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How to Start Contributing Code to Drupal

I’ve been working on open source projects for a long time and contributing to Drupal for 6 years now.

And I want to share my experience and the things that helped me contribute to Drupal.

Where you can help:

I think one of the first problems I had to face when I started contributing was picking up an issue from the Drupal issue queue and to start working on it. When I started, all the issues seemed very hard or complex (and some are), fortunately there are a list of issues for people who want to start contributing to Drupal, these issues have the Novice tag. The idea of these issues is for someone to feel the experience of working on an issue.

What you need to know

Some of the things to learn while working on novice issues are:

  • Use git
  • Learn to create a patch using git
  • When a ticket is old and the patch doesn’t apply anymore it is necessary to reroll the patch, that is a very common thing on the issue queue and is just updating the patch so it can be applied to the project again.
  • Every time a new patch is uploaded, it is necessary to provide an interdiff. An interdiff is just a file showing what changed from the previous patch to the new one. This is a very important thing as it helps a lot for the reviewer to know what has changed. This is especially important if it is a big patch.
  • Use the Drupal Coding Standards, and the easiest way to follow along is by using PHPCS and later integrate it with your IDE
  • The changes must pass the "Core Gates" which essentially are checklists of things that every contribution must have in order to keep the quality of the code up to standards.

Don’t work on novice issues forever

While working on novice issues is a good way to start, it is necessary to jump to issues not marked as novice as soon as we feel comfortable with the things listed above. The non-novice issues are where we can really learn how Drupal works.

A few ways to start working on non-novice issues are:

  • reviewing patches from other users, so you can learn how a change is done and start checking how the core works, reading code from others is a great way to improve your abilities as developer and at the same time help to keep moving the issues along, so they can be fixed.
  • Another way to contribute is by writing tests, every patch with a fix must have a test to avoid regressions. While writing tests sounds like a hard thing to do, Drupal 8 help us a lot with this. There is a whole page written about the topic. Also the Examples module does not just provide examples of how to do things with Drupal but also how to test them, so keep that module at hand as it is a great resource. Drupal 8 has thousands of tests already, so for sure there is at least one which is very similar to what you need to do.
  • Pick an issue related to the component you want to know more about, Drupal 8 has a lot of components, and if you want to know how a specific part works just pick one of its bugs and work on it. Don’t worry if the bug seems easy to fix in the issue but in the code it is not, that is normal. Before you start fixing the bug, it is necessary to understand what the problem is and part of that is learning how that specific part of the component works. So when finally a patch can be provided for that issue you will now know how that component works. This is (for me) the best way to learn. While you help Drupal to be more stable, at the same time you gain understanding on a very deep level of how Drupal works.
  • Be your own critic while you are working on client work, if there is something which doesn’t seem right, don’t hesitate to look at an issue with that problem before you do a workaround, maybe someone has already written a patch and it might just need a reroll, a review or a test. Sometimes you can help while working on a project. At Agaric we recently found a bug while working on a project and it was a 6 year old issue that just needed a review and an extra test. Now it is fixed, for us and for everyone.

Final comments

When feeling frustrated while working on an issue, remember the Thomas Edison quote "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration", while we keep trying and keep working and asking questions and trying new things, just don’t give up, eventually we will make it happen. When someone starts contributing, it is normal to feel like they are not good enough. Just keep trying!

Remember, contributing for most of the people is an unpaid labor, don’t feel disappointed if there is an issue where you spent a good amount of time and no one reviews it, there are issues that have been around for years which aren’t committed, but even if they aren’t, the next developer with your same problem will find your patch and use it. So even if your code is not part of a module/core it still helps.

Going to conferences and meeting Drupalistas is a good way to keep you motivated and to learn new things. It is fun to meet in person the users who helped you in the issue queue.

Another thing that might help to keep you motivated is to see your name at There you can see a list of users and mentions: for every new mention/contribution your nick will gain a few place in that rank.


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