my above comment - I can see why it could be considered on-topic, but I think strictly speaking it's off topic as per the FAQ.
    – Chapabu
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 21:51
  • 2
    What part of the FAQ? I read the FAQ and think it fits nicely... did you see the bit about "Server administration/deployment"?
    – iconoclast
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 21:52
  • Another thing to think about: you'd have to know the problem is not a Drupal or Drush problem in order to ask it on another site in a way that would make sense to the potential answerers. If you can't easily do that, it seems to me that it qualifies for drupal.stackexchange.com.
    – iconoclast
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 21:54
  • I think we can assume that any competent Drupal developer is comfortable doing at least basic things in the shell--it's part of the environment we're (nearly) all required to work in. We clearly cannot assume that any Linux or Bash wizards know the first thing about Drupal, however.
    – iconoclast
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 21:55
  • This is exactly why I think it's a tricky situation. I probably would have left it open as I mentioned in my first comment, as it's not apparent that it really belongs on ServerFault unless you know the answer, which as you clearly state - you (generally - not you personally) won't if you're posting it on SO.
    – Chapabu
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 21:57
  • Sorry I missed the bit about answering it myself.... although I answered it myself, it's only because no one else gave any answer, and since I eventually solved it (with a little help from Greg in a comment) I gave the answer for anyone else who might have a similar problem. When I first asked the question I didn't know the answer. Sorry I should have pointed that out sooner in this discussion.
    – iconoclast
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 21:58
  • 1
    Also, I know a Drupaller who doesn't know shell at all well, and uses Windows through CHOICE (eurgh)!! ;-) I'm going to leave my personal opinion that the question could have been left open - but it'd be interesting to hear what other people think :)
    – Chapabu
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 21:59

2 Answers 2


Questions about Drush are on-topic on Drupal Answers, but that question is more about how to set up a remote shell to make it find a particular executable. In fact, the proposed solution is valid anytime a non interactive shell is used, and an executable put in a custom path needs to be used.

It is true that the FAQ says that server administration/deployment questions are on-topic, but it is also true that such questions should still require Drupal expertise to be answered, to be on-topic on Drupal Answers. In other words, there must be a solution specific for Drupal, and not just a generic solution that is also valid for who is not using Drupal.

To make some examples:

  • A question about whatever it is better to use .htaccess, or DNS settings to redirect the users from a non existing sub-domain to www.example.com is off-topic, as the answer is not specific for Drupal, but it is generically valid for any web site, independently if they run Drupal, WordPress, Joomla. It doesn't actually change if the server is not even running PHP.*
  • A question about how to detect a Flash player in a browser is off-topic because the answer doesn't change if the server is running Drupal, or not.*
  • A question about how to redirect users from example.com to www.example.com has a generic answer, but the answer specific for Drupal is to uncomment some lines present in the .htaccess file Drupal uses.*
  • A question asking why (after installing Drupal) the users see the PHP code is off-topic because the answer is not specific for Drupal.
  • A question asking why render(node_show($user_gallery)); is causing a string warning saying that only variables can be passed by reference can be answered from everybody knowing plain PHP, but only who knows Drupal will be able to point you to the Drupal documentation for node_show() showing the function doesn't return any reference. If, eventually, there is another function that should be called, it is just a Drupal expert who is able to tell you which function to call.*

As side notes:

  • The question and the answer have been written in the same moment (the timestamp says "Oct 8 at 2:45:19" for both). It is not the OP answered the question "because no one else gave any answer." Nobody had the time to answer it. The comment from greg_1_anderson is for the answer, and it has been written 3 hours later the answer was written. Still, what reported in that comment is generically valid for a shell, not a shell running Drush.

  • The question itself just says:

    When I use a drush command to do something on a remote machine, I get the message

    bash: drush: command not found

    What's the problem?

    Such questions are difficult to answer because they don't give any necessary information to answer it, nor do they give any information about what the OP tried. If the users were allowed to answer it, they would have started to guess, and this is not what we want. Eventually, somebody could have given an answer about the remote shell not being interactive.
    Questions need to be answerable, which means the question should give any necessary information, which includes also the necessary code, when the question is about code.

* Those examples are based on really asked questions.

  • 3
    Putting the specifics about the post in question aside, I am not really sure if I agree with your assessment here. You can't use the domain of the answer to determine whether a question is on topic for a site. Someone asking a question should be able to fully determine at the time of asking whether something is on topic or not.
    – mpdonadio Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 19:46
  • I would have said the question is off-topic even if the question didn't have any answer. The answer (given from the OP) made more evident the domain of the question, which was not on-topic for Drupal Answers. If a question is specific for Drupal, at least one of the answers (if not every answer) should be specific for Drupal. Differently, we would get questions about PHP, JavaScript, or CSS that are not pertinent to Drupal. The specifics for the question in question are necessary, as that question in specific was off-topic, not every question about Drush.
    – apaderno Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 19:58
  • @kiamlaluno I checked the timestamps and it appears you may be right. My memory was that there was a significant delay between question and answer, but the timestamps do in fact match. It's possible that I composed the question, then worked on the problem, and didn't save the question until later. I don't know. But unless there's some evidence that the timestamps are defective I will have to retract the statement that they were submitted at different times. Sorry about my oversight. I was relying on my memory, which must be colored by the fact that I did work on solving it for some time.
    – iconoclast
    Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 4:50

Kiamlaluno alludes to this as well, but I think the particular problem here is that the question in absolutely no way ties the problem to Drupal.

When a question with so little information is posted, for all we know, the author hasn't even tried to install drush on the target machine, and just expects it to be present.

There is nothing explaning why the author actually expects it to work. Had that information been present, it would have been much easier to determine if the question belonged here or not.

As the question was posted, I think it was entirely off-topic, as all that could be seen was "Bash doesn't find [command]", which is clearly not a Drupal related problem.

  • I agree. If the question would not be off-topic, it would be closed as "not a real question." The fact the OP immediately answers it doesn't mean the question doesn't need to be specific.
    – apaderno Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 18:33
  • @Letharion: it might have been that obvious if it actually said "Bash doesn't find the drush command" but when I first glanced at it I thought bash was reporting that drush was reporting "command not found". This is probably largely because I had been dealing with all sorts of previous drush configuration problems, so I was predisposed to assume there was a problem with drush.
    – iconoclast
    Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 4:54

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