Open source has become the de facto way to build software — not only in tech, but across diverse industries. As companies use open source code to build their own commercial products and services, they also see the strategic value of contributing back to those projects.
However, diving in without an understanding of those projects, their communities, and how they operate can lead to frustrations for those companies as well as the open source communities. Approaching open source contributions without a strategy can tarnish a company’s reputation in the open source community and incur legal risks.
This guide covers what it means to contribute to open source as an organization and how to become a good corporate citizen. Learn how open source projects are structured, how to contribute, why it’s important to devote internal developer resources to participation, and why it’s important to create a strategy for open source participation and management.
Get to know GitHub
GitHub is the most popular platform for open source collaboration, so you’ll probably use it when exploring the world of OSS. First, you need to create a GitHub account and read the guide that helps you get started. On GitHub, you can contribute to projects by submitting issues and contributing code. Submitting issues means sending messages about errors in applications and suggesting ways to fix them. Contributing code involves sending pull requests with your corrections and improvements.
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.
RubyGarage team has come up with a well-structured Git workflow that helps us build high-quality apps as efficiently as possible. Check this step-by-step guide.
Besides being comfortable with revision control tools, essentials skills include being able to clone a repository and send pull requests. Pull requests inform code maintainers about changes made to the code; they can then review these changes, start a discussion about them, or assign them to a further commit.
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.
All skills are welcomed
Even non-programmers can contribute to open source projects! Documentation is needed for all projects, and sometimes this is poorly written and maintained. Thus, you can help by writing, updating or even translating documentation. Also, your design skills might come in handy: every application needs an interface, after all. Finally, you can contribute by managing a community by replying to questions and guiding newcomers.
Ways to participate to open source projects
Let’s highlight the most common ways to contribute to OSS projects.
1. Create your own open source project
Every project should start with an identified need. If you feel that existing projects on GitHub or Bitbucket don’t offer the functionality you would like to build, then create your own open source solution. Besides an initial project draft, you should consider the following set of questions:
- What skills do you need for your project?
- How much time are you willing to spend on your project?
- What problem(s) does your software solve?
- How many potential users are there for your product?
2. Create open source alternatives to commercial software
Today’s commercial projects actively engage open source solutions. Many companies base their projects on free tools. When there’s a huge selection of software, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. This is why it’s useful to play around with free software that can replace similar proprietary software, or that fixes an issue you’ve recently faced.
Another reason for replacing commercial solutions with open source software is eagerness for real innovation and growth. Commercial software claims to be innovative, but its final goal is turning a profit. Open source software unites best practices, great quality of code and passionate developers willing to code just because they like to.
3. Contribute to existing open source projects
You can find many projects you are free to participate in on GitHub – a developer-oriented platform with a simple but essential set of functionality. GitHub attracts developers with public APIs, a sleek and frequently updated UI, gists (Git repositories) that allow you to share pieces of code or even whole applications, and much more. You can contribute to free software in many ways. Developers can fork projects, make changes to code, and send pull requests. And quality assurance is always appreciated. Sometimes developers are too busy or too lazy to check the quality of their code. So go ahead and report a bug or try to fix it – your help is appreciated.
You can reach the hottest GitHub projects by following the “Trending” link. And in order to make your search more relevant, use advanced search: select the language you would like to code in and choose “best match” criteria. Best match ranks projects according to relevance, taking into account the number of forks (which represents how actively the project is updated) and stars (“likes”, in the language of Facebook). Most projects have known issues (however, some don’t) with labels like “bug”, “discussion”, “security”, or “refactor”, or other labels according to the level of difficulty: “easy”, “medium”, “hard.”
Open Source Project is growing very fast. Most of the developers are interested in Open Source for learning, networking and job opportunities. If you are an Internet Marketer, then you have a unique chance to participate in open source projects in a different way. You can help and promote the project while earning money at the same time. Participate in the project, post reports and get paid. All you need is knowledge how to develop websites and create reports. This way you not only will earn money, but will also be able to share your experience with others, thus making their businesses more profitable as well.