How to Participate as a Developer

Code - Version Control

If you are familiar with git, feel free to jump to our github workflow section.

install git


  • sudo apt-get install git

  • make sure git --version is at least at version 1.7.10

Optional one of these. There are nice GUI tools available to get an overview on your repository.

  • gitk git-gui qgit gitg



Configure your global git settings:

  • git config --global NAME

  • git config --global

  • git config --global color.ui "auto" (if you like colors)

  • git config --global pack.threads "0" (improved performance for multi cores)

You may even improve your level of awesomeness by:

  • git config --global "pull --rebase" (see how to avoide merge commits)

  • git config --global "pull --rebase mainline" (to sync with the mainline by git pm dev)

  • git config --global "status -sb" (short status version)

  • git config --global alias.l "log --oneline --graph --decorate --first-parent" (single branch history)

  • git config --global "log --oneline --graph --decorate --all" (full branch history)

  • git config --global rerere.enable 1 (see git rerere)

  • More alias tricks:

    • git config --get-regexp alias (show all aliases)

    • git config --global --unset alias.<Name> (unset alias <Name>)


Git is a distributed version control system. It helps you to keep your software development work organized, because it keeps track of changes in your project. It also helps to come along in teams, crunching on the same project. Examples:

  • Arrr, dare you other guys! Why did you change my precious main.cpp, too!?

  • Who introduced that awesome block of code? I would like to pay for a beer as a reward.

  • Everything is wrong now, why did this happen and when?

  • What parts of the code changed since I went on vacation (to a conference, phd seminar, mate fridge, …)?

If version control is totally new to you (that’s good, because you are not spoiled) - please refer to a beginners guide first.

Since git is distributed, no one really needs a server or services like to use git. Actually, there are even very good reasons why one should use git even for local data, e.g. a master thesis (or your collection of ascii art dwarf hamster pictures).

Btw, fun fact warning: Linus Torvalds, yes the nice guy with the pinguin stuff and all that, developed git to maintain the Linux kernel. So that’s cool, by definition.

A nice overview about the humongous number of tutorials can be found at … but we may like to start with a git cheat sheet (is there anyone out there who knows more than 1% of all git commands available?)

Please spend a minute to learn how to write useful git commit messages (caption-style, maximum characters per line, use blank lines, present tense). Read our commit rules and use keywords.

If you like, you can credit someone else for your next commit with:

  • git commit --author "John Doe <>"

git for svn users

If you already used version control systems before, you may enjoy the git for svn users crash course.

Anyway, please keep in mind to use git not like a centralized version control system (e.g. not like svn). Imagine git as your own private svn server waiting for your commits. For example is only one out of many sources for updates. (But of course, we agree to share our finished, new features there.)

GitHub Workflow

Welcome to github! We will try to explain our coordination strategy (I am out of here!) and our development workflow in this section.

In a Nutshell

Create a GitHub account and prepare your basic git config.

Prepare your forked copy of our repository:

  • fork picongpu on GitHub

  • git clone<YourUserName>/picongpu.git (create local copy)

  • git remote add mainline (add our main repository for updates)

  • git checkout dev (switch to our, its now your, dev branch to start from)

Start a topic/feature branch:

  • git checkout -b <newFeatureName> (start a new branch from dev and check it out)

  • hack hack

  • git add <yourChangedFiles> (add changed and new files to index)

  • git commit (commit your changes to your local repository)

  • git pull --rebase mainline dev (update with our remote dev updates and avoid a merge commit)

Optional, clean up your feature branch. That can be dangerous:

  • git pull (if you pushed your branch already to your public repository)

  • git pull --rebase mainline dev (apply the mainline updates to your feature branch)

  • git log ..mainline/dev, git log --oneline --graph --decorate --all (check for related commits and ugly merge commits)

  • git rebase mainline/dev (re-apply your changes after a fresh update to the mainline/dev, see here)

  • git rebase -i mainline/dev (squash related commits to reduce the complexity of the features history during a pull request)

Publish your feature and start a pull request:

  • git push -u origin <newFeatureName> (push your local branch to your github profile)

  • Go to your GitHub page and open a pull request, e.g. by clicking on compare & review

  • Select ComputationalRadiationPhysics:dev instead of the default master branch

  • Add additional updates (if requested to do so) by push-ing to your branch again. This will update the pull request.

How to fork from us

To keep our development fast and conflict free, we recomment you to fork our repository and start your work from our dev (development) branch in your private repository. Simply click the Fork button above to do so.

Afterwards, git clone your repository to your local machine. But that is not it! To keep track of the original dev repository, add it as another remote.

  • git remote add mainline

  • git checkout dev (go to branch dev)

Well done so far! Just start developing. Just like this? No! As always in git, start a new branch with git checkout -b topic-<yourFeatureName> and apply your changes there.

Keep track of updates

We consider it a best practice not to modify neither your master nor your dev branch at all. Instead you can use it to pull --ff-only new updates from the original repository. Take care to switch to dev by git checkout dev to start new feature branches from dev.

So, if you like to do so, you can even keep track of the original dev branch that way. Just start your new branch with git branch --track <yourFeatureName> mainline/dev instead. This allows you to immediatly pull or fetch from our dev and avoids typing (during git pull --rebase). Nevertheless, if you like to push to your forked (== origin) repository, you have to say e.g. git push origin <branchName> explicitly.

You should add updates from the original repository on a regular basis or at least when you finished your feature.

  • commit your local changes in your feature branch: git commit

Now you could do a normal merge of the latest mainline/dev changes into your feature branch. That is indeed possible, but will create an ugly merge commit. Instead try to first update the point where you branched from and apply your changes again. That is called a rebase and is indeed less harmful as reading the sentence before:

  • git checkout <yourFeatureName>

  • git pull --rebase mainline dev (in case of an emergency, hit git rebase --abort)

Now solve your conflicts, if there are any, and you got it! Well done!

Pull requests or being social

How to propose that your awesome feature (we know it will be awesome!) should be included in the mainline PIConGPU version?

Due to the so called pull requests in GitHub, this quite easy (yeah, sure). We start again with a forked repository of our own. You already created a new feature branch starting from our dev branch and commited your changes. Finally, you publish you local branch via a push to your GitHub repository: git push -u origin <yourLocalBranchName>

Now let’s start a review. Open the GitHub homepage, go to your repository and switch to your pushed feature branch. Select the green compare & review button. Now compare the changes between your feature branch and our dev.

Everything looks good? Submit it as a pull request (link in the header). Please take the time to write an extensive description.

  • What did you implement and why?

  • Is there an open issue that you try to address (please link it)?

  • Do not be afraid to add images!

The description of the pull request is essential and will be referred to in the change log of the next release.

Please consider to change only one aspect per pull request (do not be afraid of follow-up pull requests!). For example, submit a pull request with a bug fix, another one with new math implementations and the last one with a new awesome implementation that needs both of them. You will see, that speeds up review time a lot!

Speaking of those, a fruitful ( wuhu, we love you - don’t be scared ) discussion about your submitted change set will start at this point. If we find some things you could improve ( That looks awesome, all right! ), simply change your local feature branch and push the changes back to your GitHub repository, to update the pull request. (You can now rebase follow-up branches, too.)

One of our maintainers will pick up the pull request to coordinate the review. Other regular developers that are competent in the topic might assist.

Sharing is caring! Thank you for participating, you are great!

maintainer notes

  • do not push to the main repository on a regular basis, use pull request for your features like everyone else

  • never do a rebase on the mainline repositories (this causes heavy problems for everyone who pulls them)

  • on the other hand try to use pull –rebase to avoid merge commits (in your local/topic branches only)

  • do not vote on your own pull requests, wait for the other maintainers

  • we try to follow the strategy of a-successful-git-branching-model

Last but not least, has a very nice FAQ section.

More best practices.

Commit Rules

See our commit rules page

Test Suite Examples

You know a useful setting to validate our provided methods? Tell us about it or add it to our test sets in the examples/ folder!