Stack Overflow Offline Caters For Remote and Restricted
Written by Sue Gee   
Thursday, 20 October 2022

When your code doesn't behave as it should, your first port of call is probably Stack Overflow. But what if you don't have access to the Internet? This is the problem solved by Overflow Offline which is unveiled today.


The Ice Cube Lab is a remote research station at the South Pole that studies the universe by observing neutrinos. There are just two people on-site year-round to keep the experiments and all its associated tech running and that's is tough when Internet access is spotty to non-existent. Its Data Center Manager Ralf Auer explains:

“We constantly work on scripts, a lot of Python code, for instance. We use Puppet down there. So every time we need to make a major change on the cluster, there's always something that doesn't work. That's when Stack Overflow comes in handy."

One of the first users of Overflow Offline, Auer relies on updating a copy of the Stack Overflow question and answer database once a year by taking a drive with him since trying to download 135 gigabytes over the satellite would be impossible:

“Of course it would be nice to get updates more frequently than what we have right now. When I look there and I have a problem with Python, the knowledge on Stack Overflow is just incredible. Just the amount of knowledge that is already out there is very handy for us.”


When Stack Overflow embarked on the project to make the Q&A database offline, and thus "portable" it discovered that a non-profit, Kiwix, had already been distributing an offline version of Stack Overflow to many users using its Sotoki (Stack Overflow to Kiwix) scraper -  it was the second most popular data set it provided, behind only Wikipedia. Since 2018 Kiwix had been unable to update its offline version of Stack Overflow. Over the last two years, however, Stack Overflow has provided Kiwix with the financial and technical support to unblock the issues preventing updates, and to provide resources for improving the usability of the data on the platform. The joint effort is working to improve the readability of the resource and reduce its size so there is less friction for end users. Perhaps this is the impetus to perform the weeding and pruning task referred to in last week's report Using AI For Duplicate Question Detection On Stack Overflow.

EduAirBox is another early adopter of Overflow Offline. Based in Cameroon, where the Internet coverage rate is 34%, it provides a digital library accessible without an Internet connection to colleges and training centres. EduAirBox founder, Yannick Nkengne, who is a former computer science student claims that by the end of this year about 50,000 Cameroonian students will be able to access Stackoverflow.

Prison inmates in the United States and beyond are also benefiting from Overflow Offline. In the UK Overflow Online has been trialled by Code4000, an organization that trains prisoners in coding in HMP Holme House, HMP Wandsworth, and HMP Humber. One of Code4000's instructors, Neil Barnby, explains that in the case of a prison inmate:

“When you have a problem you cannot simply go to the internet and search for help. This is a huge disadvantage for the Code4000 students, but Stack Overflow offline allows them to search the resource for possible solutions. This means they become more independent in finding their own solution and gets them familiar with the resources they will eventually use when they are released. It also means that they can work more efficiently on the commercial work they undertake to develop their portfolios.”

Stack Overflow sees today's launch as the jumping off point for Overflow Offlineand intends to improve the dataset so that it's accessible to more organizations and provides a more powerful resource to those learning to code or building with software. 


More Information

Introducing the Overflow Offline project

Related Articles

Using AI For Duplicate Question Detection On Stack Overflow

CROKAGE AI Gets Stack Overflow Answers For You

Newbies, Lurkers and Experts on Stack Overflow

How To Ask A Successful Question on Stack Overflow 


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Last Updated ( Thursday, 20 October 2022 )