A Beginner's Guide to Contributing to Open Source Projects

Are you interested in contributing to open-source projects but don't know where to start? Look no further! This guide will provide you with everything you need to know and provide a step-by-step guide to make your first contribution.

A Beginner's Guide to Contributing to Open Source Projects

Open-source software development has become increasingly popular in recent years, with more individuals and organizations contributing to these projects. If you're new to the open-source world, you might wonder how you can contribute to these projects. The good news is that contributing to open source is not as difficult as it may seem. In this article, we'll provide you with a step-by-step guide to help you get started with contributing to open-source projects. By the end of this guide, you'll have the knowledge and confidence to begin your journey of contributing to open-source projects.

What is Open Source?

Open source refers to software that is freely available to anyone to use, modify, and distribute. The source code of open-source software is openly available, meaning that anyone can view, modify, and enhance it.

Unlike proprietary software, which is owned by a single company and cannot be modified or distributed without permission, open-source software is developed collaboratively by a community of developers who share the same goal of creating high-quality software that is accessible to everyone.

The collaborative approach to software development has led to the creation of some of the most innovative and widely used software in the world, including FreeCodeCamp, React.js, and Visual Studio Code.

Why You Should Contribute to Open Source?

There are numerous reasons why you should contribute to open-source projects. Here are four of them:

  1. Learn new skills: Contributing to open-source projects is a great way to learn new skills and technologies. By working on an open-source project, you can gain practical experience and knowledge that you might not get from reading books or taking online courses. Plus, you can work with experienced developers who can provide feedback and help you improve your skills.
  2. Build your portfolio: Contributing to open-source projects is an excellent way to build your portfolio and showcase your skills to potential employers or clients. When you contribute to open-source projects, you can demonstrate your ability to work on real-world projects and showcase your coding skills to a broader audience.
  3. Collaborate with others: Open source projects are often collaborative efforts involving developers from all around the world. By contributing to these projects, you can collaborate with other like-minded individuals, learn from them, and share your knowledge and expertise. This can help you build your network of contacts and establish valuable connections with other developers in your field.
  4. Gain recognition: By contributing to open-source projects, you can gain recognition for your work and establish yourself as an expert in your field. This can lead to new opportunities for work, speaking engagements, and other career-related benefits. Plus, it feels good to be recognized for your contributions and know that you are making a difference in the world of software development.

If you want to learn more about why you should consider jumping into open source as a newbie developer, check out our article 10 Reasons Why You Should Consider Jumping Into Open Source As A Newbie Developer. This provides additional reasons and insights on why contributing to open source can be an excellent career move for beginner developers.

What to Know Before Contributing to Open Source Projects

Before diving into the exciting world of open-source software development, here are a few essential things that you should keep in mind:

Set Up Your Development Environment

Before you can contribute to an open-source project, it's essential to set up your development environment. This involves installing the necessary software and tools, such as a code editor like Visual Studio Code, a version control system like Git, and creating a GitHub or GitLab account. Having a development environment that's properly set up can help you work efficiently and effectively.

Find a Project to Contribute

Once your development environment is set up, the next step is to find a suitable project that matches your interests and skill level. Consider what type of software you would like to work on, what programming languages you are familiar with, and what level of contribution you would like to make. There are several resources that can help you find beginner-friendly issues to work on, such as:

  • Good First Issues: A website that curates a list of beginner-friendly issues from various open-source projects, making it easy to find issues that are suitable for your skill level.
  • Up for Grabs: A website that lists open-source projects and issues that are considered "up for grabs." These issues are usually labeled as "easy" or "beginner-friendly," making it easy for new contributors to get started.
  • EddieHub Finder: This website is an aggregator of issues labeled as "good first issue" or "help wanted" from various open-source repositories. You can also filter by programming language, project type, and issue label.
  • CodeTriage: This website allows you to subscribe to open-source projects and receive a curated list of beginner-friendly issues in your email inbox.
  • GitHub Explore: A feature within GitHub that allows users to discover and explore open-source projects.

Understand the Project's Codebase and Documentation

Before you start contributing, it's important to familiarize yourself with the project's codebase and documentation. This will help you understand how the project works, and how your contributions can fit in. You should also take the time to read the project's documentation, including its code of conduct and contribution guidelines.

Start Small

When first starting with open source projects, it's essential to start small. Look for easy-to-fix bugs, typos, or documentation errors to begin with. This will help you get comfortable with the process of contributing and allow you to build your skills gradually.

Communicate Effectively

Communication is key when contributing to open-source projects. Be sure to communicate clearly and concisely with other contributors, ask questions when you need help, and be open to feedback and criticism.

Be Patient

Contributing to open-source projects takes time and patience. Don't get discouraged if your contributions are not accepted immediately or if you encounter challenges along the way. Be persistent, continue to learn and grow, and don't hesitate to ask for help when you need it.

By keeping these things in mind, you'll be well on your way to contributing to open-source projects and making a positive impact on the open-source community.

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Contribute to Open Source Projects

Contributing to open-source projects may seem intimidating, especially for beginner developers. However, with the right guidance and tools, it can be a rewarding experience that helps you improve your skills and learn from other developers.

In this section, we will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to contribute to open-source projects. We will use the First Contributions repository on GitHub as an example.

The First Contributions project is designed to help beginners learn how to contribute to open-source projects by providing a step-by-step guide on how to make their first contribution. Follow the steps below to make your first open-source contribution:

Step 1: Fork the Repository

The first step is to fork the repository you want to contribute to. Forking creates a copy of the repository in your GitHub account that you can freely modify without affecting the original repository.

To fork the First Contributions repository, go to the repository's page on GitHub: https://github.com/firstcontributions/first-contributions and click on the Fork button located at the top-right corner of the page. This will create a copy of the repository in your GitHub account.

Forking the First Contributions repository

Step 2: Clone the Repository

The next step is to clone the repository to your local machine. Cloning creates a local copy of the repository on your computer, allowing you to make changes to the code and test them locally before pushing them back to the remote repository on GitHub.

To clone the repository, click the Code button on your forked repository page and copy the HTTPS link.

Cloning the First Contributions repository

Next, open your terminal or Git Bash and navigate to the directory where you want to clone the repository. Once you're in the right directory, run the following command, replacing <URL> with the URL you copied:

git clone <URL>

This command will clone the repository to your local machine.

Step 3: Create a New Branch

First, change to the repository directory on your computer:

cd first-contributions

Before making any changes, create a new branch for your contributions. This allows you to isolate your changes from the main codebase and makes it easier to manage changes.

To create a new branch, run the following command:

git checkout -b <add-your-name>

Step 4: Make Changes

Now that you have created a new branch, it's time to make your changes. In this example, we will add your name to the CONTRIBUTORS.md file.

Open the CONTRIBUTORS.md file in your preferred text editor and add your name to the file, following the format of the existing entries:

- [Your Name](https://github.com/your-username)

Save the file once you have made your changes.

Step 5: Stage and Commit Changes

Once you have made your changes, you need to stage and commit them. Staging prepares your changes to be committed and committing records your changes in the repository's history.

To stage your changes, enter the following command in your terminal:

git add .

This will stage all the changes you have made in the repository.

To commit your changes, enter the following command:

git commit -m "Add <your-name> to Contributors list"

Replacing <your-name>with your name.

Step 6: Push Changes

Now that you have committed your changes, the final step is to push them to your forked repository on GitHub.

To push your changes, enter the following command:

git push origin <new-branch-name>

Replace <new-branch-name> with the name of the branch you created in step 3.

Step 7: Create a Pull Request

The final step is to create a pull request to merge your changes into the original repository. A pull request is a request to the original repository owner to accept your changes.

To create a pull request, go to your forked repository on GitHub and click on the New Pull Request button.

Creating a pull request

In the pull request page, select the branch you created in your forked repository as the head branch and the main repository's branch as the base branch.

Comparing the changes between the two branches

Add a title and description for your pull request, explaining the changes you made. Finally, click on the Create pull request button to submit your pull request.

Opening a pull request

Now, wait for the project maintainers to review your changes and merge them into the main codebase.

Commit merged into the main codebase

Congratulations! You have successfully made your first contribution to an open-source project!


Contributing to open-source projects is an excellent way to improve your coding skills, gain real-world experience, and give back to the community. As a beginner developer, it can be challenging to get started with open source, but with the right resources and guidance, it's entirely possible. By following the steps outlined in this guide and utilizing the resources provided, you can start contributing to open-source projects and making a difference in the world of software development. Remember, the open-source community is all about collaboration and teamwork, so don't be afraid to ask for help or guidance along the way. Happy contributing!

Additional resources

If you're interested in learning more about open source and how to contribute to open source projects, here are some additional resources you might find helpful:

  • Open Source Guide - A comprehensive guide to open source for beginners and experienced contributors.
  • GitHub Learning Lab - An interactive learning experience to help you master Git and GitHub.
  • The Open Source Way - A guidebook that provides a comprehensive overview of open source principles, practices, and culture.

About the author

Paula Isabel Signo is a technical writer at OSSPH and a web developer at Point One. In her free time, Paula contributes to various open-source projects, volunteers in the community, and shares her knowledge by writing articles and tutorials. Connect with Paula here to learn more about her work and interests.