Dev Getting Started

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Welcome to Dreamwidth code development! This page is a guide to how to get started with hacking on the Dreamwidth code.

What you need

The languages and skills Dreamwidth development uses are:

  • Perl (the majority of the project)
  • BML (custom templating language inherited from LiveJournal which we are currently phasing out)
  • TT (Template Toolkit - better templating language, used for new pages)
  • S2 (custom templating language used in journal styles)
  • HTML / CSS
  • Javascript / JQuery
  • MySQL and DBI (the Perl interface to MySQL and other SQL databases)

You don't need to know them all! Some familiarity with at least one will be helpful, but we welcome people at all levels, and are happy to answer questions and give advice as long as you're willing to learn.

To hack on the Dreamwidth code, you'll need a development environment: a place where you can install the Dreamwidth code yourself, to make changes and submit them. We offer hosted sandbox development environments where we'll install the code for you. We call them Dreamhacks, and they're available free of charge for anyone who's interested in contributing to the project. Information on how to apply can be found at the main Dreamhack page. We also have instructions below if you want to set up your own, but be warned, it is a bit of a process.

The short version

For those who are experienced enough to not need a walkthrough:

Code and bug tracker


  • Development environment - you have two options
  • Dev Finding Things - getting around the code base and figuring out where to start when looking for a specific feature
  • Dev Programming Guidelines - programming style
  • Design - things to keep in mind when designing features. Developers, please take note of this page!
  • Dev Maintenance - how to keep your code updated
  • Bugzilla workflow - things we expect when working with our Bugzilla installation. You'll be using Bugzilla to claim bugs and git/Github to submit changes
  • Version Control - basic commands for keeping track of your changes using version control. Also includes instructions for submitting those changes via a pull request

See Development for a more complete reading list, or look through the pages in Category:Development.

Don't forget your contributor licensing agreement - we'll need one of these from you before we can accept any contributions.

The long version

If you're totally new to programming and/or contributing to Open Source projects, don't worry! We'll walk you through the process.

Your best source of real-time information, including help for what to do when you totally break something, is the #dreamwidth-dev IRC channel, where there are people willing to mentor who can figure out where your abilities are at and how to best apply them. We also have a Dreamwidth community: [info]dw_dev_training. It's a good idea to watch both that and the [info]dw_dev community.

Here's a step-by-step checklist for getting started hacking on the Dreamwidth code.

  1. Bookmark the dev pep-talk that occurred in IRC in early 2012.
  2. Get a development environment. We run the Dreamhack service so you won't have to install and configure the code yourself, so all you need to do is apply for a Dreamhack account.
  3. Read over the Beginning dev checklist and follow along with the steps for getting your Dreamhack account set up. Most of these steps are tasks you'll only have to do once to make sure your development environment is set up to hack on.
  4. If you run into problems and have to ask for help, be sure to make a note on the Dev Wanted How-To or Installation Wanted How-To pages after you get the problem fixed, so someone can make sure to document it for someone else having the same problem. (Or, write a Wiki article on how you fixed it! Even if you don't entirely understand the fix, you can write down the steps you took to fix the problem as a starting point.)
  5. Familiarize yourself with Perl, the language that the majority of DW development is done in. The best reference that we've found to point people at is Picking Up Perl. You absolutely don't need to be a Perl guru to submit a patch, but you should be familiar with the basic syntax.
  6. If you'd like to do some practice work first, check out OpenHatch's Training Missions -- they'll let you practice with some of the tools you might need! (In particular, you might find their Git training mission helpful.)
  7. Browse through some of the Dreamwidth source code to get a good sense of where things are and what the setup looks like. The basic directory structure, as well as some guidelines about what goes where, can be found in Directory Structure.
  8. Read the Programming Guidelines. (You may not understand all of the items there, but you can familiarize yourself with them, and start noticing when existing code doesn't follow the rules as you read.)
  9. Send in a signed Contributor Licensing Agreement, or CLA. We need to have that on file before we accept any of your contributions.
  10. Pick a bug that you want to work on! Some useful Bugzilla searches are pre-recorded for you: go to the Preferences link and pick the Saved Searches tab. You probably want to at least look at the all-unassigned query, and probably want to also look at the unassigned-effortminor query (as the ones that are most likely suitable for beginning developers). From time to time, people also post lists of "babydev bait" to [info]dw_dev_training.
  11. Set the bug to IN_PROGRESS and put your Bugzilla email address in the "Assigned To" field. This tells people that you're working on it.
  12. Make your fixes. Be sure to test! It's a good idea to test multiple use cases, including logged in/not logged in, community vs personal journal (if applicable), personal journal with different settings, etc.
  13. Commit your changes and submit them to us so that they can be integrated into the official Dreamwidth code
  14. If your patch passes review, it'll be committed. If there are things that could be improved, the reviewer will comment on the commit and give you notes on what can be improved. Don't worry if your patch doesn't pass review on the first time -- it's really common for patches to go through several versions before they're committed.

What'd we miss?

If you run into anything in the process that isn't well-documented, or you have questions, you can ask in the [info]dw_dev_training community or in the #dreamwidth-dev irc channel. You should also make a note on the Dev Wanted How-To or Installation Wanted How-To wiki pages so we can document it better for the next person to come along!