Helping an Open Source Project on Github, and basic etiquette

Joseph Allen
Mar 7, 2017 · 3 min read

We live in an age where many projects are contributed to and built by the masses; these projects are made through large teams of people both in person and over the internet. This article will implore you to get involved, and teach you everything you need to know to get started.

Why should I contribute?

First off, contribution to a Github project will look incredible on your CV. Who would you rather hire, somebody who knows React, or somebody who has contributed to and edited the core of React itself?

Even beginners can contribute as well, where else will you get free tuition on how to write good code? You will find working on these projects improves your skills as a developer and will give you mastery over the common tool Git.

Github provides an easy platform to work on Open Source projects and provide feedback. So how do we get started?

Finding an Issue to work on?

First of all we need to find an issue, a simple way of doing this is ask which projects do you already use. Personally as a web developer I use Bootstrap and React a lot so I want to watch those for issues. Here I will recommend CodeTriage, this site lets you select projects you care about and will send unsolved issues to your e-mail. You can also have a look at Up For Grabs. You can also simply navigate to the repository, say the Bootstrap repository, click on “Issues” at the top of the page and see if anything looks enticing.

Select “Issues”

I’ve got an issue, now what?

First thing you should do is read through the issue, and any following discussion. You may also discover that the issue is a duplicate of another issue. You may find that a pull request has already been submitted. You may find that nothing has been done yet.

There is already a submitted Pull Request

If this is the case then try to re-create the issue on your machine. Check the Pull Request and see if they have resolved the problem in your opinion. If you agree they have resolved it leave a comment saying you agree and it is common etiquette to leave a :+1: emoji. It is important to leave feedback as much as you can and remember that even if you are wrong you will learn something.

Nothing has been done, how do I get started?

First of all make sure you are logged in, we want to make a fork of the repository we are interested in working on. Click on “Fork” in the top right of GitHub.

Click on Fork

You should now have your own fork of the repository. Now clone this onto your machine using Git and make sure you can set up the project and re-create the issue. Try to resolve the issue and again, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Once you have done this push up to your fork.

Compare & pull request

Now if you look back at the original repository there should be a prompt, click “Compare & pull request”. You will receive some final prompts which you should read carefully as this will normally contain tips to improve your chances of having your changes merged in.

And now you are done! Congratulation you are now truly unlimited!

Tips

It is common to have a CONTRIBUTING.md file which will explain these basics specific to the project.

Large projects tend to have chat channels such as Gitter or Slack, information to where these are located will also be in the CONTRIBUTING.md.

Joseph Allen

Joseph Allen

Written by

Manchester based Data Scientist, Digital Artist, Front-End Dev