We’ve covered why it’s important to contribute to open-source projects, but what if you’re not a coder? You don’t have to learn how to program to help your favorite open-source projects. Many non-programmers volunteer some of their time to help their favorite open source projects – and you can join them.
Some open-source projects are backed by corporations, but many aren’t. Many are labors of love for all involved. If you have some free time – or money – you can give back to your favorite open-source projects and help them grow.
See What the Project Needs
You’ll get the best idea of what your favorite project wants from the “Contribute” or “Getting Involved” page on its website, if it has one.
Open-source software may be freely downloadable, but most projects could still use money. Money pays for servers, bandwidth, and the myriad of other expenses open-source projects face. In VLC’s case, some money also goes to buy hardware for the developers to test against.
You’ll often find a donation button on open-source project pages. Most projects will appreciate anything you can give them – think of how much value you get from your favorite software.
In VLC’s case, the project could also use donations of hardware to test against. If you have some hardware lying around that you no longer use, you may be able to donate it to a project.
Help Other Users
Open-source projects usually have mailing lists and forums where users ask questions. You can take a load off the developers and help out by answering these questions.Firefox fans can help people with their Firefox problems on the official Firefox support forum.
Write Good Bug Reports
If you run into a problem with an open-source application, you should report the bug on its bug tracker.
Don’t just head to the bug tracker and immediately post a new bug saying “it crashed“; follow good bug-reporting guidelines. Do a search and verify the bug hasn’t already been reported. If it hasn’t, report it with a clear summary and straightforward steps that will allow the developers to reproduce the bug. Don’t report the bug if you’re using an old version of the software – the developers may have already fixed the problem.
Writing bug reports is particularly helpful if you’re testing the latest development version of the software. You can help catch bugs before they make it into the stable version.
With all those bugs getting filed, someone has to handle them. You may be a bug-reporting genius, but not everyone else is. Consider getting involved in triaging bugs, if your favorite project is looking for help.
Triage is the first line of response to bugs. Bug triagers make sure bugs are properly categorized, ensure bug reporters supply enough information, confirm the bugs, and verify they’re not duplicates. This allows developers to focus on fixing the bugs instead of sorting through them.
If you’re an Ubuntu fan, check out the How to Triage page on the Ubuntu wiki to get started triaging issues for Ubuntu. Over a thousand people are part of the Ubuntu Bug Squad, although you don’t have to join it to get started.
Most projects need some form of documentation written, and you can be the one to do it – assuming you’re a decent writer. Depending on the project, there may be a guide to getting started, like GNOME has, or you may have to contact the developers directly. You can also get involved in the project’s wiki, if the project has one. Contributing to a wiki is an easy way to get started.
Translate The Software
Open-source software is used by people from all over the world. To meet everyone’s needs, the software must be translated into different languages. If you know another language, you can do some of the translating. Most big projects need translators. Here’s GNOME’s translation project page.
Help With Graphics & Design
Designers can get in on the action, too. Projects generally require some design work, whether it’s graphics creation or user interface design. Check out your favorite project’s Contribute page to see how you can get involved – Ubuntu advises people to join the Unity Design mailing list to help with the Unity desktop.
How have you contributed to open source? Leave a comment and let us know.
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