Open Source Projects Looking for Contributors: A Starter Guide

published on 18 December 2023

Developers looking to contribute to open source likely agree that figuring out where to start can be overwhelming.

This guide will walk through an easy step-by-step process to identify open source projects that match your skills and interests, setting you up for an enjoyable and rewarding contribution experience.

You'll learn how to explore GitHub for beginner-friendly projects, evaluate activity levels and community responsiveness, select the right technology fit, understand the contribution workflow, iterate on feedback, and continue growing your open source contribution journey.

Introduction to Contributing to Open Source Projects

Open source projects are software applications or components that are publicly accessible for anyone to use, review, modify, and share. They are developed collaboratively by communities of developers who contribute code, fix bugs, build new features, write documentation, and help maintain the project.

Contributing provides several benefits:

  • Gain valuable experience working on real-world projects
  • Improve coding skills by working alongside experienced developers
  • Expand professional network and connections
  • Build portfolio to showcase development abilities
  • Higher impact as work contributes to projects used by many
  • Recognition and appreciation for efforts from community

### What are open source projects

Open source projects have source code that is publicly available for anyone to view, use, modify, and distribute. They are developed in a decentralized manner by a global community of developers who contribute code, documentation, bug reports, and more on a voluntary basis. The collaborative aspect allows rapid evolution of projects.

Common licenses used are MIT, GPL, Apache which allow sharing and remixing of code. Popular open source projects many developers contribute to include Linux, WordPress, ReactJS, TensorFlow, Kubernetes and more.

### Why contribute to open source projects

There are several key reasons developers contribute to open source software:

  • Gain coding experience by working on real-world projects and products
  • Improve programming abilities by collaborating with experienced developers
  • Expand professional network through interactions with project community
  • Showcase development skills and portfolio to future employers or clients
  • Higher impact as work contributes to tools used by large communities
  • Recognition for efforts improving high-profile projects relied on by many
  • Belief in values of open source philosophy and culture

Companies also participate to give back to communities their business relies on. Contributions allow influencing direction of tools they depend on.

### Benefits of contributing

  • Faster skill growth: Working on varied codebases accelerates learning. Fixing bugs and building features teaches many concepts fast.
  • Community support: Interacting regularly with collaborative communities provides mentoring opportunities. Quick feedback and guidance accelerates growth.
  • Higher impact: Contributions improve critical software infrastructure relied upon globally. High visibility within communities.
  • Recognition: Profile on hosting sites tracks contributions. Write access earned through consistent contributions. Builds reputation.
  • Job opportunities: Demonstrable experience on real-world projects makes candidates more employable.

Contributing to open source leads to richer professional growth through a supportive community that values members' contributions.

How do I find open source projects to contribute?

Contributing to open source can seem daunting at first, but it's easier than you think when you know where to look. Here are some great places to start your search for open source projects that welcome new contributors:

Use Open-Source Directories

Explore different platforms that list different open-source projects. Websites like GitHub Explore, GitLab Explore, Open Source Friday and others all list projects, making it easier to search through.

Check the README File

When you find a project you may be interested in, review the README file. Many projects that are seeking contributors will have a "Contributing" section with instructions on how to get started.

Look for "Help Wanted" Labels

On platforms like GitHub and GitLab, project owners often tag issues with a "help wanted" label. This signals that they would welcome contributions to that particular bug or feature request.

Attend Virtual Meetups

Attending open source virtual meetups allows you to connect directly with project maintainers. You can ask questions about their projects and how to start contributing.

With some focused searching, you can find great open source projects that match your skills and interests. Be sure to review contribution guidelines, connect with maintainers, and don't be afraid to ask questions.

How do you get involved in open source?

Getting involved in open source can seem daunting, but it's easier than you think. Here are some tips:

  • Find a project that interests you. Browse sites like GitHub, GitLab, and SourceForge to discover projects related to your skills or passions. Look for active projects with recent commits and issues.

  • Start small. Fixing typos, improving documentation, or submitting bug reports are great ways to start contributing. This helps you get familiar with the project and build trust with maintainers.

  • Introduce yourself. Once you've identified a project, introduce yourself on communication channels like Slack, Discord, forums etc. Get to know the norms of the community.

  • Review open issues. Look through the project's open issues on GitHub/GitLab. Find issues labeled "good first issue" or "help wanted" - these are often easy ways to start contributing code.

  • Ask questions If you're unsure about anything, don't hesitate to ask the maintainers. Making mistakes is normal, don't let that stop you from participating!

The key is to start small, learn project norms, communicate early and often, and don't be afraid to ask questions. With perseverance, you can become a valued member of the open source community.

Who are the top open source contributors?

Open source projects rely on contributors to grow and thrive. Some of the top contributors come from major tech companies that utilize open source software extensively.

According to recent statistics, Microsoft is one of the largest corporate contributors to open source projects on GitHub. Some key points about Microsoft's open source contributions:

  • Since 2017, Microsoft has been one of the top contributors to open source projects among companies.

  • In 2021, Microsoft ranked #2 among companies in terms of number of employees actively pushing code to GitHub repositories.

  • Over 3,000 Microsoft employees have contributed code across nearly 500,000 open source repositories on GitHub.

  • Microsoft open sources over 2,000 projects on GitHub, including popular frameworks like .NET and Visual Studio Code.

  • Other top corporate contributors include Google, Red Hat, Intel, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, and more. Many companies contribute as giving back to open source aligns with their engineering culture.

For individual contributors, GitHub tracks statistics on users with the most contributions. Top developers come from diverse backgrounds and contribute to various projects. Some prolific developers contribute code across hundreds of repositories.

So both large companies and individual developers make huge contributions daily to open source software. For new contributors looking to start out, focusing on beginner-friendly projects can be a good first step.

How do you find repos to contribute to?

Contributing to open source can be immensely rewarding, but finding a project that fits your skills and interests can be challenging. Here are some tips for locating open source repositories open to community contributions:

Use dedicated websites

Websites like Up For Grabs and First Timers Only specifically curate beginner-friendly open source projects. Browse projects by language or topic to find ones that match your abilities.

Check project websites

Often projects list contribution guidelines on sites like GitHub. Look for notes about accepting contributions, links to “” files, open issues tagged for new contributors, etc. This clearly signals they welcome community involvement.

Search GitHub directly

Use GitHub search operators to find repos, e.g. searching is:open source AND "help wanted". You can also filter by language, number of stars, recent activity, and other parameters to locate well-maintained projects needing assistance.

Ask communities

Don't hesitate to ask open source forums, Slack/Discord groups, Reddit subs, etc. for project recommendations fitting your interests and skill level. Experienced contributors can offer great guidance.

Review your own tools

Consider projects whose software you already use and enjoy. Contributing to tools you understand and find useful leads to the most meaningful and rewarding participation.

The open source community appreciates any help, no matter how small the contribution. Follow these tips to locate repositories where you can make a difference!


Finding Open Source Projects to Contribute To for Beginners

Contributing to open source can be very rewarding, but for beginners, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. Here are some strategies for locating beginner-friendly open source projects to contribute to.

Exploring GitHub for Open Source Projects

GitHub is home to millions of open source projects, many of which are actively looking for new contributors. Here are some tips for finding them:

  • Look for projects that are tagged with "good first issue" or "up-for-grabs". These tags indicate that the maintainers have specifically marked issues suitable for first-time contributors.

  • Use GitHub's search filters to narrow things down. You can search by language, topic area, number of stars, recent activity levels, and other parameters.

  • Pay attention to projects that have clear CONTRIBUTING guidelines. This shows they are invested in supporting new contributors.

  • Don't be afraid to open an issue asking if a project is suitable for first-timers. Maintainers are usually very welcoming.

Filtering Projects by Technology

It often helps to filter projects by technology area or programming language, so you can focus on something you know or want to learn.

  • Search GitHub tagged with your language or framework of choice, like "Python", "JavaScript", "React", etc.

  • Check out curated lists like First Timers Only that aggregate beginner-friendly open source opportunities.

  • Search for projects related to your interests - gaming, science, accessibility, or anything else that motivates you.

Utilizing 'Up-For-Grabs' Open Source Projects

Many projects tag issues with an "up-for-grabs" label to explicitly signify they are open to new contributors taking them on.

  • The Up For Grabs site aggregates these opportunities across hundreds of projects. It's a great starting point for exploration.

  • On GitHub, you can also search directly for "up-for-grabs" to surface potential projects.

  • If a project uses "up-for-grabs" labeling, it generally indicates they will be supportive of new contributors. Leverage this to get started!

By exploring thoughtfully tagged GitHub projects, filtering by technology, and utilizing "up-for-grabs" openings, you can position yourself for an encouraging and valuable first experience contributing to open source software.

Evaluating and Selecting an Open Source Project

Contributing to open source can be immensely rewarding, but finding the right project is key. Here are some tips for evaluating open source projects to find the best fit for your skills and interests.

Assessing Project Activity Level

When deciding which project to contribute to, look at metrics that indicate how active development is:

  • Number of contributors in the last 3 months
  • Frequency of commits
  • Number of open issues/pull requests
  • Issues closed per month

More activity signals an engaged, responsive community.

Responsiveness to Issues and Contributions

Before investing time into an open source project, test project maintainer responsiveness by:

  • Opening a simple issue to ask a question
  • Submitting a small pull request to fix a typo

Friendly, timely responses indicate they will support new contributors.

Selecting Projects with Company Backing

Some open source projects are sponsored by companies invested in their success. While not required, corporate backing can ensure:

  • Paid developers to maintain the project
  • Resources to support contributors
  • Long-term stability

Finding Your Technology Fit

Match your skills and interests to projects using languages/tools you know or want to learn. For example, Python and JavaScript have many beginner-friendly open source options.

Contributing to projects you find personally interesting leads to greater engagement and chance of long-term involvement.

Evaluating projects beforehand allows you to select the best one for your open source aspirations and grow your skills through contributions.

Making Your First Contribution to Open Source

Contributing to open source can be intimidating at first, but is very rewarding. Here is a step-by-step guide for first-timers to make their first open source contribution.

Starting with Beginner-Friendly Issues

  • Look for projects that specifically mark beginner-friendly issues to lower the barrier to entry. These are usually smaller or better documented.

  • Some projects on GitHub label these issues with tags like "good first issue" or "help wanted". Filter by these tags to find them.

  • Consider contributing to projects you already use and are familiar with. This makes it easier to orient yourself with the codebase.

  • If docs need improvement, that can also be a good first issue. You'll be familiar with any unclear sections as a user.

Understanding the Fork and Pull Request Flow

  • Forking lets you work on your own copy of the codebase and submit changes via pull requests.

  • Clone your forked repository and create a new branch to isolate your contributions.

  • Make focused changes to address the issue. Test them locally before submitting.

  • Open a pull request to the original repository with details on the changes. Project maintainers will review before merging.

  • Be responsive to maintainer feedback and willing to make revisions. View it as a collaborative process.

  • Ask clarifying questions if you receive suggestions but don't understand the intent.

  • Follow the project's contributing guidelines regarding coding conventions to smooth the review.

  • If your pull request goes stale with no feedback, politely check if it needs any revisions or can be considered for inclusion.

Iterating Based on Feedback

  • Don't be discouraged by critical feedback. Take it as an opportunity to improve your skills.

  • Study any changes the maintainers make to your pull request after merge. This will help you align with project conventions.

  • Engage with other contributors and community to better understand the project standards and motivations.

With persistence and openness to feedback, your open source contributions will improve and be more readily accepted over time. The first step is starting!

Best Practices for Successful Open Source Contributions

Open source projects rely on contributors to sustain them. By following some best practices, you can ensure your contributions are impactful and maintain positive relationships within these communities.

Effective Communication in Open Source Projects

Clear and considerate communication is key when contributing to open source. Before beginning work, review project guidelines and recent discussion threads to understand current needs and priorities. Introduce yourself on communication channels like GitHub issues or Slack.

When suggesting a new feature or reporting a bug, provide specifics on the problem and your proposed solution. Respond promptly to maintainers' questions or requests for more details. Thank maintainers for their feedback, even if a contribution is ultimately declined.

Setting Realistic Expectations for Contribution Review

Understand that open source maintainers volunteer their time around other commitments. Contributions may take days or weeks to review depending on project activity levels. Monitor threads you start but avoid pinging maintainers excessively.

If there is no response for an extended time, politely check if they need any clarification or prefer you investigate further before providing feedback. Offering to take ownership of advancing the discussion can be helpful.

Pacing Your Contributions

Start small by fixing typos, improving documentation, or adding tests. This helps you understand the codebase and project needs before tackling larger features. Review the issue tracker to identify beginner-friendly tickets like low-priority bugs or enhancement requests.

Don't overload maintainers with multiple unfinished contributions at once. Work through the contribution process one ticket at a time. Celebrate small wins like having a pull request successfully merged.

Adhering to the Community Code of Conduct

Carefully read a project's code of conduct covering expected behavior for contributors. Strive to epitomize patience, empathy, and professionalism in all interactions. Consider how written communications may be interpreted before posting.

If tensions arise during discussions, disengage politely and request neutral third-party mediation if needed. Upholding conduct standards preserves inclusive spaces welcoming new contributors.

Conclusion and Next Steps in Open Source Contribution

Recapping the Journey to Your First Contribution

Congratulations on taking the first step towards contributing to open source! You have learned how to:

  • Identify projects that match your interests and skill levels
  • Set up your development environment
  • Understand project guidelines and expectations
  • Make small, incremental changes to start

Celebrate your first contribution - no matter how small. It takes courage to put yourself out there in the open source world.

Exploring Advanced Contributions

As you get more comfortable with the open source contribution process, consider:

  • Writing tests to improve project stability
  • Conducting security audits to help identify vulnerabilities
  • Proposing new features based on your experience as a user

The more you contribute, the deeper your knowledge and the greater your impact.

Continuing Your Open Source Journey

Contributing to open source is an incredibly rewarding long-term journey. With each contribution:

  • You build your development skills
  • You gain valuable experience for your résumé
  • You expand your professional network
  • You support important software you and others rely on

Stay engaged with projects that resonate with you. And remember, open source is built with care, creativity, and collaboration.

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