The Ultimate Guide to Contributing to Open Source Projects: A Step-by-Step Walkthrough

Contributing to open-source projects can be an enriching experience, both professionally and personally. It allows you to collaborate with other developers, improve your coding skills, and even give back to the community. However, the process can seem daunting, especially if you’re new to it. In this blog post, we’ll demystify the steps involved in contributing to an open-source project, using a project called “Code Racer” as a case study. We’ll also sprinkle in some best practices and tips to make your contribution journey smooth and rewarding.
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Forking the Repository: Your Personal Workspace

The first step in contributing to an open-source project is to create a “fork” of the project repository. A repository (or “repo”) is essentially a storage space for your project’s code and related files. Forking creates a personal copy of the project repository on your GitHub account. This allows you to freely experiment with changes without affecting the original project.

Pro Tip: Always check if the project has a file. This file usually contains guidelines on how to contribute to the project, making your life easier.

Cloning Your Fork: Bringing the Project to Your Local Machine

Once you’ve forked the repository, the next step is to “clone” it onto your local machine. Cloning is the process of downloading a copy of your forked repository from GitHub to your computer. This is done using Git, a version control system that tracks changes in source code during software development.

Pro Tip: Use SSH keys for a secure and convenient way to clone repositories. SSH keys are a pair of cryptographic keys that can be used to authenticate to an SSH server as an alternative to password-based logins.

Setting Up the Project: Preparing for Development

After cloning, you’ll need to set up the project on your local machine. This often involves installing necessary packages and dependencies. For JavaScript projects, this is usually done using npm (Node Package Manager).

Pro Tip: Some projects use Docker to manage their environments. Docker is a tool designed to make it easier to create, deploy, and run applications by using containers. If the project uses Docker, you’ll likely need to run a docker-compose up command.

Making Changes: Time to Contribute

Now that everything is set up, you can start making changes. Whether you’re fixing a bug, adding a new feature, or even updating documentation, make sure to do it in a new branch. A branch is essentially a unique set of code changes with a unique name. This makes it easier to collaborate with others and separates different features or fixes.

Pro Tip: Always commit your changes with meaningful commit messages. This helps maintainers understand what you’ve done and why, which speeds up the review process.

Pull Requests: Proposing Your Changes

Once you’re satisfied with your changes, it’s time to create a “pull request” (PR). A pull request is a method of submitting contributions to an open-source project. It allows the project maintainers to review the code and make sure it’s good to go before merging it into the main project.

Pro Tip: Before submitting a PR, sync your fork with the “upstream” repository (the original project you forked). This ensures that you’re working with the latest code and minimizes conflicts.

Keeping Your Fork Updated: Sync with Upstream

After your pull request has been reviewed and merged, it’s important to keep your fork updated with the upstream repository. This is done by fetching the latest changes from the upstream and merging them into your fork. This ensures that you’re always working with the latest code, making future contributions easier.

Pro Tip: Make it a habit to regularly sync your fork, especially before starting a new branch for contribution.


Contributing to open-source projects doesn’t have to be intimidating. By following these steps and best practices, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful contributor. Not only does this enhance your skills, but it also enriches the developer community as a whole. So go ahead, take the plunge, and happy coding!

By understanding and implementing these steps, you’ll be well-equipped to contribute meaningfully to open-source projects, enhancing both your skills and the broader software community.