This is about the following question: What do I need to configure, to make sure my software uses /dev/urandom?

Please critique the question. If you believe it has violated any rules, please cite the rule that it violates, with a citation or link to the rule.

One person mentioned they believe that my request for "one piece of software per answer" violates the StackExchange rules. I've researched the rules, and as best as I can tell, I have not found any rule that it violates. I also believe the format is better for the community -- or, at least, that some deference should be provided to the question-asker when there is no clear reason to object to it.

I've read the faq, and I don't see anything in the FAQ that this violates. This is an actual problem to be solved; it is not open-ended or hypothetical; it is not a rant; my answer is not provided along with the question; and not all answers are equally valid. Indeed, some answers may be more useful to people than others. Also, some answers may be more accurate than others. For these reasons, I think it is useful to be able to vote separately on each answer, or to downvote those answers that are incorrect.

I understand that questions like "Can you provide a list of all books on computer security?" are not a good fit for our community, because they are too subjective. This sometimes is summarized by saying Infinite List of X questions are bad. However I don't think those criticisms apply to this particular question.

Is this an Infinite List of X question? The term is frankly not defined, except by example, so I don't think it makes sense to mindlessly dismiss my question as Infinite List of X. Instead, we have to look at the examples and the arguments given why Infinite List of X questions are bad. Typically, the criticisms mention polls or surveys, which are indeed problematic; but I don't think they are analogous to my question. One reason sometimes given why Infinite List of X questions are bad is that "every answer is equally valid" or "there are zero meaningful criteria for evaluation"; I don't think that applies to my question, as explained above. Another criticism that's mentioned is that these questions are often "copy-pasted content, not original contributions", but that's not relevant to my question.


Should the question and all answers be deleted entirely? Would it be better to not have the information on this site, than to have it in this format?

Added 5/1: Well, that was fast. 11 hours after this question was posted, my answers were forcibly edited to merge them (without my permission), and my question was edited to change it. So I guess that means this discussion topic is now closed, and the community has spoken. Got it.

I would have liked the chance to respond to some of the latest comments in this discussion, but I guess that's now irrelevant. (And I'll point out that still no one has cited any rule that my original question violated.) Oh well.

  • In looking at previous discussions on this, and what other visitors will find useful, the best approach looks to be for you to roll up all your answers into one, and have others add to it if necessary. The SE structure encourages this. I would say keep your headings, but have them all in one answer.
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    May 1, 2012 at 8:29
  • @RoryAlsop [status-completed] May 1, 2012 at 10:51

2 Answers 2


The problem with your format is that none of your posts below the question are answers. They're items, which if combined would make an answer.

Each answer is supposed to solve the problem on its own. In the present state, none of your posts solve the problem, they only tackle a small part of it.

Multiple answers are supposed to provide different ways of solving the problem. Let's say I want to suggest a different way of ensuring that mod_ssl uses /dev/urandom. So I would post another answer about mod_ssl. If everybody does that, the result will be a complete mess, with a few posts about mod_ssl and a few posts about Postfix and a few posts about OpenLDAp and …. There wouldn't even be a way of filtering the posts about mod_ssl among the crowd. And since I can next add my answer about Joe's HTCPCP server, this is indeed an “infinite list of X” question.

Voting on answers is supposed to reflect the accuracy, clarity, completenes and other qualities of the answer. Ideally, an answer has a higher score than another if it is better by these measures than the other answer. What does it mean if your Postfix answer is more upvoted than your OpenLDAP answer? That Postfix is better than OpenLDAP and I should start using it to serve my user and host databases? There are, indeed, “zero meaningful criteria for evaluation”.

This isn't an issue that's come up often on this site, if at all. Other subjects are more prone to generating such lists of items. The result is a mess. Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange ran into this issue early on, and ended up mentioning an explicit prohibition on “list questions” in its FAQ. However, this is not intrisically a policy that is specific to SF&F: the FAQ only makes it explicit that lists of items are not well-suited to the Stack Exchange format.

When I read your question, I expected that you were after general advice regarding system configuration to use /dev/urandom. Given what you posted as answers, it seems that you are instead after advice for certain specific programs (mod_ssl, Postfix, etc.). Such specific advice should be in one question per program. I have therefore reversed my vote and voted to close your question as too broad. Please ask about each program separately, so that a person looking after advice for Postfix can find a Posftix question, etc.

Addendum: the answers by David Schwartz and Yoav Aner don't target any specific software. They should not be lost in a long list of items.

  • "It seems that you are instead after advice for certain specific programs. Such specific advice should be in one question per program" - That would be fine if I knew in advance which programs have this issue -- but I don't. I'm not looking about advice about specific programs. The problem is I don't know in advance which programs I need to ask about. I'm looking for a checklist of programs that have this issue, and how to solve it.
    – D.W.
    May 1, 2012 at 0:20
  • @D.W. You do know in advance what programs to ask about: the ones that are installed on your system. May 1, 2012 at 0:20
  • No, read again. I need to know which programs have the issue that they use /dev/random when they should be using /dev/urandom. How would I know which programs fall in that category? (Or, are you really asking me to post a separate question about each program installed on my system? I just looked and I have 4387 programs installed on my system. Do you really want me to post 4387 separate questions, which are identical except in the program name? That's silly.)
    – D.W.
    May 1, 2012 at 0:22
  • Also, I'd like to ask a clarification question, if I may. If I understand correctly, your reasoning implies that my question is too broad and should be closed and deleted (and all answers deleted) -- which would mean that the information won't be present on this site. I'm OK with that if that is indeed what you are voting for. Are the concerns significant enough that you prefer not to have this information on the site at all, rather than to have the information present in a format which you are concerned might possibly lead to a problem in the future?
    – D.W.
    May 1, 2012 at 0:27
  • @D.W. If your question was how to find which programs have the issue, then an answer should list all affected programs. My edit to your question was intended to clarify the question in this direction. I think your question, after my edit, was a very good question. On the other hand, your question in its present form will not generate useful answers; therefore having it on the site is worse than not having it. This isn't “a problem in the future”: the answers are already a mess. My preference would be for you to remove your “one per answer” request and coalesce your answers into a single one. May 1, 2012 at 0:31
  • "your question in its present form will not generate useful answers" - That's an empirical question, isn't it? I'd say it has already generated useful answers. Perhaps you or others may disagree about the usefulness of the answers, but I think that's exactly the sort of discussion we should have. In my view, if it does not generate useful answers, then it should be deleted; if it does generate useful answers, then it seems like a positive thing (better than not having it, and worth keeping).
    – D.W.
    May 1, 2012 at 4:10
  • @D.W. I have to say I'm mostly in agreement with Gilles - I think this is a great question, but a great answer should be as complete as possible. Ideally, a single "meta"-answer, including as many items of software as possible (and, probably updated in the future - possible candidate for C.W. :) ). Sure, additional answers are always possible, either to add a new program or correct an existing one.
    – AviD Mod
    May 1, 2012 at 7:41
  • But I think the main point Gilles makes - how do you compare an answer on Postfix and an answer on OpenLDAP? Which is a "better" answer? In my opinion - a better answer would be one that includes both. Personally, I would probably not vote on a single-item answer, unless I went looking specifically for that; if I saw an uber-complete answer, with items for many programs, I would definitely upvote even if I had no use for the question e.g. since I'm not on Linux. Just because that answer would be so awesome.
    – AviD Mod
    May 1, 2012 at 7:44
  • 2
    Last point - to be clear, I dont think closing/deleting is relevant, even as a list of X question this one would be probably be acceptable, and definitely useful. However I think it would be more awesome if there was one, complete, total (by incrementing) answer.
    – AviD Mod
    May 1, 2012 at 7:46

I think @AviD and @Gilles are right.

We need a 'one best answer' with all these existing answers rolled into one. From the perspective of someone coming here to find the answer, they should see one top-voted answer with everything they need in it.

This could work from the existing answers being rolled into one - keeping those headings.

There are very few scenarios where a list of many answers works here on SE.

From Jeff Atwood: If it is possible for a question to have two valid answers from the same person, the odds are high that it's a bad question.

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