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Stack Overflow wants to make it easier to code in the Arctic or prison

Stack Overflow wants to make it easier to code in the Arctic or prison

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The Overflow Offline initiative is supposed to make it easier to access the repository of coding knowledge (and snarky answers) without internet

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Illustration of several Wi-Fi symbols: one filled in with white and the others just outlines.
What if you didn’t need the internet to find code to copy and paste?
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Stack Overflow is trying to make sure that its repository of programming knowledge, stored in the form of millions and millions of questions and answers, is available even to people without internet access. It's announcing an initiative called Overflow Offline, where it’ll work with developers and a wide range of organizations that deal with things like the justice and prison systems, education, and scientific endeavors.

For people who don’t have constant internet access, being able to easily download, search through, and read Stack Overflow could be a big help. A blog post from Stack Overflow goes into how it’s being used by prisoners or students in remote communities who are trying to learn coding as well as researchers at places like the South Pole who have very limited internet connections but still need to be able to write programs and scripts.

A new and improved offline Stack Overflow

According to the post, Stack Overflow’s initiative involves working with a nonprofit called Kiwix, which creates an open-source program that’s perhaps most well known for letting you download and read offline versions of Wikipedia. Stack Overflow has been one of the archived sites you can download with Kiwix, but according to the site’s post, updates for that version broke in 2018. Since then, Stack Overflow has helped the developers upgrade their scraper so it could handle the massive amount of data on the site and so it could also scrape other sites in the Stack Exchange network, like the ones dedicated to chemistry, aviation, or parenting.

Technically, you’ve been able to download an offline version of Stack Overflow without Kiwix. (The company behind the site has been doing data dumps on Archive.org for years.) But those are nowhere near as user-friendly to access and search through as the Kiwix version, with the posts and comments sometimes being stored in separate files. 

Now that the more user-friendly version is being updated again, people will have access to a much more up-to-date offline version. For example, if someone were trying to learn Apple’s SwiftUI framework (a Sisyphean task, to be sure), the previous archive wouldn’t have had any information on it since the tech came out in mid-2019. The new Kiwix copy of Stack Overflow, however, returns nearly 35,000 results when you search for SwiftUI.

Stack Overflow says it’ll work to improve its offline dataset in the future based on feedback from its partners and users, potentially by reducing its size. The current Kiwix version of Stack Overflow comes in at a hefty 80GB, requiring almost as much disk space as the nearly 6.5 million articles in the English version of Wikipedia. That’s a big ask for someone with, say, a 128GB SSD. That is, however, still a vast improvement from the old Kiwix archive, which was a massive 134GB.