Skip to main content

How to get off your lazy arse and contribute to an open source project

I have a bug in my code. Only it isn't I who made it. It belongs to one of the numerous open source software components in my software. How do I fix that?

I have only run into one other developer I know from the local community contributing to an open source project (not counting project devs/committers) on random occurence. Very few of open source software users contribute back to the projects. I think there is a huge amount of lurkers; people who observe the project but fail to contribute their own solutions back to the project when they encounter problems with the software (or lack of documentation).

I wrote this post while trying to get a Struts2 bug fixed. I'll keep real-life descriptions in italic font like this.

1. Identify your bug

You usually stumble on a bug when you're trying to use the component in some funny, modern, weird or alien way; integrating with another component, using rarely used/tested configuration, or simply using code from an unstable branch of the source code (bleeding edge).

The best way to isolate a bug is to recreate the conditions under which it occurs. The most handy way of writing this is by writing an executable test (a unit test if you will).

Is the bug already identified? Someone else might've had the exact same problem. Search mailing lists, issue tracker and the web in general to see if anyone else have been affected by the bug (and team up with them if so). There's no need to duplicate the identity of a bug.

I stumbled onto a bug when trying to unit-test my Struts actions' validation mechanisms. I have done so with the use of the ActionValidatorManager without problems in earlier version of Struts2 (WebWork). I searched the user-list and found another guy who has suffered the exact same problem some five days before. I added my own description of the problem to add some attention to the issue, adding some more details to the problem description, hoping that a project developer (dev) or experienced user would suggest a solution.

2. Get help

Ask around on the projects mailing list whether this is a real bug (try sticking to the user-list and not waste developer time if it's not a real issue). Many times developers or users will point out an error in your configuration, or tell you to upgrade to a later version of the component. If it is a real bug, they will probably ask you to file an issue in the issue tracker. Yes, you. Because you (the reporter) discovered the bug and you are probably the one best able to describe the problem and recognize when it has been fixed.

Three days after my mail to the thread mentioned, the problem was confirmed by Rich Thornett.

3. File an issue (document the bug)

Most issue trackers guide you into providing the crucial details you should provide to describe the bug, including environment, configuration, component version, etc. I think the best way to describe a bug is by attaching a unit-test that recreates the bug. This isn't always easy, but still there is no better way to define a bug and have a fine-grained definition of whether the bug has been fixed or not. The test is either green or red. Those of you who already do test-driven development (TDD) will recognize this step. Those of you who don't, well, get a book and figure out TDD.

Rich did us the favor of filing the issue, so I didn't have to do much at this point. I eventually (today) attached a unit-test to the issue that might get patched into the Struts2 code so the error will not reoccur in the future. I discovered that this is not really a bug if you take the effort of using the StrutsTestCase in your unit-tests, but I found a new bug being problems integrating the StrutsTestCase with the Spring objectFactory. I'll look into this later.

4. Fix the issue (submit a patch)

This is where the lazy ones quit. A project developer might be able to fix the bug in 2 minutes, so it's definitely an easy option to leave it to'em. However, if no one else suffers the effect of the bug, it will not be prioritized by the devs and it might be up to yourself to fix the bug. So get the code out! We're talking trunk-code that should be easily available from the projects SVN or CVS repository.

At this point I want to add to you anti-Mavenizers out there, this is where the advantage of Maven comes in full. I can get the code up and running in my Eclipse in 2 minutes since they use Maven. I don't have to read a friggin out-of-date developer guide before figuring out how to dev the code, spending an hour getting the deps right, then configuring them into Eclipse. Having a mavenized project makes it easier for others to submit patches to your project!

Have a look at the existing unit-tests that exist in the project. Now, for a moment (or more likely a few hours), pretend that you are a project developer and create a unit-test that isolates your bug if you didn't do so already when filing the issue). Finally, start debugging! Try to minimize the structural changes done to the source-code. This will increase the chances of the project devs absorbing your patch into the trunk-code.

In the Struts2 case, I haven't found this solution. I will continue to work on it, but hopefully it will attract enough buzz to get the devs interested and speed up the process.


Popular posts from this blog

Open source CMS evaluations

I have now seen three more or less serious open source CMS reviews. First guy to hit the field was Matt Raible ( 1 2 3 4 ), ending up with Drupal , Joomla , Magnolia , OpenCms and MeshCMS being runner-ups. Then there is OpenAdvantage that tries out a handful ( Drupal , Exponent CMS , Lenya , Mambo , and Silva ), including Plone which they use for their own site (funny/annoying that the entire site has no RSS-feeds, nor is it possible to comment on the articles), following Matt's approach by exluding many CMS that seem not to fit the criteria. It is somewhat strange that OpenAdvantage cuts away Magnolia because it "Requires J2EE server; difficult to install and configure; more of a framework than CMS", and proceed to include Apache Lenya in the full evaluation. Magnolia does not require a J2EE server. It runs on Tomcat just like Lenya does (maybe it's an idea to bundle Magnolia with Jetty to make it seem more lightweight). I'm still sure that OpenAdvant

Considerations for JavaScript in Modern (2013) Java/Maven Projects

Disclaimer: I'm a Java developer, not a JavaScript developer. This is just what I've picked up the last years plus a little research the last days. It's just a snapshot of my current knowledge and opinions on the day of writing, apt to change over the next weeks/months. We've gone all modern in our web applications, doing MVC on the client side with AngularJS or Ember , building single-page webapps with REST backends. But how are we managing the growing amount of JavaScript in our application? Yeoman 's logo (not necessarily the conclusion of this blog post) You ain't in Kansas anymore So far we've just been doing half-random stuff. We download some version of a library and throw it into our src/main/webapp/js/lib , or we use it from a CDN , which may be down or unreachable when we want to use the application.. Some times the JS is minified, other times it's not. Some times we name the file with version number, other times without. Some

Managing dot-files with vcsh and myrepos

Say I want to get my dot-files out on a new computer. Here's what I do: # install vcsh & myrepos via apt/brew/etc vcsh clone mr mr update Done! All dot-files are ready to use and in place. No deploy command, no linking up symlinks to the files . No checking/out in my entire home directory as a Git repository. Yet, all my dot-files are neatly kept in fine-grained repositories, and any changes I make are immediately ready to be committed: config-atom.git     -> ~/.atom/* config-mr.git     -> ~/.mrconfig     -> ~/.config/mr/* config-tmuxinator.git       -> ~/.tmuxinator/* config-vim.git     -> ~/.vimrc     -> ~/.vim/* config-bin.git        -> ~/bin/* config-git.git               -> ~/.gitconfig config-tmux.git       -> ~/.tmux.conf     config-zsh.git     -> ~/.zshrc How can this be? The key here is to use vcsh to keep track of your dot-files, and its partner myrepos/mr for o

What I've Learned After a Month of Podcasting

So, it's been about a month since I launched   GitMinutes , and wow, it's been a fun ride. I have gotten a lot of feedback, and a lot more downloads/listeners than I had expected! Judging the numbers is hard, but a generous estimate is that somewhere around 2000-3000 have listened to the podcast, and about 500-1000 regularly download. Considering that only a percentage of my target audience actively listen to podcasts, these are some pretty good numbers. I've heard that 10% of the general population in the western world regularly listen to podcasts (probably a bit higher percentage among Git users), so I like to think I've reached a big chunk of the Git pros out there. GitMinutes has gathered 110 followers on Twitter, and 63, erm.. circlers on Google+, and it has received 117 +'es! And it's been flattr'ed twice :) Here are some of the things I learned during this last month: Conceptually.. Starting my own sandbox podcast for trying out everythin

Git Stash Blooper (Could not restore untracked files from stash)

The other day I accidentally did a git stash -a , which means it stashes *everything*, including ignored output files (target, build, classes, etc). Ooooops.. What I meant to do was git stash -u , meaning stash modifications plus untracked new files. Anyhows, I ended up with a big fat stash I couldn't get back out. Each time I tried, I got something like this: .../target/temp/dozer.jar already exists, no checkout .../target/temp/core.jar already exists, no checkout .../target/temp/joda-time.jar already exists, no checkout .../target/foo.war already exists, no checkout Could not restore untracked files from stash No matter how I tried checking out different revisions (like the one where I actually made the stash), or using --force, I got the same error. Now these were one of those "keep cool for a second, there's a git way to fix this"situation. I figured: A stash is basically a commit. If we look at my recent commits using   git log --graph --