Does This Apply to Me? An Empirical Study of Technical Context in Stack Overflow

Akalanka Galappaththi, Sarah Nadi, Christoph Treude

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Stack Overflow has become an essential technical resource for developers. However, given the vast amount of knowledge available on Stack Overflow, finding the right information that is relevant for a given task is still challenging, especially when a developer is looking for a solution that applies to their specific requirements or technology stack. Clearly marking answers with their technical context, i.e., the information that characterizes the technologies and assumptions needed for this answer, is potentially one way to improve navigation. However, there is no information about how often such context is mentioned, and what kind of information it might offer. In this paper, we conduct an empirical study to understand the occurrence of technical context in Stack Overflow answers and comments, using tags as a proxy for technical context. We specifically focus on additional context, where answers/comments mention information that is not already discussed in the question. Our results show that nearly half of our studied threads contain at least one additional context. We find that almost 50% of the additional context are either a library/framework, a programming language, a tool/application, an API, or a database. Overall, our findings show the promise of using additional context as navigational cues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings - 2022 Mining Software Repositories Conference, MSR 2022
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781450393034
StatePublished - 2022
Event2022 Mining Software Repositories Conference, MSR 2022 - Pittsburgh, United States
Duration: May 23 2022May 24 2022

Publication series

NameProceedings - 2022 Mining Software Repositories Conference, MSR 2022


Conference2022 Mining Software Repositories Conference, MSR 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • contextual information
  • navigating information
  • Stack Overflow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality


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