One close reason is:

Questions seeking product recommendations are off-topic as they become obsolete quickly. Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve.

It is often used to close questions like these:

  • What software can do X?
  • What are good resources for topic Y?
  • Is there a database for Z?

A recent example is Is there (free) software than decrypts a single file on Windows and Android?.

@techraf commented:

To reviewers flagging this as product recommendation request: please think for a moment about the advice given in the flag description: "Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve." Doesn't this question follow it?

They are right that this sentence seems to suggest that this question is on-topic. But the close reason starts with "Questions seeking product recommendations are off-topic", and it seems pretty clear to me that that is what the OP is asking for.

As the linked blog post is a 6 year old post that focuses on hardware product recommendations on Super User, I thought it would be a good idea to ask how it is handled here and to possibly re-think the close reason.

techrafs reason for not wanting to close these kinds of questions:

The purpose of closing questions with recommendation requests is to limit low-quality, low-value, quickly-becoming-obsolete, limited-to-particular-situation answers. I cannot see how this question could attract such answers. Quite the contrary it explains (2) and is (3) (which are relevant and specified in the guidelines) so that it allows to create knowledge. For given conditions there is such and such solution. This is learning.

I would actually agree with some of this, but I don't think that this is how it is currently handled.

So my questions are:

  • Is the linked question a question asking for a product recommendation and should thus be closed?
  • As per current policy, should all questions asking for product recommendations be closed, or only bad ones (however that is defined)?
  • Is it time to rethink the approach to product recommendations at sec.se? Software does seem to age slower than hardware. A suggestion to use truecrypt for encryption would for example have been valid for almost 10 years. Many answers to other questions aren't even valid that long. And product recommendations can add valuable information to this site. On the other hand, they could also lead to long, mostly outdated link-lists.

2 Answers 2


“Product recommendation” is a bit vague. Most questions on Stack Exchange take the form “I have this problem, how do I solve it?”. Sometimes the natural solution to a problem is to use a ready-made product. In such cases, the question is considered a product recommendation question.

Questions may be formulated as a product recommendation request, when the question explicitly includes the expectation that a solution will be a ready-made product. We tend to frown on these questions because they often fall into some common pitfalls: asking what the best product and forgetting to state the precise problem that needs solving.

“What's the best product of this type?” is not an answerable question and such questions should be closed. This is what the close reason is about. Because of a system limitation, the close reason is listed under off-topic, even though that doesn't make sense when the product type is related to security — but custom close reasons can't be added under “too broad” or “unclear what you're asking”.

“How do I solve my [sufficiently precisely stated] problem?” is a valid question, and the close reason does not apply to these. As the second sentence states, “describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve” — and then you should have a good question. It's often best not to frame the question as “What product should I use?” but as “how do I solve my problem?”. Nonetheless, some problems do naturally call for a ready-made product. When product solutions are expected, I recommend following the Software Recommendations question and answer guidelines.

In the specific case of https://security.stackexchange.com/questions/133141/is-there-free-software-than-decrypts-a-single-file-on-windows-and-android, there is a specific problem to solve, so this question is fine for Stack Exchange. It doesn't fall under the “product recommendation” close reason. However, this question is off-topic here, because the question is a purely functional one: it's driven by software compatibility, not by security policies. Since the question does follow the “software to do X” model, it is on-topic on Software Recommendations where it has been migrated.

  • I'd have to disagree with your final paragraph. There is no problem to solve. It falls entirely under product recommendation.
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    Aug 9, 2016 at 7:04
  • 2
    @RoryAlsop Product recommendation and having a problem to solve are not mutually exclusive. That question falls under product recommendation and has a problem to solve. You'll notice that it's being well-received on Software Recommendations. Aug 9, 2016 at 7:46
  • Good - that is exactly why it went there. It is a product recommendation. Off topic here. As I said.
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    Aug 9, 2016 at 7:49
  • 2
    @RoryAlsop Software Recommendations insists on questions where there is a problem to solve. More so than most sites, even. Aug 9, 2016 at 7:50

With that specific one, the answer is either "No" or "Yes, and this is what it is called"

Which plants it very firmly in the "not useful" here category.

  • 1
    well, the second answer would be useful for the OP and anyone looking for software providing similar functionality (at least as long as that software still exists and still provides the functionality). But I see your point; When the answer is a simple "Product X", the question was obviously asking for a product recommendation, and is thus currently off-topic.
    – tim
    Aug 7, 2016 at 16:21
  • 4
    Nonsense. “Yes, and this is what it is called” is a useful answer. The question is off-topic here, and migrating to SR was the right thing, but that's because it isn't about security, not because it isn't useful. Aug 9, 2016 at 0:44
  • Gilles - "yes, and this is what it's called" is not useful in the SE framework. It is entirely software recommendation.
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    Aug 9, 2016 at 7:03
  • 2
    @RoryAlsop Once again, nonsense. “It is entirely software recommendation” is not some kind of magic insult that makes a question worthless. Aug 9, 2016 at 7:48
  • Do you even read what I am saying? I'll add one word to clarify it for you. "Here"
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    Aug 9, 2016 at 7:50
  • 2
    This is why softwarerecs and hardwarerecs were created. To cope with the recommendation questions that aren't useful in the SE framework like this.
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    Aug 9, 2016 at 7:51
  • @RoryAlsop The perception of usefulness is subjective. Aug 14, 2016 at 17:06
  • Outside SE, yes, but we have strong guidelines in here.
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    Aug 14, 2016 at 17:16
  • If "not useful = against guidelines", then your answer can be rephrased as "it's against guidelines because it's against guidelines". Aug 16, 2016 at 17:31
  • Sure, if you like. That's not what I was saying but the end result is the same.
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    Aug 16, 2016 at 17:37
  • A quick edit can make this question a "how do I question". The answer could be a product/tool but it could also be "check this cool undocumented command line" or "here's 3 lines of python that does that same".
    – paj28
    Aug 17, 2016 at 13:54

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