If you are a beginner in programming or you are looking for more practice, working on open-source projects can be a brilliant solution. The open-source communities help programmers to increase their skills, support, and inspire them.

So, let’s figure out how to contribute to open-source projects and why they are important for developers.

Reasons to contribute to open-source projects

There are several motives for developers to participate in such projects.

  1. They want to share their code with others and think that code should be open. This is a reason for idealists that tend to make a better world, and their desire is a great motivation.
  2. They are beginners in programming and try to upgrade their skills. They can start with fixing small errors, for example, bugs in the library, sending a pull request, or writing the documentation. Working on open-source projects, developers also can learn to create a “clean code”, readable, and maintainable. They realize that a lot of programmers will see their code, and this moment motivates them to do their best. Also, open-source software disciplines developers: working in teams, they should follow common rules: abide by norms for indents, use the acceptable descriptions of methods and classes, etc. 
  3. They want to be a part of a great community and find like-minded people. Also, participation in open-source projects is useful for freelancers: doing this, freelancers can meet with potential employers and add participation in creating open-source software to their portfolio. 

So, if you belong to one of these groups, you can try OSS coding. Let’s consider how to prepare for your first open-source project.

How to contribute to open-source projects with GitHub?


GitHub is the leading platform for collaborative work with open-source code. To work with GitHub, you should create your account and check the GitHub tutorial. Then you can submit issues and contribute code. Submitting issues means that you can send your message with a problem and solution if you have found a bug and know the way to fix it.

Contributing code means that you are sending pull requests with your fixes and upgrades.

How does it work?

If you want to contribute to open-source projects on GitHub, you can learn how to use Git, a well-known version control tool (its other name is revision control tool). Due to the fact that developers constantly change their code, they need the system for managing these changes through the central repository. With Git, every member of the team can download part of code, make some changes, and submit updates. Also, the established Git process allows developers to clone the repository and send pull requests. Pull requests report code maintainers about the last code changes. Developers can check them, discuss, and assign to the next commit. 

GitHub Community

You can easily become a part of the open-source project if you subscribe to the mailing list of this project. Such mailing lists are on the official web sites or GitHub pages. After you are included in such a listing, you can communicate with other members of the project, get feedback and answers to your questions. 

Who can contribute to open-source projects?

Even if you don’t have the developer’s skills, you can become a part of the open-source project team. There are several ways how you can help the community:

  • Work with documentation. Documentation is required for every project, so you can write the documentation if the project doesn’t have it yet, you can update or translate it.
  • Work with an interface. Besides documentation, every application needs an interface, so, if you are a designer, you also can use your skills in such a project.
  • Work with administrative questions. You can manage the community, answer the questions, and help the beginners.

How to choose the first open-source project?

First of all, you should figure out several crucial moments, and your project choice will depend on your solutions. 

Programming language

A programming language is a basis for any kind of application. It is good if you know one of the most popular programming languages on GitHub, a well-known platform for collaborative code hosting. So, if you can code in Java, Python, JavaScript, Ruby, or PHP, you can find a lot of interesting projects on GitHub.

If you are a beginner, you should get acquainted with live OOS codebases for your programming language. For example, if you are interested in Ruby, you should meet with:

  • Hanami, the actual web framework, built with Ruby;
  • Sinatra, Ruby library for creating free applications (Rails);
  • Chef, a framework for automation of your work with the server;
  • Goby, a framework for creating text role-playing games;
  • JRuby, Ruby interpreter.

Type of project

Once you have decided on the programming language, you should choose the specific nature of your future project. On GitHub, projects are divided into folders, called Showcases. For example, you can choose such areas as “security”, “text editors”, “virtual reality”, “CSS preprocessors”, etc.

It is better to choose the project with a large predicted audience, so your code will be tested by a lot of people. For example, the showcase “Emoji” consists of 25 repositories, which is the marker of its popularity.

Also, you can choose the project, connected with software that you have already used, or are interested in. Such a choice will be your additional motivator that will keep you on your toes.

Volume of project

If you are a beginner, don’t rush to participate in big software projects, such as Spree or VLC Media Player. When you want to be a part of a great team, you should meet this team’s requirements. Special tags “only for beginners”, “beginner”, “easy” will help you make the right choice. Also, GitHub has a special listing with projects for beginners.

3 ways to contribute to open-source projects

There are three most popular ways how you can contribute to open-source projects. Let’s take a deeper look at them:

#1. Start your own open-source project

If you have an idea of software that differs from what is shown on GitHub or Bitbucket, you can create your own open-source project. You can identify what customers need, what features can enhance already existing GitHub projects, and offer your solution. In this case, you should consider the initial project draft and answer such questions:

  • What skills are required for your software?
  • How much time can you spend on your project?
  • What issues can your project solve?
  • Who are the potential users of your software, and how many users will this software have? 

#2. Develop an open-source alternative to commercial software

Open-source software is a helpful solution for many developers because it can replace proprietary software or offer the needed solution to existing problems. A lot of companies use such kind of software in their projects so as not to reinvent the wheel. 

It is an interesting fact, when open-source projects combine the best programming practices, clear code, and passionate developers, the result of such a project can be something innovative. At the same time, commercial software mainly pretends only for profit, not for searching for new solutions. 

#3. Contribute to existing open-source projects

You can join one of the GitHub open-source projects that seems interesting to you. GitHub provides a set of needed features. It offers public API, updated UI, Git repositories for common sharing with parts of code or applications, etc.

You can contribute to open-source projects in many ways: you can fork them, change code, send pull requests, test, search for bugs and fix them, etc. Your help can make this world better, even if it is a small part of the code.

If you are looking for hot and the most actual GitHub projects, you can find them in the Trending tab. Also, you can detail your request: check your programming language and pick “best match” criteria. “Best match” feature arranges the projects by their relevance according to their update rates and popularity among the audience. For this ranking, GitHub has stars and forks (the number of a project’s updates). You can see several marks on the projects, such as bug, discussion, security, refactoring, or labels with the level of complexity: easy, medium, hard.

Contribution to an open-source project can be a great addition to your portfolio; it gives you a lot of benefits, including experience and skills enhancement. No matter if you are a beginner in programming or enthusiast with a great idea and desire to help, OOS can give you what you are looking for.