Advanced pull-request crafting

I spend most of my day reviewing pull requests in Github. These are my working notes on what makes a good PR.

Purpose?

It should be clear to the reviewer what change is being made and, crucially, why. So ensure your title and description convey the purpose of the PR. Consider including:

  • Screenshots — such as snaps or gifs of a new UI, or graphs of the devastating performance improvement your PR delivers.

  • Deployment notes — flag up database schema changes or when new configuration is needed. No surprises.

This is basic stuff so we won’t dwell: consult How to write the perfect pull request from the Github blog for more on good descriptions and titles.

Tell a cogent story

Commits should be “atomic” as described by the (excellent) QT Commit Policy:

Make atomic commits.

That means that each commit should contain exactly one self-contained change - do not mix unrelated changes, and do not create inconsistent states.

A failing test suite is an example of an “inconsistent state”. Keep it green after every commit.

Never “hide” unrelated fixes in bigger commits.

Also, don’t push small “fix” commits with messages like:

  • “Fix tests”
  • “Linting”
  • “Address PR comments”

Squash these into your history as if they never happened. Future maintainers aren’t interested in the back-and-forth iterations of a PR.

Obviously, write descriptive commit messages - adopt Tim Pope’s advice if you haven’t already. Remember, future maintainers (probably you) will always want to know why a change was made. Don’t leave them in the dark.

It’s rare to compose such a clean git history in your first go, so before submitting a PR, get into the habit of reviewing your commits and using git rebase to massage it into a cogent story.

Atomic, descriptive commits mean the PR can be reviewed chronologically, commit-by-commit. This is the ideal and a key sign of a developer on top of their game.

Follow the boy-scout rule

“Leave things BETTER than you found them.” – Robert Baden Powell

Codebases degrade over time; entropy increases. Thoughtful developers will look for opportunities to refactor or restructure components as they work on other things, keeping the codebase clean.

A useful practice for this is to begin your PR by cleaning up the codebase to make it easy to address the core purpose of your PR.

For example, start by reviewing the tests for a component you’re about to extend, reworking them to be as readable as possible.

Make the reviewer’s life easy

Don’t waste the reviewer’s time: before marking a PR for review:

  • Ensure the CI test suite is green.
  • Review the PR diff carefully; ensure you haven’t committed all of node_modules again.

Consider adding “reviewing notes”. These might highlight:

  • New functionality that the rest of the team should be aware of.
  • Critical business logic that needs vigilant review by several pairs of eyeballs.

Just beware of adding notes that should be code comments or within commit messages.

Summary

Be diligent about what you submit.

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