Pro Webmasters questions can often be answered or clarified by linking to tutorials and blog posts from third-party sites. I'm cautious about doing so because I appreciate the need to avoid potential dead links should visitors stumble upon an old question.

Nevertheless, is it acceptable to simply link to external tutorials as my answer, or should I be paraphrasing external resources and citing them as references instead?


I like to link to the external site citing it as the source and then displaying any quotations or code from it below. Like so:

From source:

This is a fake quote from another website that answers the question well in my opinion. And because I quoted the important text here if the web page goes away the important part of the answer remains.

Or I'll paraphrase it while linking to it. Usually like this:

It appears that you can't make an elephant fly just by feeding it Taco Bell.

Dead links are unfortunately part of the Internet but as long as the main point is clear in the answer the dead link won't really hurt future viewers of that answer. Plus the answer can always be updated if another source appears that offers the same or similar information.

  • If the page with the information moves then putting that quote into a search engine will often turn it up. Jun 1 '11 at 9:33

I strongly recommend quoting or summarizing the link so that

  1. The answer appears directly in the question (or at least, the important bits of it)

  2. If that link dies -- this happens a lot -- we aren't left with a dangling answer that is now meaningless because it was merely a pointer to another place that no longer exists.

  3. The reader can get the "Reader's Digest" short form answer and click through on the link to get a fuller explanation with lots of detail.

I cannot emphasize enough how many dead "see this link!" answers we have on Stack Overflow that I have to delete. I try to fix them when I find them but some sites just disappear off the internet and can't be found even in the wayback machine.

  • 1
    I discovered Webcite today. You provide a URL (here), and they cache the page and give you a webcite URL to reference. They also offer membership for those considering donating space or using the service on a larger scale. Not sure if this is appropriate for stackexchange sites, but I can see that it might drastically reduce the number of dead links across the network. Worth considering, perhaps.
    – Nick
    Jun 9 '11 at 17:22
  • @nick interesting, I hadn't heard of that -- see my related webapps Q webapps.stackexchange.com/questions/11367/… Jun 9 '11 at 21:32
  • @nick: That would be good idea, but what will happen after they go out of business?
    – Arsen7
    Jun 30 '11 at 12:58
  • @Arsen7 I thought the same thing about the imgur.com partnership (for in-answer image hosting). Perhaps the solution, if we even need one, is for a Stack Exchange -backed and hosted version of Webcite that caches linked sites in a similar manner to pinboard's archive service.
    – Nick
    Jun 30 '11 at 13:03
  • @nick we have paid dedicated imgur servers at i.stack.imgur.com and we back up the images locally. Not sure what you're referring to there.. Jun 30 '11 at 13:06
  • @Jeff I understand that; my point was that @Arsen7's concerns over using a third-party provider can be overcome with paid partnerships and solid backups (as you've done with imgur.com). I was trying to show that using a third-party service wasn't necessarily a bad idea, and that SE has already made it work with image hosting. Sorry if that didn't come across!
    – Nick
    Jun 30 '11 at 13:10
  • 1
    @nick hmm, I believe lots of duplication of content -- massively distributed version control -- is the most correct answer per the question. Jun 30 '11 at 13:14

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