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Quick Tips for Contributing to Open-Source

Cathy Casey-Richards
I read books, play games, lift weights, and write code.
・3 min read

We are already almost halfway through Hacktoberfest! Have you signed up for the challenge? How far along are you in progressing towards 4 PRs?

If you’ve never contributed to open-source software before, it can be tough to know where to start. There are countless repos out there being maintained by one, a handful, or even dozens of strangers. So where do you fit in? Here are a few tips to help get you rolling:

Think of the libraries & tools you actively use

The easiest place to start is with tools you are familiar with. Since you already know the functionality of a given piece of software, you can use your own experience with it to fuel ideas for ways to contribute. Are there quirks to this tool you’d like to address? Is there a feature that would make this library even more useful?

Expand the docs

If you’ve ever been reading through the docs of a library and thought “this is so hard to understand!” or “did we skip a step?”, chances are it could use some improvements. This is a common problem, as the people writing these docs are generally also the people intimately familiar with the code & functionality, which can make it tough to see holes in explanations firsthand. This is a perfect place for a user (such as yourself!) to dive in and enhance the docs.

Maybe some additional screenshots would help with clarity. Perhaps a more in-depth explanation would be really beneficial. It could even be that the docs just need some typo/grammar fixes. All of these can be invaluable (and often overlooked) additions.

Sort by certain tags

The “good first issue” tag can be useful when searching for small items to take on that were specifically curated to be newbie-friendly. The “hacktoberfest” tag is also very popular at the moment and can help you find repos where maintainers are actively looking for the help of others during Hacktoberfest.

Try out sorting through the issues marked as “bugs”. Not every contribution has to be a complex feature. Looking for opportunities to fix bugs will help you get an understanding of the existing code base and add value to the current features of the tool.

No contribution is too little

Don’t worry that the PR you want to submit is insignificant. Many of the people maintaining & enhancing open source software are doing this in their free time and will appreciate any help you are willing to give. As long as you see the value in the change you are submitting, you should feel confident that it is worthy of a PR.

Communicate

When working on an open-source tool (often in tandem with people you’ve never met before), it can be easy to forget the importance of communicating your plans & work. If you decide to take on an open issue, post a comment in the thread stating your intention to work on this particular issue so someone else isn’t duplicating the work. If you’re planning to add a new feature or enhancement, you could open an issue and give others a forum for adding feedback, suggestions, or even expressing their own desires to collaborate with you on that issue. Remember to ask for clarification where you need it. When you’re ready to submit your PR, include a useful message explaining the changes you made and the added value to the tool.

Hope this helps! Happy hacking 🎉

Discussion (2)

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard 🇫🇷🇩🇪🇬🇧🇪🇸🇨🇴
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cathyc93 profile image
Cathy Casey-Richards Author

Awesome! Thanks 😄