Posting Questions and Replies to comp.lang.javascript


There may be several reasons for making posts to comp.lang.javascirpt but all valid reasons would be intended to elicit responses, preferably including responses form the many experienced and knowledgeable regular contributors to the group. The direction of communication is always one-to-many, which places the onus on the composer of a message to consider the many in their audience above any personal preferences. It is always in the best interest of someone posting to the group to recognise that the people whoes responses will be of most value to them may have an attitude toward their behaviour on the group, and to try to ensure that it will not be a bad attitude.

It is also always in the best interest of any poster to the group to do everything within their power to behave in a way that makes it quick and easy for the people they expect to answer their questions to read and follow their posts, understand their questions and problems and comprehend and test posted code. The people with the best answers are the most likely to be busy; too busy to be interested in unravelling a badly expressed problem from a mass of incomprehensibly formatted code amid a conversation that is hard to follow.

Usenet has been around for a long time now and has developed various conventions of its own. Conventions that have evolved to make communicating in the medium as easy and efficient as possible. They are not necessarily adhered to on all groups but where they are recognised they are definitely preferred. And comp.lang.javascript is a group where most of the regulars recognise many Usenet conventions and so the FAQ outlines them. This document is intended to provide additional detail on the subject.

Following those conventions and additionally posting with a consideration of the other points made on this page related more specifically to posting in comp.lang.javascript, will maximise the potential for any questions asked and posts made to elicit a useful response. At least in part because they make it quicker and easier for those interested in offering help to do so.

Posting Language

comp.lang.javascript is the international javascript group. There are language specific javascript groups that could be expected to be carried by news servers within the countries concerned. There is, however, no English language specific javascript group so comp.lang.javascript serves that audience. As a result the vast majority of the conversation within the group is in English, and anyone with a javascript interest but incapable of reading/writing any language but English would choose comp.lang.javascript to read and post in. But there are no rules that say that English is the only language that is to be used.

As an international group, comp.lang.javascript has contributors form around the world, many of whom speak/read/write English as a second or third (+) language. So a post made in any other language will stand a chance of falling within the linguistic capabilities of someone. But posts in English should be understandable to everyone, including those for whom English is their only language, and thus receive the most attention.

Machine translation into English (and sometimes less skilled human translation) sometimes does not produce results that can be understood/followed by English speakers. When a bad translation into English is the only option it might be better for a poster to precede it with a version in their native language. (Faced with a post in a language that is not understood it is natural to scroll down to see if there is any accompanying javascript code that might explain the problem; a following English translation would be discovered along the way). A reader of the group who understands the language used may be able to contribute improvements to the English translation even if they cannot directly address the question raised.

However, even though the most common language used in postings to comp.lang.javascript is English, the fact that the group is international and that English should not be expected to be the first language of contributors to the group means that the English used should be formally correct (to the best of the posters ability). Normal English sentence structure should be observed, particularly in terms of capitalisation (which serves to aid reading for everyone). But above all, shorthand abbreviations should not be used, no matter how common they may be in English speaking cultures, as they would not normally be part of the teaching of English as a foreign language. This applies especially to text-message shorthand as they are very much a product of local culture and circumstances in a way that is not relevant to Usenet as a medium or appropriate to an international newsgroup.

In the context of an international forum it is also probably best to avoid references that may be ambiguous outside of a national context. Date formats are an obvious example, with the ISO YYYY-MM-DD format being more appropriate than any preferred local form. Also, references to national bodies by acronym alone will not necessarily convey sufficient meaning to an international audience.

On and Off Topic Posting

ECMA 262 is the formal specification for ECMAScript, the standard adopted by javascript implementations and thus the specification for javascript.

As comp.lang.javascript deals with ECMAScript and ECMAScript was designed as a general scripting language for scripting any object model, questions relating to any application of ECMAScript are appropriate. The group has a general bias towards the use of ECMAScript in web browsers in an Internet context, and questions asked without additional qualification will tend to be assumed to be related to that environment and context. As a result it is a very good idea for questions asked that are not related to that default context; Intranet, other hosts, OS automation, etc., to include details of that context.

Because of the name "JavaScript" being applied to the language early in its existence there is often confusion between javascript and the Java programming language. The two are distinct and very different languages. Questions relating to Java programming, Java Applets, Java Server Pages (JSP), etc., would be better asked in* groups. Only the use of ECMAScript to interact with, say, Java Applets would be on topic, and then the questions should relate to the ECMAScript aspect of the problem.

Questions relating exclusively to other scripting languages, mark-up languages ((x)HTML) and style sheets (CSS, XSL) are off topic and should be addressed to more appropriate newsgroups.

The comp.lang.javascript newsgroup may also validly become its own subject, particularly the content and maintenance of the FAQ resources. But as a subject that is most appropriately raised and discussed by the individuals who invest their time in the group rather than passers-by.

Usenet, and particularly appropriate behaviour on and for Usenet, is also often raised. This is largely unwelcome but inevitable. Hopefully this document should contribute to a reduction in that noise by stating the group's attitude towards Usenet postings in greater detail than can be accommodated in the FAQ proper.

Other things that are off topic for the group include obvious things like pyramid and get rich quick schemes, commercial advertising (with some rare exceptions mentioned below), job adverts, spurious invitations to visit web sites and anything else that might be reasonably regarded as spam.

Announcements of product releases and events of particular relevance to javascript are welcome but, for products no more often than once pre major release, and for events preferably only once and certainly not more often than at two month intervals leading up to the event. Be aware that product announcements (particularly commercial javascript) are likely to attract reviews, which should not be expected to be uncritical.

Plain-Text Only

Messages are posted in plain-text. There is no requirement for Usenet newsreader software to recognise, support or display any other content type, such as HTML, and it is felt that messages posted to comp.lang.javascript should be available to any and all newsreader software. Any form of attachments are also ruled out.

It has also been observed that while most of the world may be happy to use the newsreader bundled with their operating system, experts in various aspects of computing will often go out and acquire software that they believe superior for the task they have for it. Meaning that the people best equipped to offer help in the group are also the people least likely to be using the newsreader that you are familiar with. The expectation should be that others are using software that conforms to the applicable standards and not that they are using software with any particular set of additional or "enhanced" features, no matter how common they may seem. Plain-text posts will be readable by everyone, other content types may be subject to more comment on the inappropriateness of the content type than answers intended to address the question raised.

Interleaved Posting, Bottom Posting and Not Top Posting.

Interleaved Posting, Bottom Posting

The posting style in messages intended as responses to other messages is an area where a long established pattern of behaviour has been recognised as most appropriate for the medium and become an established convention.

Material quoted from the previous message is attributed to its author and indented with a marker character (usually >). It is trimmed down to just sufficient to provide the context in which the response is made (marking the fact that an edit has been made with one of several common notations, such as: <snip>, [snip], [ ... ], etc.) and the responding text is placed below the quoted material to which it is responding, separated from it by a blank line.

If the response addresses several points from the previous message then the parts of the quoted text providing the context for each point are separated by the responses to each point. Producing an interleaved post. If the quoted material is in one block then the response text goes after it at the bottom. Producing a bottom post.

It is not possible to distinguish between bottom posting and an interleaved post that is only responding to one point in the previous message. Personally, I prefer interleaved responses but neither will result in an adverse reaction. The important points are that quoted material should be trimmed to the minimum that provides sufficient context and that responses should follow that quoted material. The conversation, and its chronological sequence, flows in the normal direction of reading; top to bottom.

Failing to quote any of the preceding message is not necessarily wrong, so long as the text posted makes sense without the preceding message, for example, by summarising the points being responded to. But generally it is easier to provide the context for a response with a quoted snippet. But responses need to have a context.

Top Posting (don't)

Top posting is placing the response above the quoted material that is being responded to. The chronological sequence of conversation becomes the reverse of the normal top to bottom reading sequence and, without additional text summarising the points being responded to, it is difficult to determine exactly which points such a reply relates to.

The worst possible style of response posting is top posting over a full verbatim quote of the previous message, but even placing a response above a trimmed quote is wrong. It renders the conversational aspects of a response backwards, requiring people to scroll up and down to reconstruct the context of the response and generally making it hard work to understand the message. The answers come before the questions and the comments precede their subjects.

People do attempt to justify top posting. A common excuse made by top posters is that their newsreader places the cursor at the top of the message so that is the natural place to write the reply. That excuse is worthless as newsreader software does not dictate the style of posting and a cursor that starts at the top of a post does not have to stay there. Indeed it should not be expected to stay there, as the first responsibility of the respondent is to trim the quoted material down to just what is necessary to provide context for their response. A process that may reasonably be achieved by moving down through the quoted material deleting whatever is unneeded and marking those edits. And having done that the cursor will be at or near the bottom.

The other common excuse for top posting is that avoids excessive scrolling in order to find the response. The need for excessive scrolling in an interleaved or bottom posted message is most likely an indicator that the quoted material has not been suitably, or sufficiently, trimmed. But a top posters apparent desire to avoid scrolling is of no value to the regular users of Usenet who are accustomed to interleaved/bottom posting. They may take the top post as a preamble and still scroll down to see if any specific points have been responded to, not discovering that hey have wasted their time until they get to the bottom. A very short top post, without a blank line separating it from the following attribution line, may easily be missed by someone expecting the quoted material to come first, meaning that they do not discover where to look until they have scrolled to the bottom, and then they need to back scroll to the top. The perception is wrong, top posting results in much more unnecessary scrolling than it avoids, and that misperception impacts on regular user of Usenet; the very people who's help and co-operation is being sought.

Never top post to comp.lang.javascript. There is an established convention in posting styles on Usenet, and comp.lang.javascript. It is most efficient for everyone if newcomers follow that convention even if it seems strange to do so at first. In the long run it makes life easier for everyone, and the sooner that is recognised the less likelihood there is of being taken for a fool.

What to Trim

As a general guide, quoted material should almost never exceed the text posted in response. Exceptions might occur when both consist of exactly one line or sentence, or maybe a short code block that only needs a one line comment.

Deciding what to trim is a matter of judgement and takes a bit of practice to get right. There are few hard and fast rules and the best general advice has got to be to observe the behaviour of others positing to the group.

It is necessary to preserve the context in which a response is made but some things can be trimmed automatically: Signatures (if present); the section at the end of a post (and they should always, and only, be at the end, no matter where any individual newsreader may try to insert them) which starts with a separator consisting of "dash dash space newline(aka return)" on a line of its own, followed by material that is not directly related to the post but may be of more general interest or related to the individual who makes the post (conventionally not exceeding 4 lines of text), should always be trimmed from quoted material. It is never normally relevant to a posted response, but even if a signature is being directly commented upon it is vital to remove the signature separator at least, and best to trim anything it contains that is not being commented upon.

In comp.lang.javascript there is rarely much point in quoting javascript code that is not being directly commented upon or corrected. The indenting character (and possible line wrapping) renders any quoted code syntactically invalid so anyone wanting to use the code will have to go back to the message in which it originally appeared anyway. That would certainly apply to a post wishing to thank someone who had provided a complete scripted demonstration for their efforts.

No matter what gets trimmed the material that stays should not be altered in terms of spelling, words used and their order, etc. A quote should be a quote not an interpretation.

Margins and Line Wrapping


A line in a plane text Usenet post could be quite long, and some newsreaders would automatically wrap that line to the window in which it was being displayed. Others would provide horizontal scroll bars (usually undesirable) and yet others may not be able to access characters beyond the 80th (unlikely these days). There are no rules for handling excessively long lines but Usenet is old and has lived through the time when 80 character wide displays were commonplace. Along the way it became the convention that Usenet posts should have lines no longer than between 70 and 80 characters. And that avoids the need for any specified requirement in the handling of long lines by newsreader software. Lines in that range are unlikely to need to be wrapped for display and will not normally generate horizontal scroll bars. It is also the case that humans generally (and sometimes strongly) prefer to read text that is no more than about 80 character per line.

It is widely recommended that newsreader software should be configured to automatically wrap at about 72 characters when posting, which works well for posted text but can be problematic for posting long URLs and particularly in our context, posted source code. Others suggest that software should not be allowed to wrap posted code at all and that the poster should always do it manually. In either case it is the individual composing the post that is responsible for, and should be in control of, the wrapping of the content to ensure that it is suitable for posting to the group.

Line Wrapping

Most URLs are less than 72 character long anyway but some, such as references to Usenet articles in the archives at, are longer. Some newsreader software is smart enough to recognise a URL and not apply its default margin settings to them but in any event delimiting them with "<URL: " at the beginning and ">" at the end (preferably with the URL separated from the delimiters with spaces) should be sufficient to indicate to a reader that a line wrapped URL will need some remedial action.

Restricting margins to 72 characters usually does not need to affect the functionality of posted code either. Allowing a newsreader to line wrap posted code as it sees fit will usually render that code faulty (and difficult to read) and that will make it difficult for a reader to differentiate between problems within the original code and problems arising form line wrapping.

Javascript (ECMAScript) is extremely tolerant of white space (including line breaks) within its source code. There are in fact only a couple of places where white space characters are not allowed. For example, a line break may not be placed between the return keyword and any expression that is to be returned. As a result it is almost always possible to spread a line of javascript that would exceed the newsreaders wrapping margin across two or more lines without affecting its functionality or syntactic correctness.

One of the main reasons that Javascript is so tolerant of white space is to allow the structure of the source code (how the code is laid out in a text editor/post) to convey additional meaning (usually related to structure of the code/function/program) and maximise clarity for human readers. The breaking of long lines of source code across several lines should be done in a way that does not detract from the clarity of the code.

The main source code structuring consideration that adds clarity is block indenting. A block is defined with curly brackets { and } and represents a block statement (which may contain zero or more other statements). It is normal to indent the statements within a block by one tab character, though that tab is usually set to 4 or fewer spaces (two spaces is frequently recommended) width as the normal default 8 spaces width is a bit too deep for most practical uses. However, tab character should not be used for indention in Usenet posts at all as newsreader default tab settings may often be 8 characters but may also be zero characters, defeating the purpose indentation in posted code entirely. Good text editors will usually offer a facility to convert tabs to any number of spaces, which can be used to prepare code for posting. Indenting in code posted to Usenet should be done with space characters. 4 or fewer (two is often recommended) per level of indentation.

There are various common styles of block indenting, of which I prefer to leave the opening { at the end of the control statement (on the same line) and list the block contents as one statement per line, indented by 4 or fewer spaces, with the closing } on a new line indented so that it lines up vertically with the start of the control statement, e.g.:-

function doSomething(oArea){
    var nArea = oArea.nWidth * oArea.nHeitht;
    var result = true;
        result = false;
    }else if(nWidth < nHeight){
        result = oArea.reShape(nArea);
    return result;

/* The same function may also be commonly formatted:- */

function doSomething(oArea)
    var nArea = oArea.nWidth * oArea.nHeitht;
    var result = true;
        result = false;
    else if(nWidth < nHeight)
        result = oArea.reShape(nArea);
    return result;

/* -or:- */

function doSomething(oArea)
    var nArea = oArea.nWidth * oArea.nHeitht;
    var result = true;
        result = false;
    else if(nWidth < nHeight)
        result = oArea.reShape(nArea);
    return result;

It is not that important which style of block indenting is used, everyone has their own preferred style, but it is important that a style of block indenting is used in code posted to the group. In all cases the indenting serves to make the structure of the function apparent in the structure of the source code. It is an aid to human readers of the code and saves a great deal of time for anyone attempting to offer help and so needing to understand the code.

Sometimes the line wrapping problem can be avoided by reducing the number of space characters by which the blocks are indented. However, if a statement must be broken across several lines it could be indented to a different level than it's own start, and it could also be indented at a different level to its block contents (if any). If block indenting is at, say, 4 space intervals then indenting a broken line at 1 to 3 characters should serve to make it clear that it is indenting separate from the general block structure of the code, e.g.:-

function getRootElement_OrDefault(deflt){
    if((typeof document.compatMode == "string")&&
      (document.compatMode.indexOf("CSS") != -1)&&
      (document.documentElement)){  //<< broken statement
        return document.documentElement;
    }else if(document.body){
        return document.body;
        return deflt;

Another alternative for formatting statements broken across lines might be to disregard the indenting on the left and line the code that belongs to the broken statement up on the right hand side. e.g.:-

this.position = function(){
    var twiceSize;
    if(--delay <= 0){
        if(((z+=fv) >= planeDepth)||
         ((dy+dm) > windowCenterY)||
         ((dx+dm) > windowCenterX)||
                           (v < 0)){ //right aligned broken statement
        } = (sy+(py*dy)-dm)+cssUnitsOrZero;
        div.left = (sx+(px*dx)-dm)+cssUnitsOrZero;
        divClip.height = (twiceSize = (dm << 1)+cssUnitsOrZero);
        divClip.width = twiceSize;

Thus the ability to insert line breaks liberally throughout javascript source code allows almost all code to be formatted in a fully functional, well structured and clear way within the restricted margins appropriate in posts to comp.lang.javascript. Efforts put into preparing posted code to be clear and comprehensible to its Usenet audience will be rewarded. But it is important to start any formatting required with the actual code in use, rather than attempting to re-type it, in order not to introduce errors that are not present in the original and so have nothing to do with the original problem. Having prepared the formatting of the code to suite Usenet it is important to re-test it to ensure that it is still as functional, that no errors have been introduced and that it still exhibits whatever behaviour it was that motivated the post in the first place.

Line Wrapping in Quoted Material

If a news post has been wrapped at, say, 72 characters and it is responded to then the indenting character used to mark quoted material will add to the length of that line. Maybe pushing it over the length at which the reply will be wrapped. The result, if posted without adjustment, may look something like this:-

An example OP wrote:
> A long line of text quoted from the previous post, that was wrapped
> 72 characters in that post but has been extended to 74 characters
> lines because of the addition of the indenting characters that mark
> as a quotation, but has been re-wrapped to 72 characters in the
> follow-up that is quoting it.

The comment posted in response to the material quoted above. Originally
wrapped in the response at 72 characters.

The effect is that the words "at", "long", "it" and "posted" are no longer marked as part of the quotation but instead appear to be badly formatted and meaningless comments on that quoted material. Which has itself gained the appearance of being incompetently trimmed. The effect escalates with additional responses, loosing more meaning and becoming less and less clear as to whom any particular part of the text is attributable.

The First Responder wrote:
> An example OP wrote:
>> The First Responder wrote:
>>> An example OP wrote:
>>>> A long line of text quoted from the previous post, that was
>>> at
>>>> 72 characters in that post but has been extended to 74 characters
>>> long
>>>> lines because of the addition of the indenting characters that
>>> it
>>>> as a quotation, but has been re-wrapped to 72 characters in the
>>> posted
>>>> follow-up that is quoting it.
>>> The comment posted in response to the material quoted above.
>> Originally
>>> wrapped in the response at 72 characters.
>> This response is the OP's reply to the comments on the original
>> post. It quoted the previous posts in full and was wrapped at 72
>> characters.
>And the original responder added this.

The conversation ended with the OP thanking the responder for their
comments. (but who said what?)

The solution is to be aware that this may happen and re-wrap that quoted material so that it is not effected by the automatic line wrapping when a post is sent, or to increase the wrapping margins by the number of characters inserted to mark a quotation (so long as the result does not exceed 80 characters). Some newsreader software can handle this automatically, and add on software exists for other products (such as OE), but ultimately the responsibility for properly marking and attributing quoted material belongs with the individual making the post.

If the two had taken the effect of the progressive lengthening of lines in quoted material into account the result would have looked like this:-

The First Responder wrote:
> An example OP wrote:
>> The First Responder wrote:
>>> An example OP wrote:
>>>> A long line of text quoted from the previous post, that was
>>>> wrapped at 72 characters in that post but has been extended to 74
>>>> characters long lines because of the addition of the indenting
>>>> characters that mark it as a quotation, but has been re-wrapped to
>>>> 72 characters in the posted follow-up that is quoting it.
>>> The comment posted in response to the material quoted above.
>>> Originally wrapped in the response at 72 characters.
>> This response is the OP's reply to the comments on the original
>> post. It quoted the previous posts in full and was wrapped at 72
>> characters.
>And the original responder added this.

The conversation ended with the OP thanking the responder for their

It would have been clear form the number of quote indicating characters who exactly had said what and the quoted material would have been easier to read and understand. Though in practice there probably should have been much more trimming along the way as the whole conversation would probably not have been needed to show the context of each response.

General Code Postings, and when to use a URL

Often a question cannot usefully be answered without being accompanied with javascript source code. Even a very detailed explanation of a process will not tend to narrow the possibilities down to just one method, and deciding whether a reported effect is due to a characteristic of an execution environment or code that is taking the wrong approach cannot be done without seeing the source code.

In some cases small snippets of code, say an individual function's definition, might be sufficient. Though it is usually necessary to know how such a function is being called and what arguments it is using. But ideally questions should be accompanied by an easily testable example that demonstrates the characteristics that provoked the question.

Easily testable because there is no better aid to debugging than being able to reproduce a problem. Time spent turning a snippet of code into testable web page (or whatever) is not rewarded if the results do not exhibit the problem described. And asking many people to repeat that process when it could have been done by the questioner once, in a way that guaranteed a demonstration of the problem, is not a good use of the group or the time of its participants.

However, posting the entire source code of a web page that happens to include the problematic script is rarely the answer. For one thing web pages often import CSS, other script files and graphics (the latter simply could not be posted to the group). But web pages also often consist of large amounts of HTML, which would require careful re-wrapping to fit within the posting margins and be left correct, and much of the HTML would be irrelevant to the post.

There is also the question of bandwidth in transmission and capacity in storage. Every post is stored, at least for a time, on every news server carrying the group world wide and usually also on the hard disk of everyone who reads the group. And to get from server to server, and eventually to the many readers, it must be transmitted, consuming bandwidth related to the size of the post. The more irrelevant information that any post contains the more those resources are wasted (this is also a reason for appropriate trimming of quoted material).

The comp.lang.javascript FAQ makes the injunction that posting code of more than 500 lines is unacceptable. That is the theoretical upper limit that should never be exceeded, but a post of even half that length would have to be exceptional.

The easiest way of demonstrating a problem in context without posting excessive amounts of code and HTML is to make a page that exhibits the problem available online and post the URL of that page along with the question. Possibly accompanied by a snippet of the code highlighting the suspected cause.

The circumstances under which making a page that demonstrates the problem available online is advisable are, whenever that page is interacting within a frameset, or whenever images play a significant part in a problem. As those circumstances are time consuming to reproduce from posted code and cannot always be recreated for testing. But any request to have people examine excessive amounts of code and/or HTML should also be made available on line instead of in a post.

Unfortunately not all participants in the group are viewing Usenet in a way that makes easily following a URL to an example page viable. Often downloading new Usenet posts as a batch and then viewing them off line. Re-connecting to view an example page is not always desirable (due to local conditions, slow modem connections and potential associated expense) and can be unrewarding if the page viewed is a mush of WISYWIG generated bloated HTML-like noise. Where it takes a considerable time to even locate the cause of what may still turn out to be a trivial problem.

Then again there are people using the group who much prefer examples to be available online. Either way what is not wanted is for questions to be asked without making the corresponding code available in some way, or the posting of excessive amounts of code.

A good compromise, and a valuable debugging technique, is the creation of a demonstration test-case page. A page containing no more than sufficient HTML and javascript to allow others to reproduce the problem and see the relevant code without anything extraneous. Such a test-case page would almost always be short enough to post with the question (properly formatted) and could additionally be made available online for the convenience of those that would prefer to use a URL to load it directly into a browser for testing.

Creating such a test-case page can be valuable in itself as attempting to reduce a problem from a larger context to an isolated demonstration will often reveal the cause of that problem along the way. The act of cutting out what initially seems irrelevant often reveals that the problem in fact results form an unexpected interaction with something that was assumed to be unconnected. And if the problem can be demonstrated in isolation then it is relatively easy for readers of the question to reproduce the problem and identify its cause, resulting in less discussion of superfluous issues and usually a quicker resolution of the question.

It is very important to test test-case pages prior to posting them to ensure that they do indeed exhibit the characteristic that motivated the question. At least if you want to be taken seriously in future. And when such a test-case is posted to the group it should be formatted and indented to facilitate the essayist reading of the code and testing by no more than copying the page into a text editor and saving it locally as a HTML file.

Well Asked Questions Get the Best Answers

Beyond any considerations of posting style and formatting, the quality of questions asked has a considerable impact upon the number and quality of answers given, and the time taken to elicit a useful response. Vague questions are likely to be answered with requests for clarification. Terse general questions are likely to elicit yes or no answers (often both). And questions that have been asked, and well answered, before (especially frequently or in the recent past) are as likely as not to be ignored.

When asking a question it would almost always be a good idea to put yourself in the position of the reader of the question, read it back to yourself and ask yourself; Does this question actually ask what I want to know, and is it sufficiently clear and detailed to elicit that answer?

The following is a short list of recurring features of badly asked questions:-

Appropriate Use of the Subject Header

Another Usenet convention holds that the Subject header should not be expected to be available to a reader of any message. While it is unlikely that there are any newsreaders currently in use in which the user is not presented with the Subject header, it remains inappropriate to ask a question in the subject header (or to assume that its contents will provide supplementary information about a question) and doing so is as likely to invoke a lesson in Usenet etiquette as an answer to the question. But a question is not really a subject anyway. The subject should describe what the question is in relation to, and is useful for archive searching and categorisation rather than as a means of communication.

Any question asked should always appear in the body of the post, and in a form that does not assume the availability of the Subject header to the reader.

The Subject header should also not be wasted. Placing "please help" and the like in the subject header is unwelcome and counterproductive. Take the opportunity to construct a Subject header that states the type of the problem, what it relates to. Subject headers that state the real subject will attract the attention of people with a special interest in that subject, exactly those people best able to offer help.

Doing Your Own Research

Many questions, at least the questions literally asked, could quickly be answered with a little research, and the chances are that regulars on the group know how easily those answers could have been found with a little effort. The group is not intended to be a vending machine for trivial information about javascript, that wouldn't be an interesting group to participate in.

On the other hand, evidence that some effort has been put into researching a problem before asking a question tends to be looked upon kindly (though claiming to have exhausted all lines of research when that is obviously not the case would have the opposite effect).

The obvious first place to look for answers is in the group's FAQ. That will mean reading all of the FAQ because the answers to some problems (or sufficient clues to those answers) will be found within the answers to seemingly unrelated questions, or the resources linked to from the FAQ. That in itself is a fairly big task, but if not undertaken will just result in questions being answered with references back to the FAQ. There is also a Usenet convention that whenever a newsgroup (particularly technical groups) provides a FAQ resource, that FQA should be read by anyone wishing to post to the group prior to making their first post. So reading the FAQ is not optional anyway.

The Internet provides a massive resource for researching virtually any question, and particularly questions relating to computing. Search engines are the primary research tool and among those google is extremely useful. But when a question relates to javascript in a way that indicates that it may be suitable to be asked on comp.lang.javascript the best place to research the question is, as that resource holds a searchable archive of almost all postings ever made to the group. There is an "Advanced Search" page, where entering "comp.lang.javascript" in the Newsgroup field and suitable keywords in the other fields provided will return all messages posted to the group that match the search criteria. As most questions will have been asked before many answers can be obtained from the archives. But be aware of the date of posts found as the archive goes back to 1996 and some things have changed over the intervening years.

Reading back over recent posts to the group, for a minimum of a week and preferably more than a month will avoid the need to re-ask a question that has been asked and answered in recent memory. Not all news servers will hold all messages over that period so the group archives at can be useful in this respect also.

"It doesn't work"

People don't tend to question code that does exactly what they want it to do. Sometimes they may ask how it does exactly what they want but generally it is superfluous to state that code that does not address a situation doesn't work.

To start with computer code always does exactly what is asked of it, that is the nature of computers. So it does "work", it is just that it doesn't do what is wanted of it. And that is a problem because code that does not do something that is wanted of it cannot itself explain what that something was.

It is the task of a human designer to decide what is wanted form code, to specify the task. The reader of a question can do no more than guess as to the task unless the questioner explains the specification for the code, and that specification needs to be specific. That information is needed when assessing what would qualify as "works" in the context of the question.

But in addition to knowing what would qualify as working it is also necessary to know in what way code is failing to work. There is a big difference between code that appears to do nothing when executed, code that does something undesirable in addition to what is expected of it and code that does something else entirely.

Instead of stating the self-evident "It doesn't work", the posters of questions should attempt to provide answers to:-

1. What you have done?
Providing access the code (possibly in the form of a test case), explaining the steps required to initiate the undesirable effect and the environments (usually web browsers) where the problem has been observed, so that it can be reproduced and tested.
2. What you expected to happen?
Both specifically in the case of the code under discussion and generally with regard to the design specification.
3. What really happened?
What was observed to happen and any error messaged generated. So that when (and if) the problem is reproduced in testing it is possible to identify it as the effect under discussion.

Explain the Whole Context

The context in which a question is asked or a problem exists is very important to the type of answers given or solutions proposed. Beyond the obvious required details such as the execution host(s), scripts used and how they are used, There are details like whether a project is for the Internet or an Intranet. Because on comp.lang.javascript the default assumption is that the context will be browser scripting for the Internet, many approaches/solutions are ruled out, but some may be completely reasonable and practical in the more restricted context of a company Intranet (or on more controlled hosts such as the windows scripting host or server-side javascript).

There have been many occasions where many answers to questions have stressed the unsuitability of particular approaches to use on the Internet only for the original questioner to respond by explaining that they don't apply because their context is an Intranet. That wastes the time of everyone who composed a response to the original question; if they had been in possession of the real context from the outset they could have got on with proposing/discussing solutions that were appropriate, or moved on to something more interesting.

But the full context of a question goes beyond such details and answers the question: why? Often a question will be asking about a particular approach that, to the questioner, is a perceived solution to a problem. The answer to the question why would explain what that problem is, and knowing what that problem is will allow respondents to assess the suitability of the approach at addressing the problem and possibly suggest other, and superior, solutions. There is very little that is genuinely new and unique, whatever the wider problem is the chances are that someone will be familiar with it and be in a position to identify the best solution (even if that is just confirming that the proposed solution is the best available). Questions raised on the group should always include the answer to the question: why?

Proof-Read your Questions

Proof-read your message two or three times before posting. Ensure that it is as error free as possible and does convey the question and provide all of the necessary information in a way that will not be subject to misinterpretation.

Additional Reading

Related draft proposals / work in progress:-

comp.lang.javascript FAQ notes T.O.C.