Find Open Source Projects to Contribute: A Developer's Guide

published on 06 January 2024

Most developers would agree that contributing to open source can be incredibly rewarding, but knowing where to start can feel overwhelming.

This guide will walk you through everything you need to locate open source projects that match your skills and interests on GitHub, understand how to contribute, and make your first pull request.

You'll discover curated collections of beginner-friendly projects, learn to decode repositories and spot issues ripe for contributions, set up your dev environment, and craft effective pull requests to get your work merged. By the end, you'll have the knowledge to broaden your open source impact through more contributions and even leadership roles.

Embarking on Your Open Source Journey

The Allure of Open Source: Why Contribute?

Contributing to open source offers numerous benefits for developers:

  • Gain practical experience and build your skills on real-world projects
  • Expand your portfolio with code contributions visible to potential employers
  • Earn recognition from project leaders and fellow developers
  • Learn new programming languages, frameworks, or methodologies
  • Network with experienced developers around the globe
  • Give back to the open source community

Whether you're new to coding or a seasoned developer, contributing helps advance your career while supporting open source ecosystems.

With over 200 million repositories, GitHub is a prime destination to uncover open source projects to contribute to. Here are tips for finding promising GitHub projects:

  • Search by languages or frameworks you want practice with like Python, JavaScript, Java, React, Angular etc.
  • Explore topics and domains that interest you - web dev, AI, cloud, security etc.
  • Check project statistics like stars, forks and recent activity.
  • Review open issues to understand project needs.
  • Assess team responsiveness to get a feel of collaboration experience.

Curate a list of potential projects based on size, technology fit, activity levels and team culture.

Assessing Open Source Projects for a Seamless Fit

Before contributing, evaluate projects on key aspects:

  • Active development - recent commits, closed issues and pull requests
  • Responsive community - friendly team culture and conversations
  • Quality documentation - setup guides, contributing docs, open issues
  • Alignment with skills - match project tech stack with your competencies
  • Interest fit - work on projects you find intrinsically motivating

Thorough project evaluation helps ensure a smooth onboarding experience and fulfilling contribution journey.

Where can I find new open source projects?

GitHub is home to over 100 million open source projects across virtually every category, making it an invaluable resource for developers looking to contribute. Here are some tips for finding promising open source projects on GitHub:

Use GitHub's search tools

GitHub's powerful search allows you to filter by language, topic, number of contributors, last updated date, and more. Try searches like:

  • language:python stars:>500 pushed:>2022-01-01
  • topic:machine-learning stars:>200
  • org:apache pushed:>2020-01-01

Browse curated lists

  • Awesome - Curated lists organized by topic
  • Explore - Featured projects across languages
  • GitHub Showcases - Interesting open source projects to discover

Look for beginner-friendly projects

Many projects tag issues as good-first-issue, help-wanted, or beginner-friendly to indicate they are suitable for new contributors.

Follow contributors you admire

See what projects your favorite developers are working on and contributing to.

The key is finding projects that interest you and match your skills. With over 100 million repos on GitHub, there are endless open source projects to contribute to!

How do you contribute to an open source program?

Contributing to open source programs on GitHub involves a few key steps:

Fork the Repository

The first step is to fork the repository you want to contribute to. This creates your own copy of the project that you can edit without affecting the original.

To fork a repo:

  • Go to the project's GitHub page
  • Click the "Fork" button in the top right corner
  • The forked copy will now be in your GitHub account

Clone Your Fork Locally

Next, you'll want to clone your forked repository so you have a local version of the code to work on.

Open your terminal and enter:

git clone https://github.com/YOUR-USERNAME/REPO-NAME

Now you have the complete project files downloaded onto your local machine.

Create a Branch

It's best practice to create a new git branch before making any code changes:

git checkout -b new-branch

This keeps your edits separate from the main branch.

Make Changes and Commit

Now you can start making code changes and committing them:

git add .
git commit -m "fixed typo"

Write clear commit messages explaining the updates.

Push to GitHub

Push your branch to GitHub after committing changes:

git push origin new-branch

This syncs your local branch to the remote forked repository.

Open Pull Request

Finally, on GitHub you can open a pull request to ask the maintainer to merge your branch.

Explain what you changed and why in the PR description. Follow the project's guidelines!

That covers the overall workflow - now you know how to contribute to open source on GitHub. Check the project's docs for specifics.

Where can I find GitHub projects to contribute to?

GitHub hosts millions of open source projects across all technologies and domains. Here are some tips to help you find projects and issues that match your interests and skills:

Browse by Topic

If there's a particular topic that interests you, visit github.com/topics/<topic>. For example, if you are interested in machine learning, you can find relevant projects and good first issues by visiting https://github.com/topics/machine-learning. You can browse popular topics by visiting Topics.

Search GitHub

Use GitHub's search functionality to find projects based on language, keywords, number of stars, date last updated etc. You can filter by things like "good first issues" or "help wanted" to find issues suitable for new contributors.

Awesome Lists

There are many curated lists like Awesome Machine Learning that aggregate high quality projects by topic. These are good places to discover projects to contribute to.

Open Source Programs

Many companies like Google Summer of Code and Rails Girls Summer of Code run open source programs that provide mentorship for first-time contributors. These programs can help guide you through the contribution process.

The key is to search for projects that interest you and scan their issues tab for problems you could potentially fix. Don't forget to review contribution guidelines before opening any pull requests!

Can I contribute to open source projects as a beginner?

Yes, open source projects welcome contributions from developers of all skill levels. Here are some tips for beginners looking to make their first open source contribution:

Start small

  • Look for issues labeled "good first issue" or "beginner-friendly" on GitHub. These are usually smaller fixes like bug fixes or documentation improvements.
  • Contribute to documentation by improving existing docs or adding examples. This helps you learn the project.
  • Try submitting a fix for a simple bug that you encounter while using a project.

Find a project match

  • Browse open source projects on sites like GitHub Explore and filter by language or topic you are familiar with.
  • Look for projects with active recent development and responsive maintainers. Check closed issues and pull requests.
  • Avoid large complex projects initially - choose smaller projects to learn collaboration workflow.

Understand process

  • Read the project's CONTRIBUTING guide to understand their expected process for contributions.
  • Be familiar with version control, especially Git and GitHub pull requests before contributing code.
  • Join project discussion channels like Slack, Discord or forums to engage with the community.

The open source community encourages new contributors. Start small, learn collaboration skills, and you can build up experience to tackle larger projects over time.

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Discovering Open Source Projects on GitHub

Explore Projects: GitHub Guides for New Contributors

GitHub provides excellent guides like First Timers Only and the good-first-issue topics page to help beginners find open source projects to contribute to. These curated lists surface repositories that actively welcome new contributors and highlight beginner-friendly issues. They are a great starting point to explore projects aligned with your skills and interests.

Open Source Projects for Beginners: Searching GitHub Repositories

When searching for open source projects on GitHub, use filters like language:python or topic:web-development to find repositories in your preferred programming language or domain. Look for keywords like beginner-friendly, easy, first-timers-only etc in the README or CONTRIBUTING docs to identify projects that are suitable for new contributors. Avoid large, complex projects initially - start small to get familiar with making contributions.

Curated Collections: Easy Open Source Projects for First Contributions

In addition to GitHub's guides, the open source community maintains excellent curated lists of beginner-friendly projects across languages and technologies like Code for a Living and First Contributions. These collections group easy, well-documented projects for first-time contributors to start with, often listing good beginner issues to fix. They serve as a filtered source of projects aligned with skills in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, React, Python etc.

Filtering Through GitHub: Find Projects Aligned with Your Skills

Use GitHub's robust search and project management capabilities to filter repositories by topics like Cloud Computing, Data Science, Web Development etc. Combine these with other qualifiers like good-first-issue or help-wanted to narrow down projects that match your Java, SQL, PHP skills or interests in Machine Learning and Cybersecurity. Review a project's CONTRIBUTING guide to understand if they have a structured process for new contributors. Avoid large, complex codebases when starting out.

Understanding Project Needs and How to Contribute to Open Source GitHub

Decoding Readme Files: A Gateway to Contribution

Readme files serve as the gateway to understanding an open source project on GitHub. Carefully reading the readme provides insight into a project's goals, technical stack, setup instructions, and contribution guidelines.

When evaluating projects, first look for a code of conduct and check that the project accepts contributions. Next, search the readme for labels like "good first issue" or "help wanted" to find areas for contributors.

If documentation seems lacking, check the repo issues and discussions tabs for activity levels. Low activity could mean the project is abandoned or not accepting contributions currently. Prioritize repos with recent commits and discussion.

Issue trackers reveal specific ways to contribute, from fixing bugs to building features. Search issue titles for beginner-friendly labels like:

  • good-first-bug
  • easy
  • low-hanging-fruit
  • first-timers-only

These identify self-contained tasks suited for first-time contributors. Before commenting on an issue, read the related threads to avoid suggesting something that has already been discussed.

If you have an original contribution concept, first search existing issues to prevent duplication. If your idea aligns with project goals, open a clearly-worded issue explaining the potential enhancement.

Spotting Bugs and Feature Enhancements for Your First PR

Studying project files can uncover areas for improvement ripe for a first PR. Look for:

  • Spelling/grammar errors in documentation
  • Broken links in readmes
  • Enhancements like adding code examples

Fixing small UX or documentation bugs allows you to learn the contributor workflow without deep code analysis. As you gain experience, attempt more complex bug fixes or feature additions aligned with project roadmaps.

Start small by addressing beginner-friendly issues so maintainers can promptly review and merge your first PR. As you demonstrate commitment, core teams will entrust you with higher-impact contributions over time.

Making Your First Contribution: A Step-by-Step Guide

Contributing to open source can seem daunting, but breaking it down into simple steps makes the process approachable for developers of any skill level. This guide outlines everything you need to make your first open source contribution.

Setting Up Your Dev Environment: Forks, Clones, and Branches

Before you can contribute, you need to set up your development environment:

  • Fork the repository you want to contribute to. This creates your own copy that you can edit.
  • Clone your fork locally so you can work on it. Use git clone to download the files.
  • Install dependencies like Node.js or Python packages so you can run the project code.
  • Create a branch to keep your changes separate from the main branch. Use git checkout -b your-branch-name.

Now you have everything set up and ready to start making changes!

Resolving Issues and Crafting Your First Pull Request

Making a contribution involves a few key steps:

  • Find an issue you want to work on. Look for issues labeled "good first issue" or "help wanted."
  • Claim the issue by commenting that you want to work on it. A maintainer will assign it to you.
  • Develop a fix, making sure to document your code. Follow the project's style guide.
  • Test your changes thoroughly to ensure they work as expected.
  • Open a pull request with a clear title and description explaining your changes. Link to the issue.

The project team will review and provide feedback on your PR. They may request changes before it gets merged.

Engaging with the Open Source Community: Communication is Key

Interacting with team members and the community is vital:

  • Be responsive to feedback and questions on your PR. Use constructive language.
  • Follow the project's code of conduct for respectful communication norms.
  • Ask questions on forums if you need help troubleshooting. Search first to avoid duplicates.
  • Participate in other ways, like reviewing PRs, triaging issues, or joining chat discussions.

Building relationships and sharing knowledge strengthens open source!

Broadening Your Open Source Impact

From Contributor to Core Team Member: Earning Trust

As you gain more experience contributing to open source projects, you may want to take on bigger enhancements and features. One pathway is to earn the trust of the core team and become a core team member yourself.

Here are some tips for earning trust and advancing in projects using languages like C++ and Swift:

  • Consistently submit high-quality pull requests that follow the project's guidelines
  • Help triage issues and provide thoughtful feedback to other contributors
  • Offer to take on tedious maintenance tasks like fixing documentation or updating dependencies
  • Participate frequently and constructively in discussions about project direction
  • If issues come up, communicate openly about challenges and solutions

Over time, core teams recognize contributors who “go the extra mile” to improve the project. As you demonstrate your skills, passion, and reliability, core teams may invite you to take on additional responsibilities.

Stepping Into Open Source Leadership Roles

As an established contributor, you may want to step into leadership roles that help guide the project's progress:

  • Maintaining documentation: Ensure the project has high-quality, up-to-date documentation that helps onboard new contributors.
  • Triaging issues: Review newly submitted issues to verify bugs, identify duplicates, and route to the appropriate contributors.
  • Reviewing pull requests: Analyze incoming pull requests to check code quality, validate functionality, and leave constructive feedback.
  • Mentoring newcomers: Welcome new contributors, explain guidelines, route suitable issues, and provide code reviews.

Leadership roles leverage skills like technical writing (updating docs), project management (triaging issues), and coaching (mentoring newcomers). They provide impact beyond coding, especially in areas like DevOps and UI/UX.

Taking on leadership helps ensure project health and frees up other core team members to focus on development. It also allows you to shape processes like the project’s code of conduct.

Launching and Nurturing Your Own Open Source Projects

Once you have experience contributing to diverse projects, you may feel ready to launch your own open source project.

Here are some best practices:

  • Solve a real need: Ensure your project fills an unmet need for developers in areas like Mobile Development or Game Development.
  • Define processes upfront: Establish contribution guidelines, code of conduct, license terms, etc. to set expectations.
  • Market effectively: Leverage platforms like GitHub to promote your project to attract contributors.
  • Onboard contributors: Guide new contributors, route beginner-friendly issues, review PRs thoroughly, and recognize contributions.
  • Automate where possible: Use bots to help triage issues and PRs to free up your time for higher-level direction.
  • Avoid burnout: Bring on additional maintainers to ensure project sustainability.

Launching an open source project lets you put leadership principles into practice. It also lets you establish governance processes aligned with your values and create something enduring that serves developer needs.

Conclusion: Reflecting on Your Open Source Adventure

Recapping the Journey: Key Takeaways for Open Source Enthusiasts

Contributing to open source projects can be an incredibly rewarding experience. By searching repositories on platforms like GitHub, developers can find projects that match their skills and interests. When first starting out, it's important to read contributing guides to understand a project's specific needs. Beginners may want to look for issues labeled "good first issue" or "help wanted" to find approachable ways to contribute.

Key takeaways include:

  • Read the contributing guide and code of conduct before making contributions
  • Start small by fixing typos, improving documentation, or fixing minor bugs
  • Comment on issues asking clarifying questions to understand needs better
  • Don't get discouraged if your first few pull requests get rejected or need rework

Regular initiatives like Open Source Friday help create a rhythm of frequent contributions.

Further Resources and Communities for Open Source Beginners

Many online resources exist for guiding beginners' open source journeys:

In-person and online communities also provide support:

Surrounding yourself with mentors and like-minded contributors helps sustain engagement.

Continuing the Contribution Cycle: Never Stop Learning

The open source community thrives through continuous collaboration. While getting started can feel daunting, each contribution builds skills and confidence. Over time, progression from fixing minor issues to tackling larger features and documentation is achievable.

Remember that open source is powered by people from all backgrounds and skill levels lifting each other up. By persisting through challenges, understanding community needs, and giving back whenever possible, you further the open source mission - and your abilities as a developer.

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