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Recently, I arrived to this physics.SE page where the first link is broken, presumably because it is pointing to theoreticalphysics.SE which does not exist anymore.

My questions are:

  1. what to do in such a case?
  2. wouldn't be wise to add some instructions for similar cases in the help centre?

For both questions I was not able to find a general answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking specifically about TP.SE links, or broken links in general? The answers are quite different (see meta.stackexchange.com/q/225370 compared Qmechanic's answer here). It looks like the edit just specified TP.SE, but I wanted to know if that was your intention when you wrote this post. $\endgroup$ – user191954 Feb 16 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Chair The question originated from the specific case of a link to TP.SE. But I think that the general case of a broken link would be equally important. In principle, it could be possible to imagine an automatic periodic scan of all the links which could result in a list of broken list. Couldn't be useful? $\endgroup$ – GiorgioP Feb 16 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @GiorgioP surely that would be very useful. It would also be quite impractical to implement on the SE network as a whole, given how many questions & answers there are... $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 17 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos It shouldn't be done on a daily base. even once in a year it could help to achieve a consistent site. $\endgroup$ – GiorgioP Feb 17 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ @GiorgioP The general case is discussed in the meta link from my first comment: ideally, posts should have enough detail such that broken links do not render them useless. If a post is useless because of such links, the appropriate flag is NotAnAnswer, and questions can be closed as unclear or reconstructed with the wayback machine. There's no need to do periodic searches for broken TP.SE links because no new posts could contain such links. Someone could theoretically build a script which uses a 2k rep account to detect and replace all existing links to TP.SE, but I don't know how to do that. $\endgroup$ – user191954 Feb 17 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Chair I fully agree about the self-containedness of posts. However, it happens that some links (even to to a different section of SE) could be useful and this is the rationale behind the existing possibility of adding a link. However, a broken link is always annoying and it is usual, in the case of well-maintained sites, to have a periodic scan of the links to fix broken references. I do not think is a complicate or impossible feature to ask and the returning value in term of global quality of the site would be great. $\endgroup$ – GiorgioP Feb 17 at 8:44
  • $\begingroup$ An automated scan won't detect links whose target has changed, which are equally important. And even if you do have a scan, what do you do with the results - do you fix them manually? Do you implement some software marker on the broken links? Still, it'd be interesting to run such a test and see how badly we do, though that may well be best requested at the Mother Meta. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 17 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty "what do you do with the results?" I think that a queue of broken links to be fixed could be just another queue like the existing "Close votes" "Suggested Edits" etc. Anyway, I agree that a test to understand the present situation would be the first step. About links whose target has changed, I know that this is a more difficult problem but already a clean-up of the 404-page-not-found could be an improvement. Following your suggestion, I see that there has been some discussion on the mother Meta. For example meta.stackexchange.com/questions/113842/flag-as-broken-link $\endgroup$ – GiorgioP Feb 17 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ which already contained many of the observations coming to my mind. I'll check for other similar discussions to understand why thee has been no follow-up. $\endgroup$ – GiorgioP Feb 17 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ @GiorgioP If that's the closest there is in the Mother Meta, then it's well worth it to post a new thread explicitly calling for such a review queue, and putting forward as built-up a proposal as you can. The link you gave is from 2011 and SO was three years old at the time; link rot has become a much bigger problem as we've accumulated eight more years of dust on top of the links that were laid down in the beginning of the sites' history. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 18 at 13:02
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Since all TP.SE threads were migrated to Phys.SE, it is in principle possible to fix the link, which is hereby done.

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  • $\begingroup$ Will this work for TP.SE meta posts too? I doubt they'd make sense on our meta though... $\endgroup$ – user191954 Feb 16 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ No, the TP meta site was not salvaged. $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Feb 16 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ Hmmmmm. I thought that the links were fixed at the time, but apparently there's still some twenty-odd left. Should be editable by hand, but they're enough that we should rate-limit the process. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 17 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I wonder how many links are left to the old Astronomy site, which will nowadays fail to 404 but will instead point to completely unrelated threads. It's worth having a dig just to check. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 17 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ ... no, there don't seem to be any. All the existing links to astro.se date from 2013 onwards, with the old beta closing in 2012. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 18 at 11:06

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