FAQ: Contributing to Sage

How can I get started contributing to Sage?

This is a quick guide for anyone who wants to contribute to Sage. It is intended especially for anyone who is new to computer programming. First, Sage’s main programming language is Python. Some parts of Sage can be written in other languages, especially the components that do the heavy number crunching, but most native functionality is done using Python, including “glue code”. One of the good aspects of Python that Sage inherits is that working code is considered more valuable than just fast code. Fast code is valuable, but clean, readable code is important. In the mathematics community, inaccurate results are unacceptable. Correctness comes before optimization. In the following paper

  • D. Knuth. Structured Programming with go to Statements. ACM Journal Computing Surveys, 6(4), 1974.

Don Knuth observes that: “We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time: premature optimization is the root of all evil.”

If you do not know Python, you should start learning that language. A good place to start is the Python Official Tutorial and other documents in the Python standard documentation. Another good place to take a look at is Dive Into Python by Mark Pilgrim, which may be pretty helpful on some specific topics like test-driven development. The book Building Skills in Python by Steven F. Lott is suitable for anyone who is already comfortable with programming.

In the meantime, you can grab your copy of the Sage source and familiarize yourself with the git version control system. Once you are comfortable with Python itself, which is pretty fast for basics, you can start using Sage. If you want, you can try to learn Python by using Sage, but that is not recommended because it is helpful to know what is pure Python and when Sage is doing its “magic”. There are many things that work in Python but not in Sage, and vice versa.

Then take a look at the official development guide for Sage. At a minimum, the first chapter in that guide is required reading for any Sage developer. Also pay special attention to the trac guidelines. You can also join the sage-devel mailing list and hang around on the #sage-devel IRC channel on freenode.

The best way to become familiar with the Sage development process is to choose a ticket from the trac server and review the proposed changes contained in that ticket. If you want to implement something, it is a good practice to discuss your ideas on the sage-devel mailing list first, so that other developers have a chance to comment on your ideas/proposals. They are pretty open to new ideas, too, like all mathematicians should be.

I’m not a programmer. Is there another way I can help out?

Yes. Like any free open source software project, there are numerous ways in which you could help out within the Sage community. And programming is one of many ways to contribute. If you can speak, read, and write in another (natural) language, there are many ways in which your contribution would be very valuable to the whole Sage community. Say you know Italian. Then you can write a Sage tutorial in Italian, or help out with translating the official Sage tutorial to Italian. For the graphics designers or artistically creative, you can help out with improving the design of the Sage website. Or you can cast your critical artistic eyes over the Sage notebook interface and find out where it needs improvement.

Many people like writing technical tutorials. One of the joys of doing so is that you also learn something new in the process. At the same time, you communicate your knowledge to beginners, a skill which is useful in fields other than technical writing itself. A main point about technical writing is that you communicate a technical subject to beginners, so keep technical jargons to a minimum. Darrell Anderson has written some tips on technical writing, which you are highly recommended to read. The above is a very short list. There are many, many more ways in which you can help out. Feel free to send an email to the sage-devel mailing list to ask about possible ways in which you could help out, or to suggest a project idea.

Where can I find resources on Python or Cython?

Here is an incomplete list of resources on Python and Cython. Further resources can be found by a web search.

General resources

Tutorials and books

Articles and HOWTOs

Are there any coding conventions I need to follow?

You should follow the standard Python conventions as documented at PEP 0008 and PEP 0257. Also consult the Sage Developer’s Guide, especially the chapter Conventions for Coding in Sage.

I submitted a bug fix to the trac server several weeks ago. Why are you ignoring my patch?

We are not trying to ignore your patch. People who work on Sage do so in their free time. With hundreds of open tickets of varying degrees of impacts on the whole Sage community, people who work on tickets need to prioritize their time and work on those tickets that interest them. Sometimes you may be the only person who understands your patch. In that case, you are encouraged to take extra care to make it as easy as possible for anyone to review your patch. Here are some tips on making your patch easy to review:

  • Have you clearly described the problem your patch is trying to solve?
  • Have you provided any background information relevant to the problem your patch is trying to solve? Such information include links to online resources and any relevant papers, books and reference materials.
  • Have you clearly described how your patch solves the problem under consideration?
  • Have you clearly described how to test the changes in your patch?
  • Have you listed any tickets that your patch depends on?
  • If there are more than one patch, have you clearly stated the order in which those patches are to be applied?
  • Does your patch follow relevant conventions as documented in the Developer’s Guide?

If your patch stands no chance of being merged in the Sage source tree, we will not ignore your patch but simply close the relevant ticket with an explanation why we cannot include your changes.

When and how might I remind the Sage community of a patch I care about?

You are encouraged to take extra care in how you remind the Sage community of a patch you want to get merged into the Sage source tree. There might be an upcoming bug squash sprint or an upcoming Sage Days workshop that relates to your patch. Monitor the relevant Sage mailing lists and respond politely to any relevant email threads, with clear explanation on why your patch is relevant. Monitor the #sage-devel IRC channel, taking care to strategically time your reminders.

I wrote some Sage code and I want it to be integrated into Sage. However, after renaming my file a.sage to a.py, I got syntax errors. Do I have to rewrite all my code in Python instead of Sage?

The basic answer is yes, but rewriting is a big word for what is really needed. There is little work to do since Sage mostly follows Python syntax. The two main differences are handling of integer (see also the afterword for more on the sage preparser), and the necessity to import what you need.

  • Handling of integer: You need to take care of the following changes:

    • Notation for exponentiation: In Python ** means exponentiation and ^ means “xor”.
    • If you need to return an integer to the user, write return Integer(1) instead of return 1. In Python, 1 is a python int, and Integer(1) is a Sage/Gmp integer. In addition, Integer are much more powerful than int; for example, they know about being prime and factorization.
    • You should also notice that 2 / 3 no longer means Integer(2) / Integer(3) and returns 2/3, but rather int(2) / int(3), and therefore returns 0 due to integer division where it deregards any remainder. If you are dealing with Integer but you really need an integer division you can use Integer(2) // Integer(3).
  • Importing stuff: The second big change is the necessity to import everything what you need. More precisely, each time you use some Sage function, you need to import it at the beginning of the file. For example, if you want PolynomialRing, you need to write:

    from sage.rings.polynomial.polynomial_ring_constructor import PolynomialRing
    

    You can ask Sage where to find PolynomialRing using:

    sage: PolynomialRing.__module__
    'sage.rings.polynomial.polynomial_ring_constructor'
    

    This also corresponds to the path starting after site-packages given when you ask Sage for PolynomialRing help. For example, if you call PolynomialRing?, you get:

    Type:    function
    [...]
    File:    /home/florent/src/Sage/sage/local/lib/python2.6/site-packages/sage/rings/polynomial/polynomial_ring_constructor.py
    [...]