How to Launch Open Source Project

The process of launching an open source project can be intimidating. We began this article to help you decide what is best for your project, solicit feedback, and prepare the rest of your team so they can get the most out of your efforts. We focused on steps that produce the best results in our experience, but we’ll also cover some common pitfalls and give some advice to help you avoid them.

This is an all-inclusive guide to starting and managing a successful, self-sustaining open source project. It includes information on choosing a project name and an open source license, explaining what an open source project is, marketing your project, creating pre-launch code, getting it ready for launch, publicity and promotion, community building, engagement programs for contributors who help out with the project’s success, alternative funding strategies for sustaining long-term projects and more.  

Report a bug to the project’s issue tracker

Reporting an issue to a project’s issue tracker, such as GitHub Issues, is one of the easiest ways to support the open source projects you use. Most open source projects have iso trackers–typically using something. Sometimes when we discover a bug in software, we’re in no mood to go out of our way to report it. We want to work around the problem and move on. That’s fine, but be sure to report the bug as soon as possible while it’s still fresh in your mind. Report all the details you can about showing the bug’s behavior and explain it just like you’d want a user to explain a bug to you.

Sometimes, of course, the bug isn’t even in the code, but in the documentation. Maybe you’ve come across an out-of-date reference to a feature that no longer exists, or even just a typo. These documentation bugs are just as real as bugs in code, and they should be reported in the issue tracking system.

But most bug reports received by open source projects are terrible. They’re often one-liners that vaguely describe a problem and don’t provide details about how it happened, where it happened (which browser, which OS, what type of device, and so on), or provide any steps to reproduce the bug.

This gives you two great opportunities to contribute in a way that gets you noticed and genuinely helps the project.

First, if you encounter a bug in an open source tool you’re using, document it as thoroughly as you can. Include details like OS, browser, device type (mobile/desktop/laptop). Include detailed steps to reproduce the bug, and add screenshots if possible.

Next, try to reproduce, verify, and document bugs discovered by others. Follow the same steps you’d follow when reporting your own bug. See if there’s any new information you can add. You might add a comment like, “I found that calcScreenResolution() only shows this behavior in Chrome, but not Firefox.” Details like that can be a huge help to developers working to solve the problem. This turns terrible bug reports into detailed, actionable information the project’s developers can use.

If the project accepts one of your bugs as a valid issue, offer to fix it, and ask what they’ll expect in terms of unit tests to verify the bug is fixed. This can be a great way to contribute your first code to a project because you’re not just reporting a problem–you’re also offering to solve it.

Learn the basics

When working with GitHub, you should know how to use Git – one of the most popular version control tools (also known as revision control tools). Because developers constantly make changes to their code, they need a system that can manage those changes in a central repository. In this way, everyone involved in the development process can download a given piece of software, make changes, and submit updates.

Volunteer to write documentation

Precious few developers are eager to write documentation, but it’s critical to the success of open source projects. What’s the first thing you look for when exploring a new project? The documentation. And what’s the first thing you look for in that documentation? Examples of how to use it.

But starting out writing code when first joining an open source project can be a challenge. It’s often tough to contribute code until you’ve taken time to understand the codebase, its coding conventions, and testing requirements.

Writing documentation helps you learn the codebase–you’ll often need to read and understand the code you’re trying to document. This gives you a sense of how the project hangs together and how the code works.

Documentation can be a good starting point because it’s a sore spot for many open source projects.

And don’t overlook the social aspect. Open source projects commonly have senior developers who own part of a project’s codebase. These owners aren’t always friendly to outsiders. Writing documentation gives you a chance to get to know the developers working on the project, and gives them a chance to get to know you.

So when you’re ready to make your first code contribution, it won’t be coming from an outsider. It’ll be coming from that brave person who dove in and wrote the docs nobody else wanted to write–and the rest of the team will be happy to help you get your first code pull request accepted.

Join the community

You can easily join an open source project by subscribing to the mailing list for that project. You can find mailing lists on official websites or on GitHub pages. After being accepted to the list, you can communicate with team members and get support if necessary. Thanks to the vibrant communities present in nearly every OSS project, you are likely to get quick replies to your questions.

Attend a (virtual) meetup

There’s no higher bandwidth medium for the transfer of knowledge than face-to-face at a meetup or user-group meeting. If you’re close to a city of any size, chances are there are several meetups or community events nearby.  Meetups are typically free to attend and cover all sorts of technical topics. The bigger your city, the more likely you are to find more specific topics, while smaller cities will have more general meetups.

In 2020, however, we’ve had to quickly adapt to a world where we can’t meet up in person.

This presents challenges, but also offers opportunities. While we can’t meet face-to-face, we can attend virtual meetups. Virtual meetups provide the chance to talk to project contributors from around the world–an opportunity that wasn’t always available before.

Virtual meetups let you introduce yourself to a project’s contributors. You’ll have a chance to express your interest in contributing, explain your skill set, and ask the project members to suggest a good starting point.

Asking a project’s leaders what they need is often the best way to get started. Virtual meetups are the ideal place to do it because it’s the easiest way to communicate with project leadership directly.

Posting messages online can work, but there’s a lot more noise. It’s easy for your question to go unnoticed in a busy forum or get lost in the project lead’s overflowing email inbox.

Conclusion

This guide explains the process of how to launch an open source software project. I will cover when to launch, what your launch strategy should be, and some of the most common mistakes people make when trying to launch a new project.

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