What you're saying when you tell people to send in patches

November 7, 2014

Exerpted from a comment on my entry about my problem with reporting CentOS bugs:

You could not be more wrong about your assumptions:


  • Bugs.centos.org is community help .. meaning that our users and volunteer QA team answer questions there. Not only should you report bugs there .. you should also find and fix, the report the fix there. That is how open source works. You should fix the problem, report the fix to bugs.centos.org and bugzilla.redhat.com if you can .. I mean, you are getting the software for free, right?

When I read things like this, where people tell other people 'it's open source, you should be finding and submitting patches', this is how I expect those other people are reading it. Whether you realize it or not and whether you intend it or not, telling people 'submit a patch' is actually telling people 'go away, you annoying thing'.

(It's also sending the message that your project is only really for developers, who are the people who can actually come up with those patches. Mere mortals need not apply. For that matter, developers who have other things to work on need not apply either.)

Sometimes, occasionally, this is an appropriate thing to say. If someone is showing up in your bug report system to demand that you fix a bug (or is otherwise complaining loudly that an open source community is failing to do so), sure, go ahead and tell them to go away and shut up. Mind you, telling them a softball version of 'patch or GTFO' is kind of passive-aggressive; perhaps you could be more straightforward and just say 'we're not going to fix this, if you need a fix badly enough you'll need to do it yourself'.

But as a general reply? No. As a general reply or a general suggestion it's both rude and a bridge burner. It also hangs a kind of smug open source arrogance out for bystanders to see and take note of.

Oh, as a side note, saying this sort of thing is also kind of insulting in that it suggests (by implication) that someone with the capacity to create a fix has not realized that gosh, they could do it. Of course, there are people who don't think that they're good enough to create fixes or lack the confidence to do so and who need encouragement, but such gentle encouragement is not delivered in anything even vaguely close to this 'send patches' manner (any more than encouragement to submit bug reports is, cf the comments on this entry).

PS: this is one of the rare entries when I will say the following directly and explicitly: if you're thinking of being deliberately rude in a comment, either on this entry or elsewhere, go away. Enabling and hosting rudeness is not anywhere near why I have comments here and rude comments may be subject to summary removal if I am angry enough.

Sidebar: the toxic nature of 'that is how open source works'

I want to point the following out explicitly. If, to quote the comment, 'not only should you report bugs there .. you should also find and fix, the report the fix there. That is how open source works' is actually how open source works then the direct corollary is that open source is only really for developers, who are the only people who can actually find the source of bugs and fix them. Everyone else is a hanger-on and camp follower.

To put it mildly, I think that a lot of people in the open source world would strongly disagree with the view that their open source work is only or primarily for developers.

(I can't call this view a toxic one, although I want to. It's certainly toxic for wide use of open source, but if your view is 'open source is for developers' then you've already decided that you don't care about a wide use of open source.)

Written on 07 November 2014.
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Last modified: Fri Nov 7 22:50:19 2014
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