Contributor Guide

Where to Start?

All contributions, bug reports, bug fixes, documentation improvements, enhancements, and ideas are welcome!

If you are new to open-source development or pyDataverse, we recommend going through the GitHub issues, to find issues that interest you. There are a number of issues listed under beginner, docs and unassigned issues. where you could start. Once you’ve found an interesting issue, you can return here to get your development environment setup.

When you start working on an issue, it’s a good idea to assign the issue to yourself so that nobody else duplicates the work on it. GitHub restricts assigning issues to maintainers of the project only. To let us know, please add a comment to the issue so that everyone knows that you are working on the issue.

If for whatever reason you are not able to continue working with the issue, please try to unassign it so that other people know it’s available again. You can periodically check the list of assigned issues, since people may not be working in them anymore. If you want to work on one that is assigned, feel free to kindly ask the current assignee if you can take it (please allow at least a week of inactivity before considering work in the issue discontinued).

This project and everyone participating in it is governed by the pyDataverse Code of Conduct. By participating, you are expected to uphold this code. Please report unacceptable behaviour (see Contact).

Be respectful, supportive and nice to each other!

Bug reports, enhancement requests and other issues

Bug reports are an important part of making pyDataverse more stable. Having a complete bug report will allow others to reproduce the bug and provide insight into fixing the issue.

Trying the bug-producing code out on the master branch is often a worthwhile exercise to confirm the bug still exists. It is also worth searching existing bug reports and pull requests to see if the issue has already been reported and/or fixed.

Other reasons to create an issue could be:

  • suggesting new features
  • sharing an idea
  • giving feedback

Please check some things before creating an issue:

  • Your issue may already be reported! Please search on the issue tracker before creating one.
  • Is this something you can develop? Send a pull request!

Once you have clicked New issue, you have to choose one of the issue templates:

  • Bug report (template)
  • Feature request (template)
  • Issue: all other issues, except bug reports and feature requests (template)

After selecting the appropriate template, you will see some explanatory text. Follow it step-by-step. After clicking Submit new issue, the issue will then show up to the pyDataverse community and be open to comments/ideas from others.

Besides creating an issue, you also can contribute in many other ways by:

  • sharing your knowledge in Issues and Pull Requests
  • reviewing pull requests
  • talking about pyDataverse and sharing it with others

Working with the code

Now that you have an issue you want to fix, an enhancement to add, or documentation to improve, you need to learn how to work with GitHub and the pyDataverse code base.

Version control, Git, and GitHub

To the new user, working with Git is one of the more daunting aspects of contributing to pyDataverse. It can very quickly become overwhelming, but sticking to the guidelines below will help keep the process straightforward and mostly trouble free. As always, if you are having difficulties please feel free to ask for help.

The code is hosted on GitHub. To contribute you will need to sign up for a free GitHub account. We use Git for version control to allow many people to work together on the project.

A great resource for learning Git: the GitHub help pages

There are many ways to work with git and Github. Our workflow is inspired by the GitHub flow and Git flow approaches.

Getting started with Git

GitHub has instructions for installing git, setting up your SSH key, and configuring git. All these steps need to be completed before you can work seamlessly between your local repository and GitHub.


You will need your own fork to work on the code. Go to the pyDataverse project page and hit the Fork button. You will want to clone your fork to your machine:

git clone
cd pyDataverse
git remote add upstream

This creates the directory pyDataverse and connects your repository to the upstream (main project) pyDataverse repository.

Creating a development environment

To test out code changes, you’ll need to build pyDataverse from source, which requires a Python environment. If you’re making documentation changes, you can skip to Contributing to the documentation , but if you skip creating the development environment you won’t be able to build the documentation locally before pushing your changes.

Creating a Python environment

Create virtual environment.

python3 -m venv .venv
source .venv/bin/activate

Next, add the packages needed. Install at least the development.txt requirements.

pip install -r requirements/development.txt

In addition, you can also install certain packages for specific activities, like linting, testing, documentation and packaging as you need.

pip install -r requirements/lint.txt
pip install -r requirements/tests.txt
pip install -r requirements/docs.txt
pip install -r requirements/packaging.txt

Now, build and install pyDataverse in editable mode.

python sdist bdist_wheel
pip install -e .

Creating a branch

You want your develop branch to reflect only release-ready code, so create a feature branch for making your changes. Use a descriptive branch name and replace BRANCH_NAME with it, e. g. shiny-new-feature.

git checkout develop
git checkout -b BRANCH_NAME

This changes your working directory to the BRANCH_NAME branch. Keep any changes in this branch specific to one bug or feature so it is clear what the branch brings to pyDataverse. You can have many branches and switch between them using the git checkout command.

When creating this branch, make sure your develop branch is up to date with the latest upstream develop version. To update your local develop branch, you can do:

git checkout develop
git pull upstream develop --ff-only

When you want to update the feature branch with changes in develop after you created the branch, check the section on updating a PR.

From here, you now can move forward to

  • contribute to the documentation (see below)
  • contribute to the code base

Contributing to the documentation

Contributing to the documentation benefits everyone who uses pyDataverse. We encourage you to help us improve the documentation, and you don’t have to be an expert on pyDataverse to do so! In fact, there are sections of the docs that are worse off after being written by experts. If something in the docs doesn’t make sense to you, updating the relevant section after you figure it out is a great way to ensure it will help the next person.

To find ways to contribute to the documentation, start looking the docs issues.

About the pyDataverse documentation

The documentation is written in reStructuredText, which is almost like writing in plain English, and built using Sphinx. The Sphinx Documentation provides an excellent introduction to reST. Review the Sphinx docs to learn how to perform more complex changes to the documentation as well.

Some other important things to know about the docs:

  • The pyDataverse documentation consists of two parts:
    • the docstrings in the code itself and
    • the docs in the folder src/pyDataverse/doc/
  • The docstrings provide a clear explanation of the usage of the individual functions, while the documentation consists of tutorial-like overviews per topic together with some other information (what’s new, installation, this page you’re viewing right now, etc).
  • The docstrings follow the Numpy Docstring Standard.

How to build the pyDataverse documentation


First, you need to have a development environment to be able to build pyDataverse (see the docs on creating a development environment above). Note: The docs.txt requirements need to be installed.


Normally, you are only allowed to create pull requests to upstream/develop, so you have to branch-off from it too.

git checkout develop
git checkout -b BRANCH_NAME

There is one exception: If you want to suggest a change to the docs in the folder src/pyDataverse/docs/ (e. g. fix a typo in User Guide - Basic Usage), you can also pull to upstream/master. This means, you have also to branch-off from the master branch.

Building the documentation

You can create the docs inside docs/build/ by calling tox.

tox -e docs

Open the file docs/build/html/index.html in a web browser to see the full documentation you just built.

Pushing documentation changes to GitHub

Each time, a change in the develop or master branch is pushed to GitHub, the docs automatically get created by Read the Docs.

You can find the rendered documentation at our Read the Docs page , the branches at:

There is also a latest documentation, which is not a branch itself, only a forward to master.

As you do not have the rights to commit directly to the develop or master branch, you have to create a pull request to make this happen.

Contributing to the code base

Writing good code is not just about what you write. It is also about how you write it. During testing, several tools will be run to check your code for stylistic errors. Thus, good style is suggested for submitting code to pyDataverse.

You can open a Pull Request at any point during the development process: when you have little or no code but want to share some screenshots or general ideas, when you’re stuck and need help or advice, or when you’re ready for someone to review your work.

Code standards

pyDataverse follows the PEP8 standard and uses Black, Flake8 and pylint to ensure a consistent code format throughout the project.


In Python 3, absolute imports are recommended.

Import formatting: Imports should be alphabetically sorted within the sections.

String formatting

pyDataverse uses f-strings formatting instead of ‘%’ and ‘.format()’ string formatters.


You can run many of the styling checks manually. However, we encourage you to use pre-commit hooks instead to automatically run black when you make a git commit.

This can be done by installing pre-commit (which should already be installed by development.txt):

pip install pre-commit

and then running:

pre-commit install

from the root of the pyDataverse repository. Now styling checks will be run each time you commit changes without your needing to run each one manually. In addition, using pre-commit will also allow you to more easily remain up-to-date with our code checks as they change.

To run black alone, use

black src/pyDataverse/

Type hints

pyDataverse strongly encourages the use of PEP 484 style type hints. New development should contain type hints!

Validating type hints

pyDataverse uses mypy to statically analyze the code base and type hints. After making any change you can ensure your type hints are correct by running

mypy src/pyDataverse/

Testing with continuous integration

The pyDataverse test suite will run automatically on Travis-CI continuous integration service, once your pull request is submitted. However, if you wish to run the test suite on a branch prior to submitting the pull request, then the continuous integration services need to be hooked to your GitHub repository. Instructions are here.

A pull-request will be considered for merging when you have an all ‘green’ build. If any tests are failing, then you will get a red ‘X’, where you can click through to see the individual failed tests.

You can find the pyDataverse builds on Travis-CI here.

Test-driven development/code writing

pyDataverse is serious about testing and strongly encourages contributors to embrace test-driven development (TDD). This development process “relies on the repetition of a very short development cycle: first the developer writes an (initially failing) automated test case that defines a desired improvement or new function, then produces the minimum amount of code to pass that test.” So, before actually writing any code, you should write your tests. Often the test can be taken from the original GitHub issue. However, it is always worth considering additional use cases and writing corresponding tests.

Adding tests is one of the most common requests after code is pushed to pyDataverse. Therefore, it is worth getting in the habit of writing tests ahead of time so this is never an issue.

Like many packages, pyDataverse uses pytest and tox as test frameworks.

To find open tasks around tests, look at open testing issues.

Writing tests

All tests should go into the tests/ subdirectory. This folder contains many current examples of tests, and we suggest looking to these for inspiration.

Name your tests with a descriptive filename (with prefix test_) and put it in an appropriate place in the tests/ structure.

Follow the typical pattern of constructing an expected and comparing versus the result.

Running the test suite

Setup testing

Before you can run the tests, you have to define following environment variables:

  • BASE_URL: Base URL of your Dataverse installation, without trailing slash (e. g.
  • API_TOKEN_<USER>: API token of Dataverse installation user with proper rights
    • API_TOKEN_SUPERUSER: Dataverse installation Superuser
    • API_TOKEN_TEST_NO_RIGHTS: New user with no assigned rights (default rights)
export BASE_URL=

Using pytest

The tests can then be run directly with pytest inside your Git clone by typing:


Often it is worth running only a subset of tests first around your changes before running the entire suite.

The easiest way to do this is with:

pytest tests/path/to/ -k regex_matching_test_name

Using tox

Tox can be used to execute pre-defined test suites, e. g. py36 to use and create a Python 3.6 environment to test all tests available.

tox -e py36

You can find the tox environments defined in the tox.ini.

Some tox tests/builds are also used for the continuous integration tests at Travis-CI (see Testing with continuous integration).

Using Coverage

pyDataverse supports the usage of code coverage to check how much of the code base is covered by tests. For this, pytest-cov (using coverage) and is used. You can find the coverage report here.

Run tests with coverage to create html and xml reports as an output. Again, call it by tox. This creates the generated docs inside docs/coverage_html/.

tox -e coverage

For coveralls, use

tox -e coveralls

Contributing your changes to pyDataverse

Committing your code

Before committing your changes, make clear:

  • You are on the right branch
  • All tests for your change ran successful
  • All style and code checks for your change ran successful (mypy, pylint, flake8)
  • Keep style fixes to a separate commit to make your pull request more readable

Once you’ve made changes, you can see them by typing:

git status

If you have created a new file, it is not being tracked by git. Add it by typing:

git add path/to/

Doing git status again should give something like:

# On branch BRANCH_NAME
#       modified:   /relative/path/to/

Finally, commit your changes to your local repository with an explanatory message.

The following defines how a commit message should be structured. Please reference the relevant GitHub issues in your commit message using #1234.

  • a subject line with < 80 chars.
  • One blank line.
  • Optionally, a commit message body.

pyDataverse uses a commit message template to pre-fill the commit message, once you create a commit. We recommend, using it for your commit message.

Now, commit your changes in your local repository:

git commit

Pushing your changes

When you want your changes to appear publicly on your GitHub page, push your forked feature branch’s commits:

git push origin BRANCH_NAME

Here origin is the default name given to your remote repository on GitHub. You can see the remote repositories:

git remote -v

If you added the upstream repository as described above you will see something like:

origin (fetch)
origin (push)
upstream        git:// (fetch)
upstream        git:// (push)

Now your code is on GitHub, but it is not yet a part of the pyDataverse project. For that to happen, a pull request needs to be submitted on GitHub.

Review your code

When you’re ready to ask for a code review, file a pull request. Before you do, once again make sure that you have followed all the guidelines outlined in this document regarding code style, tests and documentation. You should also double check your branch changes against the branch it was based on:

  • Navigate to your repository on GitHub –
  • Click on the Compare & create pull request button for your BRANCH_NAME
  • Select the base and compare branches, if necessary. This will be develop and BRANCH_NAME, respectively.

Finally, make the pull request

If everything looks good, you are ready to make a pull request. A pull request is how code from a local repository becomes available to the GitHub community and can be looked at and eventually merged into the develop version. This pull request and its associated changes will eventually be committed to the master branch and available in the next release. To submit a pull request:

  • Navigate to your repository on GitHub
  • Click on the Pull Request button
  • You can then click on Commits and Files Changed to make sure everything looks okay one last time
  • Write a description of your changes in the Preview Discussion tab. A pull request template is used to pre-fill the description. Follow the explainationi in it.
  • Click Send Pull Request.

This request then goes to the repository maintainers, and they will review the code.

By using GitHub’s @mention system in your Pull Request message, you can ask for feedback from specific people or teams, whether they’re down the hall or ten time zones away.

Once you send a pull request, we can discuss its potential modifications and even add more commits to it later on.

There’s an excellent tutorial on how Pull Requests work in the GitHub Help Center.

Updating your pull request

Based on the review you get on your pull request, you will probably need to make some changes to the code. In that case, you can make them in your branch, add a new commit to that branch, push it to GitHub, and the pull request will be automatically updated. Pushing them to GitHub again is done by:

git push origin BRANCH_NAME

This will automatically update your pull request with the latest code and restart the Continuous Integration tests.

Another reason you might need to update your pull request is to solve conflicts with changes that have been merged into the develop branch since you opened your pull request.

To do this, you need to “merge upstream develop“ in your branch:

git checkout BRANCH_NAME
git fetch upstream
git merge upstream/develop

If there are no conflicts (or they could be fixed automatically), a file with a default commit message will open, and you can simply save and quit this file.

If there are merge conflicts, you need to solve those conflicts. See for example in the GitHub tutorial on merge conflicts for an explanation on how to do this. Once the conflicts are merged and the files where the conflicts were solved are added, you can run git commit to save those fixes.

If you have uncommitted changes at the moment you want to update the branch with develop, you will need to stash them prior to updating (see the stash docs). This will effectively store your changes and they can be reapplied after updating.

After the feature branch has been update locally, you can now update your pull request by pushing to the branch on GitHub:

git push origin BRANCH_NAME

Delete your merged branch (optional)

Once your feature branch is accepted into upstream, you’ll probably want to get rid of the branch. First, merge upstream develop into your branch so git knows it is safe to delete your branch:

git fetch upstream
git checkout develop
git merge upstream/develop

Then you can do:

git branch -d BRANCH_NAME

Make sure you use a lower-case -d, or else git won’t warn you if your feature branch has not actually been merged.

The branch will still exist on GitHub, so to delete it there do:

git push origin --delete BRANCH_NAME

Tips for a successful pull request

If you have made it to the Review your code phase , one of the core contributors may take a look. Please note however that a handful of people are responsible for reviewing all of the contributions, which can often lead to bottlenecks.

To improve the chances of your pull request being reviewed, you should:

  • Reference an open issue for non-trivial changes to clarify the PR’s purpose
  • Ensure you have appropriate tests. These should be the first part of any PR
  • Keep your pull requests as simple as possible. Larger PRs take longer to review
  • Ensure that CI is in a green state. Reviewers may not even look otherwise
  • Keep updating your pull request, either by request or every few days

What happens after the pull

Reviewing the Pull request

Once a new issue is created, a maintainer adds labels , an assignee and a milestone to it. Labels are used to separate between issue types and the status of it, show effected module(s) and to prioritize tasks. Also at least one responsible person for the next steps is assigned , and often a milestone too.

The next steps may consist of requests from the assigned person(s) for further work, questions on some changes or the okay for the pull request to be merged.

Once all actions are done, including review and documentation, the issue gets closed. The issue then lives on as an open and transparent documentation of the work done.

Create a release

First, to plan a release, the maintainers:

  • define, which issues are part of it and the version number
  • create a new milestone for the release (named after the version number)
  • and assign all selected issues to the milestone

Once all issues related to the release are closed (except the ones related to release activities), the release can be created. This includes:

  • review documentation and code changes
  • test the release
  • write release notes
  • write a release announcement
  • update version number
  • merge develop to master
  • tag release name to commit (e. g. v0.3.0), push branch and create pull request
  • upload to PyPI

You can find the full release history at Release History and on GitHub.


For pyDataverse, Semantic versioning is used for releases.