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This my code take it! Contributing to Open Source project

August 28th, 2015 by

You want to be an Open Source developer? Want to hack up some nasty code. Make everyone obey your order and take over the world. I was young back when I entered these shallow waters and how green I was back then.. oh boy!

My first app

I been coding long time maybe too long. First I was using Pascal but it was too high level for me and not cool at all. When I started using Linux KDE 1 was Koolest desktop environment on earth and CDE was de-facto environment on for the big boys. Soon after KDE 2 was released I started using KDE PIM suite because KMail is still neat application and Korganizer was way better than Evolution. I realized I like to format my happenings in list which wasn’t supported the way I liked. I thought, ‘Hey what If I write console application for that. I know how to code C and Java so C++ can’t that hard?’.

It was possible. QT2 was really great GUI library for writing applications. That time QT licensing was insane but today it’s much easier to understand. Writing applications with KDE libraries wasn’t all that hard. Application was all main-function and soon as I got it working I mailed to KDE mailing list. I don’t have that mail any more and can’t find it from the net but it was something like: ‘Hello, I’m the best QT-coder ever and I have this app called KonsoleKalendar‘. I got very friendly feedback and it got included into CVS. I though now I’m greatest coder ever lived!

Actually I maintained KonsoleKalendar only short time and as I said I wasn’t happy about licensing of QT2 (It didn’t help that it was badly written application like ever). Most wonderful and bizarre thing is that KonsoleKalendar this exists in KDE5 and it’s in much better shape than when I left it. Afterwards this was the main learning point about collaboration in Open Source project for me. In start of 2000 there weren’t Git nor there where any fancy GUIs for sending patches. People mailed each other and tried to cope with CVS/Subversion and KDE still is very friendly community if you compare it to many others.

Getting along the communities

If you ever are going to cope the Open Source world try to get along with community. There is as many communities as there is project and they can be friendly, neutral, unknown or hostile. There are several nearly or really hostile projects where bug reports and patches are rejected with making fun of you body organs or mom. Hostile projects seems to have same pattern. There one master of universe mega alpha coder that dictators everything and then people who needs that project or are somehow contributed something that coder number one things that they can exists. If you cross this kind of project you should have very nice shielding or some precious code gems to take as bounty. Remember many very successful project also have that mega dictator which have some urge to make things happen. problem is that most of these dictators only understand code and can’t speak anything else.

Unknown projects are strangest ones. Common thing is that plenty of people use them and commit actively bug reports. Only few people commit changes to version control but they don’t pay any attention to bug reports or mailing-lists. libSDL is this kind of project. People share their patches on bug database but it’s nearly impossible to get them to code base or I just don’t understand how SDL development goes.

Neutral communities are nice. They have good management and clean orders how to contribute. You can get you patch or bug report in if it’s good enough. Neutral communities are somehow uneasy to enter but if you prove to make good contribution they let you make your thing. So what is difference with neutral and friendly. In friendly community you can ask stupid questions and someone answers you nicely not just blank silence or some kind RTFM answers.

How to contribute?

I tried to open situation little bit above but I give you example from Mixxx community which I’m most active these days. Most of people pop in mailing list and they have the best idea ever but they haven’t looked Mixxx code so they don’t know if it’s possible or not. If their ideas are reasonable and that human being is ready to do work it’s mostly greeted with some advises and notes how it should be made. After hiatus that developer commits Pull Request or not.

If Pull request been made then rough ride starts. Reviewing code is not a bad thing and people who are making these code reviews in Mixxx knows application well and only wants best code in.  For green contributor it can be very frustrating. Basicly you have to have good code quality to get into Mixxx code base and you have to sign contributor paper.

How fast this happens? It really depends size of you contribution and how badly it’s done. People are doing code review in their spare time so it can be slow. If you just get out of blue with Pull request in Github you most probably won’t get nothing in. In Mixxx everything gets in with Pull Request (if it’s trivial then it’s just LGTM and merge style stuff).

If you didn’t read anything else this is what I wanted to say

What I have learned are in these three things: Know community you are going to work with (it takes time and motivation), Know how to contribute (what are rules) and try to cope with some level of frustration (They can be very hard on you if you ask stupid questions because most of them are stupid in Open Source world). If you just stop development because project things your code is pile of sh*t and you have to work on it more. Understand it’s pile of sh*t until they are happy and you have to make it to their standard.  Every community it is always Dystopia of commiters. They decide what goes in and what doesn’t. If it’s your project you can choose but if you are not in enough you just have to cope with it. You can Fork code and start new project but believe most time it’s more progressive to stay in same project and try to change that. If it’s not possible then just Fork it but you can end up like FFmpeg and AVConv situation.

Working in Open Source project is about communication. So talk in mailing list, work on bug reports, write documentation and review code. If you are silent then you don’t exist and remember if you can’t code but you like to something there is always plenty to do. If you like to contribute learn: Git (Gitbub), Mercurial (Bitbucket), Subversion, Bug reporting (Mantis, Bugzilla), code structure of project and debugging/reading others code or if you are sysadmin, web designer or something else there always something to do. Remember if you think you are correct and everyone else if incorrect you are the one who have to prove them incorrect. Flaming and trolling is nice and fun but not going to get project forward.

I end here and remember these are my own notes.

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