How to get help in an OSS community

Most large OSS communities are formed with individuals from diverse backgrounds from all over the world. They may be from different regions, cultures, etc. but they’re working towards the same set of goals: improve and promote the use of open source software (OSS). Active participants are highly passionate towards improving the free and open source software. They invest their personal time because they genuinely care about OSS and want to help other people and the community in general, even though they might not directly benefit from doing so.

A well established OSS community will usually have an official code-of-conduct document. This is the most important document that every single participant is expected to thoroughly read and follow. Contributor Covenant is a famous code-of-conduct that several open source projects adopt. OSS communities take code-of-conduct very seriously and you should always feel free to seek a clarification or report a violation.

There are several important things to consider when you’re participating in a OSS community by asking a question. The points mentioned below will usually not be a part of code-of-conduct but they might help you in being a successful and respected participant.

  • Be polite: Consider being polite to everyone you interact with, no matter how new or experienced you are to a technology or community. If you don’t understand or agree with something, try to seek clearance. Do not be snarky or try to attack another individual or the community. You will get a faster response if you form your query in a way that others would want to answer. Most participatants want to help and talk to someone who is trying to participate.

  • Research: It is possible that your query was already asked. Perform a quick search and if there is an existing topic/thread/bug, consider adding your thoughts there.

  • Be precise: Try to form your query in a precise manner. Explain what you have already tried and provide the details that you think could be relevant. It might take some time and effort to do so, but remember that others might be investing their personal time to help you.

  • Read the documentation: Read and search the documentation, maybe your query is already explained in the docs. If you think something was missing or diffcult to understand, try to contribute by improving the documentation.

  • Be patient: Do not expect your query to be answered as soon as possible. Other participants may be from a different timezone, on vacation, busy with other commitments, etc. OSS communities are stateless and participants change all the time. Do not try to demand a response but it is perfectly fine to bump an old post which hasn’t been answered.

  • Be responsive: If someone asks for more details or clarifications to your query, be quick in adding more details.

  • Avoid direct display of frustration: If you’re frustuated with something because it doesn’t work in a the way you think it should, consider forming your query in a constructive manner.