Are you looking for a way to practice your coding skills? Look no further than contributing to open source software.
Open source software is software whose source code is readily available to the public. Anyone can inspect, update, and enhance the code in an open source project, which means that you don’t have to be a contributor or a staff member of a project to make a difference.
In this article, we explore the reasons you should contribute to open source and provide you with a list of top open source projects to which you can contribute as a beginner. We also give you a few helpful tips to guide you in making your first contribution to open source.
Why Contribute to Open Source Software?
Open source software relies on contributors who are willing to improve existing projects, bring them up-to-date, and maintain them.
There are many reasons to contribute to open source. First, being an open source coder allows you to improve the software you use. Do you have a favorite web development framework and wish that you could give back? Great news—you can! If you want to improve the tools you use every day, you can submit contributions to their open source projects.
In addition, contributing to open source allows you to improve your coding skills. No matter how you contribute—whether you help improve documentation, fix bugs, or add features—you’ll be able to use your open source work as an opportunity to flex your coding muscle.
That’s not all—open source communities are a great place to meet new people. Many open source projects have large, welcoming communities of developers who hang around for years and stay up-to-date on the latest in a project. This provides a great opportunity to meet others who like to code and are passionate about software.
Now that we’ve explored a few reasons you many want to contribute to open source, let’s get to the next question on your mind: how can you contribute to open source?
How Can I Contribute?
Open source contributions take many forms. May think that you need to be an expert to contribute to a project, but that is rarely the case: any help that you can offer to a project will likely be received with open arms.
One mistake made by newbies to open source is to think that they have to write code. While it’s true that coding is a great way to contribute to open source, there is more you can do to help.
Here are a few ways in which you can contribute to an open source project:
- Submit a bug fix. Look through the list of bugs in a code repository and attempt to fix the bug. When you’re done, submit it to the open source project’s GitHub repository.
- Add a new feature. Read through the list of features a project is looking to implement and see if you can work on one. If you are not ready to add a whole feature—or if a feature is too large—then offer to work on it with other developers.
- Update documentation. Many projects are actively looking for people to update their documentation. You could write tutorials for a project, start a newsletter, or improve their existing documentation.
- Answer questions. If you have experience working with a project, you could answer questions developers have raised on GitHub, StackOverflow, or another platform.
- Review code. Once you feel confident, you could help a project out by reviewing other open source submissions and providing feedback on them.
Hopefully, after reading this list you’ll have a few ideas on how you can contribute to open source. In truth, there is no “right way” to contribute—anything you do to help a project will be appreciated.
The best thing to do is look for projects you are passionate about, and ask yourself how your skills align with the needs of the project. If you are looking to improve your web development skills, you may want to help out with a web framework; if you are a good technical writer, you may prefer to update documentation.
Open Source Projects you can Contribute to as a Beginner
What tools do you use everyday that you would like to help improve? Do you have a favorite command line tool that you cannot live without? Are you enjoying using a specific web framework?
Asking yourself these questions can help you decide on a project. Remember that the more experience you have using a specific technology, the easier it will be for you to get started and make contributions.
To help you get started, here are a few projects to which you can contribute:
- Awesome for Beginners
- Open Source Friday
- First Contributions
- GitHub #beginner-project Projects
- First Timers Only
- Up for Grabs
- Code Triage
These lists include a wide range of potential projects to which you can contribute. They are maintained by people in the open source community. If you find a good open source project on your search, feel free to add it to this list—that would be an open source contribution too!
There are a few factors you should consider when choosing a project. First, make sure the project is accepting contributions. Also, choose a project that really interests you.
If you really enjoy working with Ruby, you should look for the top Ruby projects to which you can contribute. Here are a few examples of open source Ruby projects:
- Sinatra, which is a library that allows you to create Rails-free apps.
- JRuby, a Ruby interpreter.
- Discourse, which is a free and open source forum software.
- Homebrew, a package manager for macOS.
What to Do Before Contributing
You can contribute to almost any project that is public on a site like GitHub.
With that said, there are a few things you should keep in mind before you submit a contribution to an open source project.
First, make sure the project you’re interested in is accepting contributions. There are a few ways that you can check if a project is looking for contributors. Here are a few techniques you can use:
- Check if the project has an open source license.
- Check if the project’s README.md file has a “contributors” section with information on how you can help out.
- View a project’s issues and pull requests. If there are any pending issues and pull requests, make sure there is an active discussion going on about those events; if there are no discussions, it may be because the project is not looking for contributors.
Another way to check if a project is accepting outside contributions is to get in touch with the maintainers, the people responsible for maintaining a project. Have they indicated an interest in receiving help?
You ideally want to pick a project with an active community. That way, if you get stuck or need help, you can easily find someone to help you.
Your Next Steps
Contributing to open source is a great way to refine your programming skills, improve the technologies you use every day, find other programmers with whom to talk, and enhance your communication and teamwork skills.
To get started with open source, spend some time thinking about how you can contribute to projects. Then, look for projects within your field of expertise. Finally, before you can start contributing, you need to make sure the project is actually accepting contributions.
Contributing to an open source project may be intimidating in the beginning, but don’t be discouraged. Most open source communities are very welcoming and are looking for all the help they can get. Pick a project and work to make it better!