On Applying to Sage for GSoC

Sage is a viable open source mathematics software package that offers an extensive toolbox
for algebra, combinatorics and numerical computations. This massive project can seem daunting to someone who wants to begin contributing to it, especially in the short GSoC application period. In what follows, I cover a constantly updating collection of advice for new programmers, to simplify the process of applying to Sage.

1) Where to find Sage

Mailing Lists:

The following are the primary ones:

  • sage-devel – development discussion group of Sage
  • sage-support – help in running/using Sage
  • sage-gsoc – related discussions regarding the GSoC program

Apart from these, there are tons of other topic based lists dedicated to specific modules. For example, sage-coding-theory. When applying to GSoC, find a project from the Ideas page and post on sage-gsoc (with a cross post on the related topic-based list, if it exists) indicating your interest in the project and request more details; instead of simply asking for help in “getting started” since one is “very interested in contributing to open source”.

Source Code:

  • Source Code – Download your copy of Sage from here
  • git.sagemath.org – Online Sage repository. A good way to read the code online
  • Documentation – Developer’s guide to the Sage
  • Trac – Organizing development and code review through tickets

2) Contributing to Sage

The following is more of a cheat sheet to setup everything you need so you can begin contributing. When in doubt or need of further clarity, always refer to the official documentation. It is really well written!

Installation:

  1. Install Sage: Assuming the source code is downloaded, unzip it and go inside the directory. And run “make”. This should take a few hours. Once it finishes, you can run it by typing “./sage” on the command prompt.
  2. Configure git: Assuming you have git installed, run the following two configuration commands (if you haven’t already)

    git config –global user.name “Your Name”
    git config –global user.email you@yourdomain.example.com

  3. Install git-trac:Now, all development tasks can be performed in the usual way using git and a browser. Alternatively git-trac can simplify the communication process between git and trac. To use this, run:

    git clone https://github.com/sagemath/git-trac-command.gitsource
    git-trac-command/enable.sh (enables it temporarily)
    cd git-trac-command
    sudo python setup.py install

  4. Obtain Sage Trac account: Development happens through tickets on Trac. In order to comment, review, commit or interact in any other active way with the source code, a Trac account is required. To do that, send an email to sage-trac-account@googlegroups.com, containing your full name, preferred username, contact email and reason for needing an account. Once the request is approved, a username and password will be assigned.
  5. Configure git-trac: Authentication mechanism is required for read-write access. Simply put, sage needs to be told about trac with verification. To do this, run:

    git trac config –user USERNAME –pass ‘PASSWORD’
    ssh-keygen (to generate a public/private rsa key pair)

    Run the Sage prompt (./sage) and upload it to trac using the command “dev.upload_ssh_key()“. Use the credentials obtained above for completing the authentication.

Again, the Sage documentation is magnificent and it should be referred to in case of doubts or further explanations. Once all this is done, one can start contributing by checking out an existing ticket or opening a new one. There is a lovely cheat sheet on how to do all that, already available. The way development happens is, someone opens a ticket regarding a bug, defect, new feature or enhancement and writes code for it. Once the commit is ready, it is opened for review whereupon an independent second programmer checks it and suggests changes or gives it a thumbs up.

Communicating with the Sage community:

While the people in the community are extremely helpful, it is necessary to ask for help wisely. Through the communications, three aims need to be achieved:

  1. Form a positive impression on the mentors and admins: Ask precise questions (and don’t hesitate to ask them), ask for help if you don’t understand something but do your homework before asking. For instance, I was asked to review a tiny patch and I didn’t know what review entailed. Sage documentation has a Reviewer’s Checklist and I tried to follow that and asked questions when I didn’t understand something from there.
  2. Make a small contribution(s) to the code: Ask for tickets related to the project you are applying for since that will not only help you understand the development process better, but also the module itself. Ideally, I’ve found that a review of one ticket and writing another new ticket on an associated module can suffice.
  3. Understand and further define the project: Mentors have usually given the project more thought and therefore it is a good idea to talk to them and get an idea about what they have in mind for it first. What is not available, is an exact statement on what all needs to be added and how. Ask for reading material, get clarity on the various modules that need to be implemented as part of the project and come up with a plan on what needs to be done to achieve that.

3) Writing a GSoC Proposal

A good proposal cannot be prepared without a proper understanding of the organization and the project idea itself. And simply having a good understanding is not enough, if that is not visible through the proposal. There is no right way of preparing a proposal. The best way is to go over as many of them as you can find and then suitably adapting elements from each to suit the particular project in question. Here’s mine for what it’s worth: Rank-Metric Codes in Sage

There’s plenty of other advice on how to write a good proposal available; the recurring points being concise writing, clarity on project deliverables, structured timeline and review from mentors.

 

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