Submitting a pull request

A pull request (PR) is a presentation of your proposed changes to Zulip. Your aim should be to explain your changes as clearly as possible. This will help reviewers evaluate whether the proposed changes are correct, and address any open questions. Clear communication helps the whole Zulip project move more quickly by saving maintainers time when they review your code. It will also make a big difference for getting your work integrated without delay.

You will go through the following steps to prepare your work for review. Each step is described in detail below, with links to additional resources:

  1. Write your code with clarity in mind.

  2. Organize your proposed changes into a series of commits that tell the story of how the codebase will change.

  3. Explain your changes in the description for your pull request, including screenshots for visual changes.

  4. Carefully review your own work.

  5. Submit your pull request for review.

See the pull request review process guide for a detailed overview of what happens once your pull request is submitted.

Write clear code

When you write code, you should make sure that you understand why it works as intended. This is the foundation for being able to explain your proposed changes to others.

Zulip’s coding philosophy is to focus relentlessly on making the codebase easy to understand and difficult to make dangerous mistakes. Our linters, tests, code style guidelines, testing philosophy, commit discipline, this documentation, and our attention to detail in code review are all important elements of this strategy. Following these guidelines is essential if you’d like your work to be merged into the project.

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.

Organize your proposed changes

The changes you submit will be organized into a series of commits. A PR might contain a single commit, or a dozen or more, depending on the changes being made.

Commits help you tell the story of how each change you are proposing is necessary or helpful. If you were presenting your changes, a commit might be a slide in your presentation. As a rough guideline, a good commit usually has less than 100 lines of code changes. If you can see a way to split a commit into different pieces of meaning, you should split it.

Keep in mind that you are presenting your final work product, not the path you took to get there. You should never have a commit that can be described as fixing a mistake in an earlier commit in the same PR; use git rebase -i to fix the mistake in the original commit.

See the commit discipline guide for more details on how to structure your commits, and guidelines on how to write good commit messages. Your pull request can only be reviewed once you’ve followed these guidelines to the best of your ability. This makes it much easier for reviewers to understand your work and identify any problems.

Ideally, when reviewing a pull request for a complex project, Zulip’s maintainers should be able to verify and merge the first few commits, and leave comments on the rest. It is by far the most efficient way to do collaborative development, since one is constantly making progress, we keep branches small, and reviewers don’t end up repeatedly going over the earlier parts of a pull request.

Explain your changes

By the time you are submitting your pull request, you should already have put a lot of thought into how to organize and present your proposed changes. In the description for your pull request, you will:

  • Provide an overview of your changes.

  • Note any differences from prior plans (e.g., from the description of the issue you are solving).

  • Call out any open questions, concerns, or decisions you are uncertain about. The review process will go a lot more smoothly if points of uncertainty are explicitly laid out.

  • Include screenshots for all visual changes, so that they can be reviewed without running your code. See below for detailed instructions.

If you have a question about a specific part of your code that you expect to be resolved during the review process, put it in a PR comment attached to a relevant part of the changes.

Take advantage of GitHub’s formatting to make your pull request description and comments easy to read.

Discussions in the development community

Any questions for which broader feedback or visibility is helpful are discussed in the Zulip development community.

If there has been a conversation in the Zulip development community about the changes you’ve made or the issue your pull request addresses, please cross-link between your pull request and those conversations in both directions. This provides helpful context for maintainers and reviewers. Specifically, it’s best to link from your pull request to a specific message, as these links will still work even if the topic of the conversation is renamed, moved or resolved.

Once you’ve created a pull request on GitHub, you can use one of the custom linkifiers in the development community to easily link to your pull request from the relevant conversation.

Review your own work

Before requesting a review for your pull request, follow our review guide to carefully review and test 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 reviewers will appreciate the quality and professionalism of your work.

The pull request template in the zulip/zulip repository has a checklist of reminders for points you need to cover in your review. Make sure that all the relevant items on the self-review checklist have been addressed.

Submit your pull request for review

If you are new to Git, see our guide on making a pull request for detailed technical instructions on how to submit a pull request.

When submitting your PR, you will need to make sure that the pull request passes all CI tests. You can sometimes request initial feedback if there are open questions that will impact how you update the tests. But in general, maintainers will wait for your PR to pass tests before reviewing your work.

If your PR was not ready for review when you first posted it (e.g., because it was failing tests, or you weren’t done working through the self-review checklist), notify maintainers when you’d like them to take a look by posting a clear comment on the main GitHub thread for your PR with details on any changes from the original version; this is very helpful for any maintainers who already read the draft PR.

Draft pull requests

If it helps your workflow, you can submit your pull request marked as a draft while you’re still working on it. When ready for review:

  1. Make sure your PR is no longer marked as a draft, and doesn’t have “WIP” in the title.

  2. Post a quick “Ready for review!” comment on the main GitHub thread for your PR.

Demonstrating visual changes

  • For screenshots or screencasts of changes, putting them in details/summary tags reduces visual clutter and scroll length of pull request comments. This is especially useful when you have several screenshots and/or screencasts to include in your comment as you can put each image, or group of images, in separate details/summary tags.

    <summary>Descriptive summary of image</summary>
  • Screencasts are difficult to review, so use them only when necessary to demonstrate an interaction. Keep videos as short as possible. If your changes can be seen on a screenshot, be sure to include screenshots in addition to any videos.

  • For before and after images or videos of changes, using GithHub’s table syntax renders them side-by-side for quick and clear comparison. While this works well for narrow or small images, it can be hard to see details in large, full screen images and videos in this format.

    Note that you can put the table syntax inside the details/summary tags described above as well.

    ### Descriptive header for images:
    | Before | After |
    | --- | --- |
    | ![image-before](uploaded-file-information) | ![image-after](uploaded-file-information)
  • If you’ve updated existing documentation in your pull request, include a link to the current documentation above the screenshot of the updates. That way a reviewer can quickly access the current documentation while reviewing your changes.

    [Current documentation](link-to-current-documentation-page)
  • For updates or changes to CSS class rules, it’s a good practice to include the results of a git-grep search for the class name(s) to confirm that you’ve tested all the impacted areas of the UI and/or documentation.

    $ git grep '.example-class-name' web/templates/ templates/