Here is a chance for you to learn all about starting an open-source project.

So, what is open source, and why should you open it? 

Opening an open source takes courage and determination. If you have decided to contribute to the world in this way, we applaud you. Now, let’s look at how you can open an open source successfully.

What does the term “open source” mean?

An open source project is a licensed project available for modification, study, distribution, and use by any person who comes across it for any reason. These projects require licensing by an open source license.

An open source is the complete opposite of a closed source project where the latter does not allow users to control their computing. An open source project mandates you to collaborate and lets people adopt your idea for personal use. Due to the transparency of the projects, people can offer improvements and contributions quickly.

Open source projects operate like free software. You might come across free and open source software (FOSS). You might also come across free, libre, and open software (FLOS). The term free in this perspective has nothing to do with pricing, but with how it’s used.

 For instance, a business with open source software can get the services of an independent person to customize it and make modifications. However, a closed source gives you zero mandate on the modification of the product.

Why do people open source their work?

Many reasons drive people to open source their work. Some of these reasons include collaborations from all over the world, transparency that comes with opening an open source project, and letting people adopt your idea for their use. Let’s look at these reasons in detail.

Transparency: Any person is allowed to check for errors and inconsistencies. These features matter most in the governments of Bulgaria and the United States. Transparency is also important in regulated industries like banking and healthcare and security software like Let’s Encrypt.

Partnership: An open source project brings collaborators from all walks of life. Exercism is a project with more than 350 contributors worldwide.

Adoption and remixing: Any person is free to use an open source for any reason. People can use your project to come up with new ideas. For example, WordPress started as a fork of a project called B2.

Github has all the answers you need to explore the world of open source. You will be surprised to find other possible open source project ideas like data sets.

Are open source projects free of charge?

While one source projects allow users free access, free of charge does not apply to the definition of open source. What does this mean? It means that the owner of the project can assimilate ways to charge for an open source project indirectly including dual licensing and limited features. This way, you will still comply with the idea of open source.

The term free is only applicable because all users are allowed to modify, use, duplicate, or share for whatever reason. In simple terms, a user can contribute and do a multitude of things, but there will be features that will require making payments to access. If there were charges on a project, anyone would be legally able to duplicate and use the free version. 

Section two: Should I start my open-source project?

Yes, why not? No matter how it turns out, you will have a good chance of learning how the concept of open source works. The first open source is always nerve-wrenching with thoughts of what people will think or if they will see your project at all. You might be feeling intimidated by the thought of sharing your ideas with the world, but it’s the only way to practice with or without an audience. If you have been harboring such thoughts, this happens to all people when they are starting. 

Setting your objectives

If you are still in doubt, take a moment and think about your goals. They will help you to figure out what to dedicate your energy to and whether you need help. If your only reason to start an open source project is to show off your work, you will not need contributors as your only interest is to show the world what you’ve got. This becomes so much easier when you ask yourself what your motive is in starting an open source project. Whether it is just for show or any other goal, you need to communicate this in your README file.

As your project expands, you will find that you will be needed to resolve issues, appraise codes, and evangelize your project. You will become a maintainer, and the amount of time you spend on non-coding tasks will depend on the scope and size of your project. If you are in a company that plans to open source its project, confirm that you have adequate internal assets to succeed.   If you can’t address them yourself, you can get someone to help you.

You need to pinpoint the maintainer after launching your project and the tasks to allocate to the community. 

Contributing to other projects

The best way to launch a successful open source project is to contribute to an existing one. This way, you will get a full understanding of how open-source projects work. Begin by contributing to a familiar project that you love. Contributions do not have to be complex, as you can begin by simply fixing typos and updating documentation. If you have no idea how to contribute to projects, check out available guides on the same.

Debut your open source project

The debut of an open source project does not have an allocated timeline or an opening season. You can dive right in after years of being closed source or a new idea.

There are the constituents that will help a maintainer communicate prospects, safeguard the legal rights of everyone, and manage contributions. If you have the guts to receive feedback, reviews, and comments about your work, you are ready to open source your project. Every open source project, no matter the stage you opt to open source requires the following:

  • Contributing guidelines
  • Open source license
  • Code of conduct

There is little doubt of having a negative experience with this. If you are using GitHub, you will need to put these files on the root file with the correct names for GitHub to identify them and surface them for readers.

Choose your License

This is a basic requirement for any open source project. This license warrants that any alterations, use, or duplication to your project can be done without repercussions and keeps off sticky legal circumstances. No one wants to be in any legal battles when all you need to do is duplicate an existing license into your repository and be on the safe side. You can check out the most popular open source licenses, such as MIT and Apache 2.0. Github offers you a chance to select a license of your choice after the début of your project.

Write your README

While some people skip writing a README as they feel the project is incomplete or does not need contributions, these are the same reasons your project needs one.

There is more to READMEs than mere descriptions of the purpose of your project. These documents tell users what they can do with your project. You should strive to answer the following questions in your README:

  • What your project does
  • Why your project exists 
  • How to get started
  • Where to get help?

Other questions you can tackle on your README are how you handle contributions, what goals are set for the project, and information on licenses and contributions.

The moment you include a README file on the root directory on GitHub, you will see them surface on your repository page.

Write your contributing rules

The CONTRIBUTING file on your project offers information on how to use your project and how to contribute. Some of the information you can include is:

  • Using the pull request template to report a bug
  • How to propose new features
  • How to run tests and set up your background

That out of the way, you need to use this file to communicate your anticipations, such as:

  • The kind of contributions you are seeking
  • The vision or roadmap of your project
  • How contributors can reach or not reach you

You can link your CONTRIBUTING file from your README to increase exposure. When using GitHub, ensure that you place your CONTRIBUTING file to the project’s repository file for an automatic link by GitHub when a contributor opens a pull request or creates an issue.

There are some things you can do to help newcomers feel welcome, like using a warm, friendly tone and making suggestions on how they can contribute e.g. in the documentation and making a website. These simple gestures can make new users feel welcome and valued.

Do not complicate the CONTRIBUTING file in the early stages of your project. Strive to keep things like how to report a bug or any technical requirements like tests simple. As you progress, you can add an FAQ section to your file to keep people from asking the same question over and over.

Create a code of conduct

Ground rules are important to keep the behavior of your community in check. The code of conduct outlines who these rules ply to, when they apply, and what happens when they are not followed. This is vital if you intend to launch an open source for a company or community. Like the open source software, there are available standards for these codes of conduct, and you do not need to draft your own. A good example is the Contributor Covenant code of conduct, which has over 400,000 open source users.

This is the tool that helps you regulate the behavior of the community and keep it healthy while reducing stress for yourself. When someone breaks the code of conduct, you can refer them to the file that contains these guidelines. You just need to paste the text directly to your CODE OF CONDUCT file in your repository and keep it in the root directory for an easy link from your README.

Title and brand your project

Branding is about how you convey your message to your potential users and the impression they get from your messages. It is not all about the fanciness of logos and catchy names.

Choice of names

This might seem like a walk in the park due to the ideas that are flowing in your head, but it is more complicated than that. Let the name match the idea of the project, and it’s easy to remember. A good example is Thin: A fast and simple ruby web server. Nobody is likely to forget a name like Thin.