• Ivan Montiel

Your First Open Source Contribution

We use Open Source projects every day – React, Tensorflow, Express, the list goes on. The least we can do is give back to Open Source. But you don't need to contribute code to help out the open source community. Here are some quick ways for you to help your favorite Open Source project!

1. Create Issues

If you find a bug in a project your are working on, the best thing you can do is make sure it is reported. The creators may not know about it and the only way the project can improve is by greating good bug reports. Make sure someone else hasn't already reported the bug! Search through issues in Github and see if it was already reported, or better yet, it may have already been solved.

When you write an issue, a good format to follow is:

  1. Write a short summary of the problem.
  2. Write what you expected to happen.
  3. Write what actually happened.
  4. Note the steps to reproduce the issue.
  5. If the issue is not simple to reproduce, post a link to a JSBin, Fiddle, or repo with an example of the bug.
  6. Note any relevant system information like what browser you were used, what system you are running, etc.
  7. Attach any images or video to demonstrate the problem. Remember, a picture is worth 1000 words 👏

2. Help with Documentation

One of the toughest parts of open source programming is keeping documentation up-to-date, well formatted, and informative. Most project maintainers are happy to accept any documentation additions or improvements gladly.

There are different levels of documentation as well. Some projects have websites with links that say "Edit this page on github" that make it easy to fix typos or add more detailed descriptions. Express's documentation on expressjs.com, for example, has an "Edit thi page on Github" link that takes you to the page in the Github repo for the website. Most projects will keep jsdoc comments on their functions to give developers better typeahead support in code editors that support them. There are a multitude of different ways you can contibute to documentation.

3. Write Examples

Although examples are part of having a good ecosystem of documentation, I'd like to point it out seperately since it's that important.

Well thought out and working examples are important for an Open Source project. If an example doesn't work, developers will experience frustration and maintainers may feel it too when developers begin reporting the same issue over and over again in the issue tracker.

If you find a code example in a project's documentation, make a pull request to fix it!

4. Look for Good First Issues

If you want to improve your coding chops, finding issues on Github labelled as "Good First Issues" is a great place to start. The tag is used by many large open source projects to let developers know if an issue is beginner friendly. Most of these issues may require one line changes, or changes to just one file; but, the maintainers simply don't have the time or resources to allocate to fixing the issue.

Published 15 May, 2019

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