Contributing to Zulip

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.

Any issue with the “good first issue” label is a good candidate when you are getting started. In addition, many of the issues with the “help wanted” label may be approachable as well.

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 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 and web app repository

Post a comment with @zulipbot claim to the issue thread. Zulipbot is a GitHub workflow bot; it will assign you to the issue and label the issue as “in progress”. You can only claim issues with the good first issue or help wanted labels. Zulipbot will give you an error if you try to claim an issue without one of those labels.

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 repositories, so you can simply post a comment saying that you’d like to work on the issue.

Please follow the same guidelines as described above: find an issue labeled “good first issue” or “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.

  • We encourage early pull requests for work in progress. Prefix the title of work in progress pull requests with [WIP], and remove the prefix when you think it might be mergeable and want it to be reviewed.

  • After updating a PR, add a comment to the GitHub thread mentioning that it is ready for another review. GitHub only notifies maintainers of the changes when you post a comment, so if you don’t, your PR will likely be neglected by accident!

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.

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

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.

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:

  • Posting good 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 information, check out the “Getting help” section of our community guidelines and this essay for some good advice.

  • Learning and practicing Git commit discipline.

  • Submitting carefully tested code. This generally means checking your work through a combination of automated tests and manually clicking around the UI trying to find bugs in your work. See things to look for for additional ideas.

  • Posting screenshots or GIFs for frontend changes.

  • 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 chat.zulip.org.

These are also the main criteria we use to select candidates for all of our outreach programs.

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 participates in Google Summer of Code (GSoC) every year. In the past, we’ve also participated in Outreachy, Google Code-In, and hosted summer interns from Harvard, MIT, and Stanford.

While each third-party program has its own rules and requirements, the Zulip community’s approaches all of these programs with these ideas in mind:

  • We try to make the application process as valuable for the applicant as possible. Expect high-quality code reviews, a supportive community, and publicly viewable patches you can link to from your resume, regardless of whether you are selected.

  • To apply, you’ll have to submit at least one pull request to a Zulip repository. Most students accepted to one of our programs have several merged pull requests (including at least one larger PR) by the time of the application deadline.

  • The main criteria we use is quality of your best contributions, and the bullets listed at What makes a great Zulip contributor. Because we focus on evaluating your best work, it doesn’t hurt your application to makes mistakes in your first few PRs as long as your work improves.

Most of our outreach 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!

Google Summer of Code

The largest outreach program Zulip participates in is GSoC (14 students in 2017; 11 in 2018; 17 in 2019; 18 in 2020; 18 in 2021). While we don’t control how many slots Google allocates to Zulip, we hope to mentor a similar number of students in future summers. Check out our blog post to learn about the GSoC 2021 experience and our participants’ accomplishments.

If you’re reading this well before the application deadline and want to make your application strong, we recommend getting involved in the community and fixing issues in Zulip now. Having good contributions and building a reputation for doing good work is the best way to have a strong application.

Our GSoC project ideas page has lots more details on how Zulip does GSoC, as well as project ideas. Note, however, that the project idea list is maintained only during the GSoC application period, so if you’re looking at some other time of year, the project list is likely out-of-date.

In some years, we have also run a Zulip Summer of Code (ZSoC) program for students who we wanted to accept into GSoC but did not have an official slot for. Student expectations are the same as with GSoC, and ZSoC has no separate application process; your GSoC application is your ZSoC application. If we’d like to select you for ZSoC, we’ll contact you when the GSoC results are announced.

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: