Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tips for contributing code to open source projects

I've spent a lot of time over the years contributing to and reviewing code changes to open source projects. It can take a lot of work for the submitter and reviewer to get a change accepted and often they don't make it. Here are the things in my experience that successful contributions do.

Use the issue tracker. Having an open issue means there is always something to point to with all the history of the change that wont get lost. Submit patches using the appropriate method (merge proposals, pull requests, attachments in the issue tracker etc).

Sell your idea. The change is important to you but the maintainers may not think so. You may be a 1% use case that doesn't seem worth supporting. If the change fixes a bug describe exactly how to reproduce the issue and how serious it is. If the change is a new feature then show how it is useful.

Always follow the existing coding style. Even if you don't like it. If the existing code uses tabs, then use them too. Match brace style. If the existing code is inconsistent, match the code nearest to the changes you are making.

Make your change as small as possible. Put yourself in the mind of the reviewer. The longer the patch the more time it will take to review (and the less appealing it will be to do). You can always follow up later with more changes. First time contributors need more review - over time you can propose bigger changes and the reviewers can trust you more.

Read your patch before submitting it. You will often find bits you should have removed (whitespace, unrelated variable name changes, debugging code).

Be patient. It's OK to check back on progress - your change might have be forgotten about (everyone gets busy). Ask if there's any more you can do to make it easier to accept.

Post a Comment