mardi 14 septembre 2021

The ultimate guide for successful contribution to open source

(This is a post I started on December 2019 and didn't publish because I felt it was too negative. But recent events show that it is still a current topic, and at least this will document my own preception of things) 
We have lately stumbled upon a few clumsy attempts of corporations at contributing to open source software. Needless to say this is a bumpy ride not for the faint of heart, from both side of the equation.

If you just want to stop your reading here, just remember that good old motto: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And be prepared to become a Roman citizen.

Us, open source developers have our own hard-to-decipher customs. We pay tribute to the Allmighty Git (*), preferably his most revered (often with awe)  incarnation called GitHub. You may also find followers of GitLab, gitea, gitorious.
In that case, never pronounce the word 'GitHub' before them. It is also said that some might still use email patches: be sure to set a 80 character limit to lines, use LF line endings and refrain from using PNG signatures.  Be sure to stay away from SourceForge followers. They will continuously impose on you advertising messages that will destroy your sanity.

You should subscribe to mailing lists. Be wary of trolls. We may occasionally engage into flame wars, generally sanctionned by motions. We are structured into groups that defer to a Project Steering Committee to decide (or not) which way to follow. Our groups regularly gather at solstice time in dark rooms for a week-long trance (note: was written pre-pandemic), known as a hackfest, hackathon or code sprint. For the tribes involved in geospatial, we have an annual Pow-Wow, called FOSS4G, during which we temporarily bury the hatchet and occasionaly thank our sponsors. You may stumble upon a C89 developer sharing a beer with a Java 11 one, or an adorer of Leaflet trying to convert a OpenLayers follower. If you want to join the Pow-Wow, remove your tie and suit, wear a t-shirt and sandals, and make sure to display a prominent "I Love Open Source" sticker on your laptop. You may also add a "I Love Shapefile" or "I Love GeoPackage" sticker, but only if you are confident to which one the group pays tribute. Failure to display the appropriate sticker will expose you to terrific insults about 10-character limits or obscure write-ahead log locking issues. If unsure, use the "I ? Shapefile" sticker.

We have taboo words. Thou Should Not Talk about business plan, intellectual property, patent portfolio, customer demand, strategy, costless SDK, CVE number, internal policy, consolidated codebases, education license fees. Planning and roadmap should also be pronounced with care, as some tribes will probably not have even the slightest idea of what you talk about.

If despite all those strange habits, you want to join with us, be prepared to follow a long and demanding initiation path. You will have to demonstrate your (possibly affected) adoration to our principles. As strange as it can be, we abhor being offered large presents that we cannot prevent ourselves from seeing as Trojan horses. You will rather have to locate a long list of problems pinned on a wall called bug tracker where each member of the community has written an issue or a wish he has. Start by the modest one that makes sense to you, solve it and offer its resolution to the Reviewer in a sufficiently argumented Pull Request. The Reviewer, which often equates to the Maintainer, will scrutinize at your gift, often at night time after Day Job. He may decide to accept it right away, or return it to you with a comment requesting a change, or just ignore it with the highest contempt. Be humble and obey to his command. You may beg for enlightenment, but never object even if you cannot make sense of his rebutal. He is the allmighty after the Allmighty. Never Rebase if asked to Merge; never Merge if asked to Rebase. Refactor when asked, but don't when not ! You should rewrite history before submitting, or maybe not. If unsure, consult, or be prepared that RTFM will be yelled at you (only for the tribes that don't have yet written Do not even consider objecting that you have not been tasked to address his demands. You must also make sure to listen to the complaints of the Continuous Integration (CI) half-gods: the Reviewer will probably not even look at your gift until CI has expressed its satisfaction. Retry as many times as needed until they are pleased. You may attempt at submitting a RFC, but be prepared for lengthy and lively discussions. Listen, correct or you may not survive to your first "-1" spell !

We praise especially gifts that have no direct value for you: improved test suite (e.g., documentation addition and fixes, answering to users on the mailing list. Only when you feel that you have built enough trust, you might try to offer your initial gift. But, even if it is accepted, the most surprising habit is that your gift will remain yours. You will have to make sure you regularly remove the dust that accumlates on it over time, so it remains constantly shiny. While removing dust on your gift, never neglect from removing it also from nearby gifts offered by others. Otherwise the Maintainer might threaten at invoking the terrible Revert incantation on you. Also consider that existing contributors to a project might see your new code, they won't have directly use of, as an extra burden to their daily tasks (studying the commit history of, or even more crudly at, demonstrates that)

Ready for a ride, and possibly enjoying the feeling that "our" code can also become "yours" ?

(*) some tribes, cut off from the rest of the world, are said to still pursue their adoration of more ancient divinities sometimes known as SVN or CVS. We cannot confirm and have eradicated the last remains of those old cults.

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