Contributing guide

Welcome to the Zulip community!

Community

The Zulip community server is the primary communication forum for the Zulip community. It is a good place to start whether you have a question, are a new contributor, are a new user, or anything else. Please review our community norms before posting. The Zulip community is also governed by a code of conduct.

Ways to contribute

To make a code or documentation contribution, read our step-by-step guide to getting started with the Zulip codebase. A small sample of the type of work that needs doing:

Non-code contributions: Some of the most valuable ways to contribute don’t require touching the codebase at all. For example, you can:

Your first codebase contribution

This section has a step by step guide to starting as a Zulip codebase contributor. It’s long, but don’t worry about doing all the steps perfectly; no one gets it right the first time, and there are a lot of people available to help.

Where to look for an issue

Now you’re ready to pick your first issue! Zulip has several repositories you can check out, depending on your interests. There are hundreds of open issues in the main Zulip server and web app repository alone.

You can look through issues tagged with the “help wanted” label, which is used to indicate the issues that are ready for contributions. Some repositories also use the “good first issue” label to tag issues that are especially approachable for new contributors.

Picking an issue to work on

There’s a lot to learn while making your first pull request, so start small! Many first contributions have fewer than 10 lines of changes (not counting changes to tests).

We recommend the following process for finding an issue to work on:

  1. Read the description of an issue tagged with the “help wanted” label and make sure you understand it.

  2. If it seems promising, poke around the product (on chat.zulip.org or in the development environment) until you know how the piece being described fits into the bigger picture. If after some exploration the description seems confusing or ambiguous, post a question on the GitHub issue, as others may benefit from the clarification as well.

  3. When you find an issue you like, try to get started working on it. See if you can find the part of the code you’ll need to modify (git grep is your friend!) and get some idea of how you’ll approach the problem.

  4. If you feel lost, that’s OK! Go through these steps again with another issue. There’s plenty to work on, and the exploration you do will help you learn more about the project.

Note that you are not claiming an issue while you are iterating through steps 1-4. Before you claim an issue, you should be confident that you will be able to tackle it effectively.

If the lists of issues are overwhelming, you can post in #new members with a bit about your background and interests, and we’ll help you out. The most important thing to say is whether you’re looking for a backend (Python), frontend (JavaScript and TypeScript), mobile (React Native), desktop (Electron), documentation (English) or visual design (JavaScript/TypeScript + CSS) issue, and a bit about your programming experience and available time.

Additional tips for the main server and web app repository:

  • We especially recommend browsing recently opened issues, as there are more likely to be easy ones for you to find.

  • All issues are partitioned into areas like admin, compose, emoji, hotkeys, i18n, onboarding, search, etc. Look through our list of labels, and click on some of the area: labels to see all the issues related to your areas of interest.

  • Avoid issues with the “difficult” label unless you understand why it is difficult and are highly confident you can resolve the issue correctly and completely.

Claiming an issue

In the main server/web app repository and Zulip Terminal repository

The Zulip server/web app repository (zulip/zulip) and the Zulip Terminal repository (zulip/zulip-terminal) are set up with a GitHub workflow bot called Zulipbot, which manages issues and pull requests in order to create a better workflow for Zulip contributors.

To claim an issue in these repositories, simply post a comment that says @zulipbot claim to the issue thread. If the issue is tagged with a help wanted label, Zulipbot will immediately assign the issue to you.

Note that new contributors can only claim one issue until their first pull request is merged. This is to encourage folks to finish ongoing work before starting something new. If you would like to pick up a new issue while waiting for review on an almost-ready pull request, you can post a comment to this effect on the issue you’re interested in.

In other Zulip repositories

There is no bot for other Zulip repositories (zulip/zulip-mobile, etc.). If you are interested in claiming an issue in one of these repositories, simply post a comment on the issue thread saying that you’d like to work on it. There is no need to @-mention the issue creator in your comment.

Please follow the same guidelines as described above: find an issue labeled “help wanted”, and only pick up one issue at a time to start with.

Working on an issue

You’re encouraged to ask questions on how to best implement or debug your changes – the Zulip maintainers are excited to answer questions to help you stay unblocked and working efficiently. You can ask questions in the Zulip development community, or on the GitHub issue or pull request.

To get early feedback on any UI changes, we encourage you to post screenshots of your work in the #design stream in the Zulip development community

For more advice, see What makes a great Zulip contributor? below.

Submitting a pull request

When you believe your code is ready, follow the guide on how to review code to review your own work. You can often find things you missed by taking a step back to look over your work before asking others to do so. Catching mistakes yourself will help your PRs be merged faster, and folks will appreciate the quality and professionalism of your work.

Then, submit your changes. Carefully reading our Git guide, and in particular the section on making a pull request, will help avoid many common mistakes. If any part of your contribution is from someone else (code snippets, images, sounds, or any other copyrightable work, modified or unmodified), be sure to review the instructions on how to properly attribute the work.

Once you are satisfied with the quality of your PR, follow the guidelines on asking for a code review to request a review. If you are not sure what’s best, simply post a comment on the main GitHub thread for your PR clearly indicating that it is ready for review, and the project maintainers will take a look and follow up with next steps.

It’s OK if your first issue takes you a while; that’s normal! You’ll be able to work a lot faster as you build experience.

If it helps your workflow, you can submit your pull request marked as a draft while you’re still working on it, and then mark it ready when you think it’s time for someone else to review your work.

Stages of a pull request

Your pull request will likely go through several stages of review.

  1. If your PR makes user-facing changes, the UI and user experience may be reviewed early on, without reference to the code. You will get feedback on any user-facing bugs in the implementation. To minimize the number of review round-trips, make sure to thoroughly test your own PR prior to asking for review.

  2. There may be choices made in the implementation that the reviewer will ask you to revisit. This process will go more smoothly if you specifically call attention to the decisions you made while drafting the PR and any points about which you are uncertain. The PR description and comments on your own PR are good ways to do this.

  3. Oftentimes, seeing an initial implementation will make it clear that the product design for a feature needs to be revised, or that additional changes are needed. The reviewer may therefore ask you to amend or change the implementation. Some changes may be blockers for getting the PR merged, while others may be improvements that can happen afterwards. Feel free to ask if it’s unclear which type of feedback you’re getting. (Follow-ups can be a great next issue to work on!)

  4. In addition to any UI/user experience review, all PRs will go through one or more rounds of code review. Your code may initially be reviewed by other contributors. This helps us make good use of project maintainers’ time, and helps you make progress on the PR by getting more frequent feedback. A project maintainer may leave a comment asking someone with expertise in the area you’re working on to review your work.

  5. Final code review and integration for server and web app PRs is generally done by @timabbott.

How to help move the review process forward

The key to keeping your review moving through the review process is to:

  • Address all the feedback to the best of your ability.

  • Make it clear when the requested changes have been made and you believe it’s time for another look.

  • Make it as easy as possible to review the changes you made.

In order to do this, when you believe you have addressed the previous round of feedback on your PR as best you can, post a comment asking reviewers to take another look. Your comment should make it easy to understand what has been done and what remains by:

  • Summarizing the changes made since the last review you received.

  • Highlighting remaining questions or decisions, with links to any relevant chat.zulip.org threads.

  • Providing updated screenshots and information on manual testing if appropriate.

The easier it is to review your work, the more likely you are to receive quick feedback.

Beyond the first issue

To find a second issue to work on, we recommend looking through issues with the same area: label as the last issue you resolved. You’ll be able to reuse the work you did learning how that part of the codebase works. Also, the path to becoming a core developer often involves taking ownership of one of these area labels.

Common questions

  • What if somebody is already working on the issue I want do claim? There are lots of issue to work on! If somebody else is actively working on the issue, you can find a different one, or help with reviewing their work.

  • What if somebody else claims an issue while I’m figuring out whether or not to work on it? No worries! You can contribute by providing feedback on their pull request. If you’ve made good progress in understanding part of the codebase, you can also find another “help wanted” issue in the same area to work on.

  • What if there is already a pull request for the issue I want to work on? Start by reviewing the existing work. If you agree with the approach, you can use the existing pull request (PR) as a starting point for your contribution. If you think a different approach is needed, you can post a new PR, with a comment that clearly explains why you decided to start from scratch.

  • Can I come up with my own feature idea and work on it? We welcome suggestions of features or other improvements that you feel would be valuable. If you have a new feature you’d like to add, you can start a conversation in our development community explaining the feature idea and the problem that you’re hoping to solve.

  • I think my PR is done, but it hasn’t been merged yet. What’s going on?

    1. Double-check that you have addressed all the feedback, including any comments on Git commit discipline.

    2. If all the feedback has been addressed, did you leave a comment explaining that you have done so and requesting another review? If not, it may not be clear to project maintainers or reviewers that your PR is ready for another look.

    3. There may be a pause between initial rounds of review for your PR and final review by project maintainers. This is normal, and we encourage you to work on other issues while you wait.

    4. If you think the PR is ready and haven’t seen any updates for a couple of weeks, it can be helpful to leave another comment. Summarize the overall state of the review process and your work, and indicate that you are waiting for a review.

    5. Finally, Zulip project maintainers are people too! They may be busy with other work, and sometimes they might even take a vacation. ;) It can occasionally take a few weeks for a PR in the final stages of the review process to be merged.

What makes a great Zulip contributor?

Zulip has a lot of experience working with new contributors. In our experience, these are the best predictors of success:

  • Asking great questions. It’s very hard to answer a general question like, “How do I do this issue?” When asking for help, explain your current understanding, including what you’ve done or tried so far and where you got stuck. Post tracebacks or other error messages if appropriate. For more advice, check out our guide!

  • Learning and practicing Git commit discipline.

  • Submitting carefully tested code. See our detailed guide on how to review code (yours or someone else’s).

  • Posting screenshots or GIFs for frontend changes.

  • Working to make your pull requests easy to review.

  • Clearly describing what you have implemented and why. For example, if your implementation differs from the issue description in some way or is a partial step towards the requirements described in the issue, be sure to call out those differences.

  • Being responsive to feedback on pull requests. This means incorporating or responding to all suggested changes, and leaving a note if you won’t be able to address things within a few days.

  • Being helpful and friendly on the Zulip community server.

Reporting issues

If you find an easily reproducible bug and/or are experienced in reporting bugs, feel free to just open an issue on the relevant project on GitHub.

If you have a feature request or are not yet sure what the underlying bug is, the best place to post issues is #issues (or #mobile or #desktop) on the Zulip community server. This allows us to interactively figure out what is going on, let you know if a similar issue has already been opened, and collect any other information we need. Choose a 2-4 word topic that describes the issue, explain the issue and how to reproduce it if known, your browser/OS if relevant, and a screenshot or screenGIF if appropriate.

Reporting security issues. Please do not report security issues publicly, including on public streams on chat.zulip.org. You can email security@zulip.com. We create a CVE for every security issue in our released software.

User feedback

Nearly every feature we develop starts with a user request. If you are part of a group that is either using or considering using Zulip, we would love to hear about your experience with the product. If you’re not sure what to write, here are some questions we’re always very curious to know the answer to:

  • Evaluation: What is the process by which your organization chose or will choose a group chat product?

  • Pros and cons: What are the pros and cons of Zulip for your organization, and the pros and cons of other products you are evaluating?

  • Features: What are the features that are most important for your organization? In the best-case scenario, what would your chat solution do for you?

  • Onboarding: If you remember it, what was your impression during your first few minutes of using Zulip? What did you notice, and how did you feel? Was there anything that stood out to you as confusing, or broken, or great?

  • Organization: What does your organization do? How big is the organization? A link to your organization’s website?

You can contact us in the #feedback stream of the Zulip development community or by emailing support@zulip.com.

Outreach programs

Zulip regularly participates in Google Summer of Code (GSoC) and Outreachy. We have been a GSoC mentoring organization since 2016, and we accept 15-20 GSoC participants each summer. In the past, we’ve also participated in Google Code-In, and hosted summer interns from Harvard, MIT, and Stanford.

Check out our outreach programs overview to learn more about participating in an outreach program with Zulip. Most of our program participants end up sticking around the project long-term, and many have become core team members, maintaining important parts of the project. We hope you apply!

Stay connected

Even if you are not logging into the development community on a regular basis, you can still stay connected with the project.

Help others find Zulip

Here are some ways you can help others find Zulip: