My understanding here is that questions should be self explaining: contain screenshots or data instead of referring to files / documents uploaded somewhere. (I see many Excel questions where they link to the file, but it's relevant for other tools too.)

The reasons for that:

  • Force the user to find a minimum example instead of sharing a huge file
  • links may break over time (especially if somebody shared from his own personal drive in a cloud)
  • documents can contains malware

I know that sometimes attaching the file is the only way for solving the issue, however I think in majority of cases it's not necessary.

Is there a canonical answer / post which gives guidance whether files supporting questions should be shared, and if yes how / when?

  • There is an inherent security risk with Office files as they can be used as vectors for VBA viruses. You may also leak private information via file metadata. Also where would these files be hosted?
    – Burgi
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 13:49
  • @burgi: examples I've seen was shared from google drive / onedrive / dropbox. Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 14:12
  • Ah your question makes sense for me now. I think I misunderstood it originally.
    – Burgi
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 14:27
  • Personally, I feel you should provide screenshots of an Excel workbook instead of the workbook itself. You can upload images to Imgur and those can't be deleted in 3 years, where a link to an Excel document on a random OneDrive account, can be deleted. I maintain that an answer by itself (and the content contained within the body excluding links to files and relevant links) should answer the question.
    – Ramhound
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 14:29
  • 1
    I'm amazed that this received a downvote as its only vote until now. I think it's a great question. +1
    – fixer1234
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 4:10

1 Answer 1


TL;DR: Do provide extra info when possible. But: Focus on providing self-contained data in your post; don't rely on external uploads entirely.

There's a rule that is more strictly enforced on Stack Overflow, especially for some tags: every question should contain a minimum working example. A Short, Self Contained, Correct (Compilable), Example, to be precise. Now, I guess that on Super User, there are some cases in which the question is fairly easy to understand and doesn't need that, but let's assume we do need some data for understanding the problem and its context. This is often the case for spreadsheet questions, scripts, etc.

How do you provide this data?

The simplest way to provide this kind of example is—like you say—adding a screenshot and a minimal data table. Maybe include some formulas as well, if they're required to understand your issue.

What we're really trying to achieve is making the Stack Exchange post self-contained. If that's impossible, perhaps you need to research a little more and get to the root of the issue first.

Should you provide supplemental files?

If you have them, yes, you should! If it helps, there's no reason not to share this kind of material. Supplemental files could be spreadsheets, video files that don't play, some huge logs (well, there's PasteBin for that, but you get the idea), et cetera. You can use popular services like OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox to upload such files.

However, the question shouldn't be:

Here's an Excel file: <link> How do I do XYZ?


I have an Excel file containing data ABC. There is a formula that calculates DEF from columns 1, 2, and 3. How do I do XYZ?

What if the files go offline?

External links are very prone to rot. We can't change that. You should therefore:

  1. make an effort to have your files be accessible for as long as possible, not just temporarily
  2. write the question in such a way that it is understandable without that supplemental material, in case the link ever goes down

What about documents containing malware?

Is this really an issue? I think the benefits of adding files outweigh the risks of documents containing malware. Obvious spam or malicious posts are quickly identified as such anyway. And in the (very very few) cases I've seen where some documents were suspicious, the community was very quick to react to it, at least removing links or prepending them with a note.

  • 1
    Looks like a canonical answer to me.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 4:14

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