Contributing Guide

This wiki is cool, right? But you know what would make it even better? Your help! This site was started by students just like you, and we need your help in keeping it up-to-date and adding new content.

List of Contributors

You Don’t Have to Write

If you’re not feeling like writing, you can still help us out! Suggestions, corrections, and comments are all welcome. Just create an issue.

5 Easy Steps

  1. Sign up for GitHub.
  2. Find the page you want to edit, and hit the edit ribbon in the top right.
  3. Summarize your changes at the bottom of the edit page.
  4. Make a pull request.
  5. We review the changes, and you become a contributor!

Interested? Read on.

If you would like to contribute anonymously, please email us and we will help you. We suggest using a “throwaway” email, like one from

Make a GitHub Account

Go to GitHub and sign up. You’ll need to confirm your email address before you can do anything else.

Already have one? Skip down to either Editing a Page or Making a New Page.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, create an issue and one of us will help you out. We’d love to walk you through the process, and teach you about open source at the same time! Just tell us what you’re interested in working on.

Editing a Page

If you’ve heard about Git or GitHub and how difficult it can’t be, don’t worry. GitHub makes it easy with a web interface. Just visit our repository and find the page you want to edit. Then just hit the edit button!

GitHub will take care of the Git details for you—in particular, it’ll automatically fork the project for you. (Curious? Check out Forking below.) You’ll then be presented with an editor where you can make changes to your heart’s content. This wiki uses Markdown formatting, which you may have heard of before. We have a quick guide to Markdown below.

If you are adding a testimonial, do not forget to include the semester you took the course!

Making a New Page

Making a completely new page is pretty simple, too. Like editing a page, just visit our repository and click New Page. To make it easier, we have some templates you can copy:

You’ll want to edit the page title at the top of the document, which looks something like this:

layout: article
title: Contributing Guide

Running the page locally

The site uses Jekyll so if you clone the repository and try to preview you’ll just get an preview of the markdown. Here’s how to fix this.

  1. Install Jekyll.
  2. CD (the command) into the directory where you cloned the github repo.
  3. If jekyll is installed correctly when you run ‘jekyll serve’ you should see a serving running message.
  4. Navigate to the server address in your browser (normally “”). You should see the page rendered.

About Markdown

Markdown is a simple tool for adding formatting to plain text documents. A quick guide to the syntax can be found here.

There’s also some Markdown formatting specific to the software we’re using for this wiki, Jekyll. In particular, you might notice a section like this at the top of every page:

layout: article
title: Contributing Guide

This is just metadata that tells Jekyll what page template to use and what the page title is.

Another addition is wikilinks, which let you link to a page with just the title. For example, [[ Home ]] will result in Home. Using a vertical bar, you can override the title: [[ Home | index ]] will lead to index.

Getting Your Changes Reviewed

At the bottom of the editor, you’ll find a place to describe your changes. GitHub gives you two boxes: one for a short summary of the contribution, and an optional long description. Together, these make up the Git commit message. Write up a little summary of what you did, like “Added page on contributing”, “Added median grade to CS 1110 Spring 2015”, or “Fixed typos in CS 2112 page”. Once you’re done, hit “Propose new file”. This will make a pull request, which is a fancy way of saying that GitHub will let us know about your changes, and we can review them before integrating them into the wiki. GitHub presents a summary of what you’re doing—don’t worry about this and just choose to “Make a pull request”.

Sometimes, we might ask you to make a few changes—maybe there’s a few typos, maybe there’s a formatting thing, or maybe we’d like the page to be structured like other similar pages. In these cases, we’ll help you with Git and GitHub, and teach you a little bit more about contributing to open source in the process. Most of the time, as soon as we get around to reviewing your changes, we’ll just accept them.

Congratulations, you’re a contributor! If you’ve never done this before, then even better—you’ve just made your first contribution to open source.

If you want to add yourself to the contributors list, feel free to edit the file and add your name in the following format: First Last (username).

What Next

There’s always more work to be done! Take a look at our issues, and comment on anything you’d like to work on. We’ll help you through the rest. If you’re interested in the open-source aspect, read on.

Open Source

When you make a contribution, you don’t just hand off ownership of your work to us. Instead, your writing, like everything else here, will be placed under a license, which says what we—and you—can and cannot do with it. In our case, we’re using the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license, which says anyone is free to use the content here, so long as they credit this resource and allow others to reuse their work. For a quick summary, see the Creative Commons page.

These licenses ultimately derive from the free software movement, which is about free (as in freedom) software. In short, free software means that you have the freedom to run and modify the software, and the freedom to let others run, modify, and distribute the software as well. Open source is a fork (ha!) of this movement. If you’re intrigued, drop by OpenSourceCornell sometime and we’ll show you what free & open source software is all about. You can also check out the Free Software Foundation, Free Culture Foundation and Open Source Initiative.


What is all this Git nonsense anyways? We’ll leave out the discussion of what Git is for now, but forking and pull requests are the model that GitHub uses for contributing. Note that what GitHub does isn’t necessarily the same as what open source projects in general do!

In Git, all your code lives in a repository. A repository can be copied on GitHub by forking it. You can then modify the code however you like. When you’re ready to submit your changes back to the original, upstream repository, you create a pull request. A pull request is a set of changes that you, the owner of the fork, wants to send back to the upstream repository.

Joining the Team

As you’ve no doubt noticed, this is a student-run wiki. We do have some reviewing and moderation—this is just to keep out spam, and so that we can introduce people to open source/Git as well. If you’re interested in working with us, drop us an email.

Edit this page on GitHub:

Edit me on GitHub