How to Make Your First Open Source Contribution in 5 Easy Steps

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Starting your journey, in Open Source can feel overwhelming. With projects on GitHub alone it can be challenging to figure out where to begin. How do you identify a project that’s suitable for beginners and aligns with your skillset?

This comprehensive guide will provide you with a step by step approach to contributing to source projects hosted on GitHub. You’ll gain insights, into the concept of source understand the significance of contributing and discover strategies for finding ideal projects tailored specifically for first time contributors.

By the time you finish you will possess the knowledge and resources to confidently make your contribution, to an open source project. Lets begin!

What is Open Source?

Before we delve into the world of open source projects lets first establish an understanding of what open source software entails.

Open source software refers to programs that have their underlying code readily available for anyone to examine, adapt and improve. Unlike software this type of software encourages collaboration and community driven development. It empowers individuals to contribute to source projects by refining code addressing issues and introducing functionalities.

Some key aspects of open source projects:

  • The source code is accessible, to the public allowing anyone to view modify and distribute it.
  • Licenses such, as MIT, GPL and Apache enable the software to be used freely modified as needed and shared with others.
  • Developers generously offer their time and expertise to uphold and enhance the software without receiving compensation.
  • Completed projects are a collaborative effort with contributions from developers around the world.

To navigate your way through finding projects and making your contribution it’s important to grasp these principles. The open source community warmly welcomes contributors so don’t hesitate to dive in!

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Why Contribute to Open Source?

Contributing to open source provides valuable experience and benefits for developers of all skill levels, especially those just starting out. Here are some of the top reasons to get involved:

Gain Experience

Open source contributions let you practice real-world skills like collaboration, code reviews, and working with new technologies and codebases. These experiences carry over to job roles and prepare you for software development workflows.

Build Your Profile

An active GitHub profile displaying contributions to projects will impress potential employers. It shows you can collaborate with a team and write clean, maintainable code.

Give Back

The open source community depends on contributors. By participating, you help projects succeed and support developers who rely on these tools. It feels great to give back!

Learn New Things

Reading well-written code by experienced developers is a terrific way to improve your skills. Exposure to new ideas and alternative approaches will expand your knowledge.

Network and Collaborate

The community includes talented developers from all over the world. Contributing creates connections that could lead to amazing opportunities down the road.

These reasons only touch the surface for why open source is a great place to learn and interact with peers. Even small contributions make a difference, so don’t feel the need to become a top contributor overnight.

Finding Beginner-Friendly Open Source Projects on GitHub

With over 100 million repositories on GitHub, finding projects accepting contributions takes a bit of digging. Here are some tips on uncovering open source projects suited for first-timers:

Use GitHub Search Filters

GitHub allows filtering repository search results by number of stars, forks, your language of choice, and more. Try these searches to find popular projects in your languages:

  • stars:<10000 language:python – Python projects with over 10k stars
  • stars:<5000 language:javascript – JavaScript projects with 5k+ stars
  • stars:<2000 language:java – Popular Java projects with 2k+ stars

Check Project READMEs

Quality open source projects contain a README file that covers critical details like how to contribute. Before committing time to a project, read its README thoroughly. Signs of a beginner-friendly project include:

  • A contribution guide or dedicated Getting Started docs
  • Labeling issues as “Good First Issue” or “Beginner”
  • A project scope that isn’t overly complex

Browse Curated Lists

Numerous blogs and sites like Up For Grabs curate projects that are ideal for new contributors. These resources do the work of finding beginner-friendly projects for you.

Search ‘First Timers Only’

Include “first timers only” in GitHub issue search. This finds projects labeling issues for newcomers to open source:

is:issue is:open label:”first timers only”

Open Source Contribution

6 Top Open Source Projects for New Contributors

Now that you know how to find open source projects, here are 6 great options specifically suited for first-time contributors:

1. Up For Grabs

Up For Grabs aggregates beginner-friendly projects on GitHub. It currently lists over 275 projects actively seeking new contributors.

  • Languages – Python, JavaScript, C#, Ruby, C++, Go, and more
  • Skills – All skill levels welcome. Issues labeled for beginners.
  • Documentation – Projects include contribution guides with clear instructions.
  • Issues – Actively maintained and labeled for first timers.

Up For Grabs is the premier site for discovering projects eager for new contributors. The structured contribution process gives you a smooth onboarding experience.

2. First Timers Only

First Timers Only is another curated list of issues for new contributors. The website currently links to over 300 open source repositories.

  • Languages – JavaScript, Python, PHP, C#, Java, and others.
  • Skills – Beginner to intermediate level issues available.
  • Documentation – Readme’s often link to CONTRIBUTING docs.
  • Issues – Explicitly labeled “first timers only.”

First Timers Only aggregates beginner issues from projects not found on Up For Grabs. It’s an awesome complementary resource.

3. Awesome First PR Opportunities

This GitHub repo by Mikaela contains a manually curated list of projects welcoming new contributors. It categorizes projects by language and highlights those extra ideal for your first PR.

  • Languages – JavaScript, Ruby, Python, PHP, and more.
  • Skills – Issues labeled for all experience levels.
  • Documentation – CONTRIBUTING and issues often marked “beginner.”
  • Issues – Generally clear in scope with guidance from maintainers.

Awesome First PR Opportunities is a focused list that summarizes project newcomer friendliness. It’s an awesome quick reference for options.

4. GitHub Guide

GitHub’s First Contributions project exists to welcome new open source contributors step-by-step. The hands-on tutorial walks you through making a simple change and opening a pull request.

  • Languages – Written in JavaScript, but language agnostic.
  • Skills – Perfect for those without any open source experience.
  • Documentation – Very detailed step-by-step contribution guide.
  • Issues – Straightforward enhancements to tutorial.

This project lets you practice the GitHub contribution workflow with helpful maintainers supporting you. A safe environment to get your feet wet!

5. Exercism

Exercism is a site offering coding challenges perfect for pushing your skills. Solutions are submitted via pull requests open for feedback.

  • Languages – 50+ programming languages to choose from.
  • Skills – Exercises for all skill levels available.
  • Documentation – Clear instructions for submitting solutions.
  • Issues – None. Submit finished code exercises via PR.

Exercism provides mentored real-world experience with pull requests. Challenges are bite-sized and great for building open source confidence.

6. Public APIs

There are lots of public API projects that welcome improvements to their documentation. Postman’s Public API List is one example.

  • Languages – Markdown/HTML for editing API docs.
  • Skills – Editing skills more needed than programming.
  • Documentation – Contribution guidelines in README.
  • Issues – Labeled for first-timers to add API docs.

API documentation projects enable contributing without complex coding requirements. It’s great experience following standard open source workflow.

Making Your First Open Source Contribution

You’ve found a project suited for first-timers. Next, let’s walk through making your first open source pull request!

Step 1 – Set Up Your Environment

Fork the project repo to your own GitHub account. This allows pushing changes without affecting the original.

Clone your fork locally and create a new git branch. Keep your changes isolated from the main codebase.

Install any dependencies and set up your local dev environment. Test you can run the full codebase.

Step 2 – Find an Issue to Work On

Review open issues in the repo, specifically those marked for new contributors.

Leave a comment expressing interest in an issue and asking for clarification. Ensure it hasn’t already been assigned to a contributor.

Step 3 – Implement Your Fix or Changes

Write clean, well-structured code to implement your enhancements and fix the issue. Follow project conventions.

Add comments explaining your approach. Modularize your changes into logical commits.

Step 4 – Write Documentation

Document your changes in the project README if it impacts usage or interfaces.

Update existing documentation that may have been affected by your code changes.

Step 5 – Open a Pull Request

When ready, push your branch to your fork and open a pull request into the upstream repo.

Write a title summarizing the change and a description explaining your modifications. Link to the issue it addresses.

Step 6 – Discuss and Update PR

Maintainers may request changes or clarification. Be responsive to feedback and collaborative.

Make updates by pushing new commits. Automated tests may run requiring fixes.

Step 7 – Get Your PR Merged

Congratulations! Your first open source contribution will get merged once any final requests are addressed.

Celebrate your accomplishment and thank the maintainers for reviewing your contribution.

Step 8 – Close the Issue

With your code merged, close the issue your PR addressed. Keep project tracking organized.

Where to Go From Here

With your first pull request under your belt, you’re now ready to take on more impactful open source contributions. Here are some next steps to level up your open source game:

  • Find More Beginner Issues – Expand to other curated projects and hone your skills.
  • Take on Bigger Tickets – As you gain experience, try higher complexity issues.
  • Review Others PRs – Give back by reviewing community PRs.
  • Promote Your Work – Share contributions on social media and your portfolio.
  • Become a Maintainer – Leverage your insights to eventually maintain a project.

The open source community provides endless opportunities to learn, build, and grow as a developer. Sustained contributions will lead to leadership roles and deeper involvement.

I hope these tips give you the motivation and direction to make your first open source contribution. Grab an issue that excites you and put your skills to work today!


Open source projects provide an amazing outlet for growth through real experience. For developers just starting out, contributing teaches invaluable skills and looks great to employers.

Through curated projects, newcomer tags, and step-by-step guides, the open source community is welcoming newbies. All you need is a GitHub account and the willingness to learn.

This post covered why contributing benefits you, how to find great starter projects, and a detailed walkthrough of making your first pull request. The resources are out there – now it’s up to you.

Choose an approachable project, tackle beginner-friendly issues, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’m excited for your first contribution – you’ve got this!

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