How to Get Started with Open Source Projects – How to Contribute to Open Source Projects

Open source, the thing that has everyone up and excited about software development and downloading free software. Not just free software, but software which you know is safe from malware or other malicious lines of code, software which is developed by the community, for the community.

People who know how to code here and there, often might not know how to contribute to an open source project. What this means is that knowing how to write a few lines of code doesn’t mean you can help a project without further guidance. In order to fix that, here are the next couple of steps you should consider before committing your first contribution.

Choose the Right Project

You should start by choosing the project you will love working on. That doesn’t just mean something you love, for example MAME, or Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. You love old games, but the majority of the software was written in C++, mainly, 98% of the code. The rest was written in a plethora of languages, but is essentially unimportant compared to the engine which emulates the many machines we used to play games on.

If C++ is not your language of choice, you should look for another project to which you could immediately contribute, or learn enough C++ to actually start improving the project. It has so many things you could work on, like every other project, so you could definitely contribute in some way.

Learn to Read The Project Details

Every project will have information about itself which you should know how to read in order to understand what’s going on and how you can contribute. Most projects are hosted on GitHub, the site where almost everyone hosts their open source projects. The projects all have similar data and the arrangement of data in order to help newcomer contributors find their way.

The Author was or is the first person who made the software. The owner the person or company which owns the product or project, but doesn’t have to be the original author. Maintainers are the ones who frequently contribute code to the project, essentially the engine behind the project, keeping it alive. They are also the people you should contact if you have any larger pieces of code to add. Contributors would be people like you, adding code to the project, improving it, but not as frequently as maintainers. 

In order to familiarize yourself with the project, you should read its documentation, which is meant for everyone, both developers and users. Every project should have some type of documentation, which guides both the users and developers. If not, asking the maintainers how to contribute is the next best thing. Always remember to check the project’s license, to see what your limits are.

Contributing to an open source project is simple if you know how to code in the project’s main language and if you read the documentation which should guide you on how to contribute. Have fun improving software!