Augustina Ragwitz, senior OpenStack deployment engineer at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, shares the experience of writing, submitting, and debugging her first patch.


My First OpenStack Infra Patch!

In August, I started a new job as an upstream contributor on the
OpenStack Infrastructure team! The project is so huge, the average
on-boarding time is at least 6 months. My goal for this on-boarding time
is to document as much as possible while I still have my "new
contributor" perspective. I have been focusing on documentation for
various Infra projects, including Nodepool and Disk Image Builder.

I had my first OpenStack Infrastructure patch merged on September 2nd,
2015! I’d like to share my experiences writing, submitting, and
debugging my first patch.

Step 1: Figure out what to patch

There’s a talk I give about how to get started with contributing to
the Perl community
. Some
of the advice I’ve given there holds true to pretty much any project,
but especially any project that is big and overwhelming. Sure, you can
submit code as your first patch. For most of us, however, there’s a lot
of context missing when we interact with a new code-base (and Infra has
MANY contexts and code bases). I recommend what I like to call the
"Wax-On Wax-Off Paint-the-Fence" approach.

Take on the most ridiculously boring and tedious tasks while you
learn how things work.

Good examples are things like adding or improving documentation,
adding, fixing, or otherwise improving unit tests, or small code tasks
like variable or function renames, formatting changes, whitespace
cleanup, or logging or other text output format changes. Don’t do
anything too invasive until you understand how all the pieces fit
together. You can’t debug a failure if you don’t know where to look, and
this is especially true for big projects like Infra!

The team I joined has a policy of assigning an onboarding buddy to new
hires. I was lucky to get to work with Greg Haynes. He’s done a great
job of suggesting tasks like the ones mentioned above that exist in the
code bases he’s most active in.

My first patch involved reformatting text in a README file for one of
the elements
in Disk Image
A proposal was made to move this from free text that was all over the
place and inconsistent to a formatted table structure with clear items
that should be listed for each element. This is a very tedious project
and not particularly interesting to someone who is very familiar with
the code base. For someone like me, however, it’s perfect! So that’s my
current project, reformatting and improving the documentation for the
environment variable overrides in Disk Image Builder’s elements.

If you don’t have a buddy to make recommendations, just pop into the

openstack-infra channel in IRC and just ask for suggestions!

Alternatively, try the #openstack-doc and #openstack-qa channels.

Step 2: Set Up Gerrit and git-review

OpenStack has done an excellent job of documenting the steps for new

and I recommend following those instructions after reading some of my
notes here. There are more in-depth

provided by the Documentation team for first time contributors that may
be a better fit if you don’t have a lot of experience contributing to

OpenStack uses a code review tool called Gerrit hosted at and uses Ubuntu Single Sign On to manage login
credentials. When I joined the Infrastructure team, I already had an
Ubuntu Single Sign On account via Launchpad from contributions I’d made
to Ubuntu a few years ago.

Additionally, to contribute to any OpenStack project (including Infra),
you’ll need to create a community account and sign the agreement. Make
sure the email you provide for your OpenStack email address matches your
Ubuntu Single Sign On email address! I ran into this issue myself and
I’ve seen it enough that I’ll bet it’s one of the top new contributor
issues! If you have any issues with your OpenStack community account,
the first thing to check is that those email addresses match.

Finally, install git-review on your system. As a side note, for
development projects, I generally try to minimize system-wide installs
that could affect my entire system. This is especially important when
dealing with several projects that may have conflicting version
requirements. That being said, git-review is fine to install
system-wide, just be aware in the future when some instructions tell you
to install something system-wide and think about possible conflicts with
any other projects you might be using. See the next section for
suggestions on not littering dependencies all over your local file

Step 3: Get the Code

Infra code, like all OpenStack code, lives in a git repository hosted
on To find the repository for the project you want to
patch, look up the project by name at using the Search box
at the upper right corner. Copy the “git://” URI to clone the git repo

For your local dev setup on your local machine, I recommend creating a
folder for all of your OpenStack related projects. I have a folder
called "dev" in my home directory that contains subfolders for various
projects. Under that, I created a folder called openstack where I clone
my git repos. For OpenStack infra, you will want to create a separate
openstack-infra directory because openstack-infra can have different
dependencies than other OpenStack projects. It should use its own
virtualenv to manage these dependencies.

In general you should be using a local Python rather than a system
Python. You know if you’re using system Python if you have to type
"sudo" anytime you want to do anything beyond running a program (like
pip). Virtualenv makes doing this really easy. Learn more about using
virtualenv here.

There’s another great tool for managing environment variables that’s
written in bash, called smartcd. It
lets you set up custom environment variables on a per directory basis. A
lot of OpenStack projects depend on environment variables so having
something to customize this without littering your environment is really

I also recommend that you set up a virtual machine with a
Devstack. If you’re
editing docs or unit tests, it’s not too big of a deal to run things
locally but when you’re doing larger code patches, you want to mimic
running tools against an OpenStack as much as possible. For the
documentation patches I’ve done, running locally and using a virtualenv
has been sufficient.

Step 4: Run the Tests

Once you’ve cloned the git repository, follow the instructions in the
README at the parent level to do any necessary local setup. It will
likely involve installing a bunch of python dependencies. See the
section above for my recommendation involving using virtualenv for

If the project you’re working on does not have a README, or the README
doesn’t mention anything about how to set up the repo, this is
definitely an opportunity to add a patch. Every project should have a
README and it should contain not only setup information but also bug
submission information. These are good first patches as you get to know
the infrastructure.

Some projects are complex, require a lot of setup and possess a huge
range of dependencies. If your change doesn’t actually require running
the project, don’t get overwhelmed by getting the project up and running
in order to submit your first patch. You can easily run a subset of the
unit tests locally to verify your change without having to locally test
the entire project.

After configuring and installing, before touching anything else, I
highly recommend running the tests to make sure everything works on your
system. It’s incredibly hard to troubleshoot when you’re not sure if
your patch broke something or if it was a setup issue that’s causing
test failures. To run the tests you’ll need to set up tox if you haven’t
already. It’s really straightforward (pip install tox), see the
OpenStack Python Developer
if you’re not
sure how.

The tox.ini file at the parent level of the repo defines the different
sections that tox recognizes. So if all you really care about is docs,
there should be a section called "docs" and it will be clear in the
tox.ini what tests are being run as part of that. If you are only
touching a specific subset of things (eg, docs), then don’t worry about
troubleshooting if the entire test suite fails on your local machine.

Unit tests can fail for a variety of reasons, including versions of
dependent libraries and OS-level conflicts. This is why it’s important
to a) use a tool like virtualenv to separate Python language
dependencies and b) to use a virtual machine or other container to avoid
system level conflicts that are hard to debug.

Step 5: Hack Hack Hack

Before you start hacking, you should cut a local branch to commit
However, if you suspect an upstream conflict is going to be merged while
you’re working, you can hack on master without committing, and then cut
the branch once you’re ready to commit. The advantage of just hacking on
master (without committing) is you can easily keep the branch current
without dealing with merge conflicts. If you accidentally commit to
master, Gerrit won’t let you merge when you check in your commit. You’ll
need to cut a local branch to submit your code upstream anyway, so it’s
generally just good practice to work on a local branch.

Step 6: Run the Tests

After you’re done hack hack hacking, run the tests again to make sure
you didn’t break anything. Again, only run a subset if that’s all you
care about. This will just catch anything specific to what you’re
changing. Jenkins will run the full suite of unit and integration tests
once you submit your patch for review.

Step 7: Compose a Commit Message and Rebase

Composing a well thought out commit message is important, even for
small changes. The typical OpenStack commit

is to do a short description followed by a longer paragraph that
provides more context for the change. If the change is really minor, you
can get away with a short description. Learn more about writing good
commit messages

Gerrit will create one review item per commit. If you have multiple
commits, you need to rebase them down to one commit. My workflow is to
write my real commit message for the first commit and then do short,
less descriptive commits for anything subsequent. Once I’m done
developing, I do rebase -i HEAD~n where n is the number of commits
(inclusive) to rebase. When you do an interactive rebase, you can tell
git what you want to do with each of the commits.

It might be tempting to just constantly rebase your work into one
commit to save yourself the trouble. While doing your initial work, I
don’t recommend this because you might make a mistake that’s hard to
back out of without your full commit history.

To keep a remote copy of your branch without having it go through
testing, you basically push your change to Gerrit but then mark it as a
Work in

(WIP) through a workflow comment. Run git review, then open the patch’s
page in Gerrit. Click Review on your patch and mark it as "-1 WIP". This
will let everyone (including Jenkins) know that this patch isn’t ready
for testing just yet.

Note that if you want to keep a remote copy of your work in Gerrit,
you’ll need to rebase it down to one commit. I haven’t figured out an
alternative solution that keeps the repo in sync with the master branch
but lets you have a remote copy of your revision history without
creating a bunch of extra patches in Gerrit. When I figure something out
I’ll be sure to talk about it in a future article.

Step 8: Submit Your Patch

Before running git-review, make sure the email address in your git
config matches the one you have registered in Gerrit. Just type "git
review" to submit your patch. If you want to submit the patch as a work
in progress, see the above section about doing a workflow commit.

Once you’ve submitted your patch for review, the build system will run
a huge suite of tests on the remote branch in Gerrit. Pay attention to
your emails for the test results from Jenkins. If you need to
troubleshoot a failure, do so by looking at the Jenkins console logs.
Ask for help in the #openstack-infra IRC channel if you’re not sure
what something means, and try to provide as much information as possible
including a link to the change in question and specific error messages
you think are the problem. For longer pastes, use instead of cluttering
up the IRC channel. Check if the failed tests are "non-voting" before
digging into things. If the tests are "non-voting" their failure doesn’t
matter with regards to your patch being accepted because they may have
known issues.

If it looks like a fluke, you can re-run the tests by adding a comment
with the text "recheck." All automated tests must pass for code to be
merged, and typically reviewers won’t even begin reviewing a new patch
until the checks have passed.

Step 9: Get Your Patch Reviewed

Once the test have passed, you’ll need to get your change accepted by two
core members in order to get it merged. If your patch has been reviewed
and says "Needs Workflow" it means another core needs to approve it
before it can be merged.

To find out who the core members are that can +2 or approve your patch,
visit the project’s page in Click on "Access" at
the top of the screen and then click on any of the project-core links to
see a list of people. You can add names as Reviewers to your change from
your change’s URL or you can ask in #openstack-infra if those
individuals could review your change. Not everyone monitors their emails
if you just add them as a Reviewer.

If you get comments and people want you to make changes, generally
discussion should happen in Gerrit so there’s some history tied to the
change. However, if you’re still uncertain or need more back and forth
than Gerrit can offer, feel free to discuss the change publicly in the #openstack-infra IRC channel, or privately with the reviewer on IRC if you’re not yet comfortable speaking in the public channel. Many people
in the community are very passionate about wanting the best for
OpenStack, and they have strong opinions as a result. If you don’t agree
with specific feedback because you feel you had good reasons for why you
did a thing the way you did, feel free to politely share those reasons.
Chances are you’ll have a nice discussion and you’ll both learn
something 😉 If for some reason you’re not satisfied with the result of
the discussion, feel free to seek a second opinion from another core
member. It’s ok if you get overruled, don’t be frustrated. Just try your
best to understand why they want it done that way and move on to the
next thing. When you’re working with groups, sometimes you have to pick
your battles. Once you get more established in the community and
understand more of the context, you might better understand their
reasons or you can be the core person making those decisions. It’s all
just part of being in a community with other humans 🙂

Once your patch has been approved, it will be automatically merged and
you’ll get an email notification (if you’ve opted for those)!

Step 10: Do the First Patch Dance!

You can watch your progress as an OpenStack contributor at

Useful Links

This post first appeared on Augustina Ragwitz’s blog. You can find her on Twitter or FreeNode IRC at @mmmpork.

Superuser is always interested in how-tos and other contributions, please get in touch: [email protected]

Cover Photo by Forgemind Archimedia // CC BY NC