Contribute to CPython: where should I start?

CPython core isn’t the easiest place to start. The development process is rather enterprisy with long release cycles and rigid backwards compatibility policy. CPython also support a lot of platforms and CPU architectures.

How can you start? Where? That’s a hard question. CPython is old and widely used: any change must be carefully discussed to remain Python homogeneous. For bug fixes, the most complex part is the backward compatibility.

It’s very hard to find “easy issue”. First, just watch the current activity to get some ideas.

To find an easy issue, persistence is the key :-)

Contribute to CPython? What is CPython? CPython is made of many parts:

  • CPython source code: basically made of 50% Python and 50% C code
  • Build system: complex tools to build Python on all platforms, Visual Studio project for Windows
  • Windows and macOS installer
  • 233,000 lines of documentation written with Sphinx
  • Documentation translated to multiple languages: french, japanese, and other languages
  • Bug tracker: which has its own “meta” bug tracker for bugs in the bug tracker :-)
  • GitHub project: pull requests, host the Git repository
  • Travis CI to run the test suite on Linux and check the documentation
  • AppVeyor CI to run the test suite on Windows
  • Buildbot master and many workers to run the test suite as post-commit on many variables architectures and operating systems

There are also many things around Python:

  • Devguide: documentation of the CPython development workflow
  • python-dev and python-committers mailing lists
  • #python-dev IRC channel
  • PyPI

Contributing to CPython is hard and it can take up to 2 years until your work is released. Are you sure that CPython itself is the best project for you? Depending on your interests and skills, you may enjoy better to contribute to another popular project like Django or requests.

Contributing to CPython is harder because CPython developers require a very high quality for contributions: every change must be carefully documented, tested and implemented. The implementation can take several rounds until it reaches the expected quality and respects a long list of requirements.

Ok, I understand and I am well aware of all these things. But I want to contribute, how should I start?

  • Bug triage: complete bug report to adjust the title, complete the description, identify impacted Python version and impacted platforms, help to reproduce the bug, or even help to analyze and find the root bug.
  • Review pull requests:
    • Make sure that a change is carefully documented. For example, behaviour changes and enhancements must have the “.. versionchanged:: x.y” markup in the documentation of the module. New features must be have the “.. versionadded:: x.y” tag and maybe also documented in “What’s New in Python X.Y?” documentation.
    • The NEWS entry and commit message must first explain the solved problem, then maybe explain the change itself. While the commit message can be technical and very detailed, the NEWS entry should be short and written for end-users who don’t care of technical details.
    • Every change must be tested: exceptions are rare and should usually be justified. Example of exception which doesn’t have to be justified: changes only impacting the documentation, changes fixing a typo in a comment.
    • The backward compatibility is very important. A change must be carefully reviewed to make sure that it doesn’t break the backward compatibility. If it does break it, the change must be discussed with enough people to make sure that there is a smooth transition plan.
    • Feature removals require a DeprecationWarning in Python version N to remove it in version N+1. It’s common that a feature is kept longer to avoid breaking the world just being a developer wants the perfection. Python developers must be pragmatic: balance between perfection and usability, very hard choices should be made and usually it takes a long to time to discuss them :-)
    • While Python 2 end of life is near (2020), Python 3 changes which make writing code working on Python 2 and Python 3 harder are usually rejected.
  • Propose to write a bugfix change (a pull request) for an existing bug report. This task is very hard since usually if a bug report doesn’t have a patch, it’s because there is a disagreement on the bug itself, or because the bugfix is very hard to implement.