Git is a popular, open-source distributed version control system, commonly used with GitHub as a convenient central host of repositories, along with wiki documentation, pull request management and issue tracking. Several W3C groups are using GitHub infrastructure for specification and test authoring workflows. Below we include some suggested steps for getting started and answers to some frequently asked questions about using GitHub for W3C spec work.

Getting Started

Informal drafts in your personal account

Getting started individually obviously doesn't require any approval process. Create an informal draft (using ReSpec makes it easy) by starting a new repository with your personal GitHub account. We strongly recommend one repository per document, unless you really know why you're doing it differently.

You can just publish HTML as you normally would simply by setting up GitHub Pages to use the default branch, master.

NB: GitHub Pages can serve content off of one branch and one directory only — if your repo is hosting different specs, or different versions of the same spec, you will have to either cram all those documents into that branch/directory (and adapt your workflow around that file structure) or serve your pages in a different way (eg, setting your own web server or using some kind of hosting provider; see below “third-party tool”).

Hosting a repository within the w3c organisation

W3C projects include W3C staff selected projects as well as W3C Working (Interest) Group projects. It is possible that we decide to assess other group's requests to host a given repository. In any case, a prerequisite would be identifying the owner(s) either by name or by e-mail address. Refer to the Guidebook for Community Groups for more information.

  1. Your Team Contact should become (if they're not already) a part of the Owners Team of the W3C organisation. (Ask any of the current owners directly, or ask on &sysreq. This is only for W3C Staff.)
  2. If there is no GitHub team roughly matching the group that will be pushing to that repository, the Team Contact should create a new team for the editors who will be contributing to the document, and give that team push and pull access.
  3. W3C staff (or Team Contacts of the group) create a new repository for each document (each deliverable, it can of course contain multiple resources). Add each such repository to the GitHub team so that the contributors all have push access. Other people can suggest changes by submitting pull requests (in fact, editors can do that too to enable reviewing before commits, if desired), but not every contributor will be given direct commit access.

Detailed steps for staff contacts to create a repo

The preferred way to create new repositories is by using the W3C Repository Manager, in particular this page: labs.w3.org/repo-manager/repo/new.

Follow the instructions below only if for some reason you can't use the W3C Repository Manager for this.

  1. Let's say you're working on the unicorn spec. You head to https://github.com/new (which is linked as "New repository" from the home page). Under Owner you pick "w3c" (which you should have access to, if not ask someone on IRC) and under repo name you pick "unicorn". Enter a description, keep it public, initialise with a README, don't pick a .gitignore or a license.
  2. If you need to create a new team, go to https://github.com/organizations/w3c/teams/new. Give the team a name ("Unicorn Editors") and grant them "Push & Pull" (no need for admin). Save the team. Under "Members", just start typing the user names for the editors, you'll get a drop down suggesting people. Once you've added them all, under repository start typing "unicorn" and you should see w3c/unicorn listed. Pick that.
  3. That will give you a https://github.com/w3c/unicorn with fully configured access.

W3C Integration

Github and W3C mailing list

To have notification to the mail list at opening of new bugs/issues and modification of existing ones from GitHub, you may use the github notification solution designed by Dominique Hazael-Massieux.

Contributor Management

If you wish to accept pull requests from potentially arbitrary contributors but you need to ensure that they have signed up to the IPR terms, see the Contributor Management section.


How do we ensure archiving of work done on GitHub?

As usual, publication of Working Drafts and Recommendations into w3.org/TR/ will be done by your Group by copying snapshots which satisfy pubrules into the appropriate space, with W3C-guaranteed archiving.

Because Git itself decentralises archiving of every change (every user clones all history), backups of version history of Git repositories are straightforward (since in fact every user of the repository has a backup). A specific tool to maintain a full backup of the W3C organisation is being developed, called gh-backup.

Content that is not part of the repositories themselves (issues, wikis, pull requests, etc.) are backed up as events to the Pheme system (for the whole organisation). A Pheme instance is currently running in beta; and some of the recent events can be viewed in the Midgard instance. The full data can be made exploitable as it is all sorted and indexable.

When should we use Git/GitHub as opposed to w3.org-hosted CVS or Mercurial?

It's up to your group to decide, but using anything other than git is generally considered cruel and unusual. You can use git without using GitHub of course, but GitHub tends to be where a group's community resides which makes it easier to get contributions. Also, a lot of the W3C's more recent tooling assumes GitHub.

What about serving specs using a third-party tool?

In the past, some groups used RawGit to serve their HTML documents with the appropriate MIME type. That service is now defunct.

Nowadays, we suggest Staticaly for the same purpose, with the caveat that it is just a recommendation that comes with no support nor guarantee, since we do not control the service.

Should we use GitHub for issue management too?

Issue-management tooling is entirely up to groups to choose. That being said, the same notes apply as for the previous question: if you wish to communicate with a broader community, GitHub is usually the better option.

How do we manage IPR with specs authored on GitHub?

In general, in the same way as for any other contribution intake mechanism. GitHub only tends to be singled out because it often leads to more contributions.

See Contributor Management for a tool that is available to automate that process.

What shall I do about trolls and spam on GitHub?

GitHub staff are usually quick to respond to spam or uncivic behaviour on their platform. When a particular GitHub account is repeatedly causing trouble in a W3C repository, a good first step is to report the account to GitHub. To do so, go to that user's profile page (eg, https://github.com/supertroll), click “Block or report user”, and then “Report abuse”. If after a while the account is not suspended by GitHub and spam persists, it is possible to block the account to prevent all interaction with the repository in the future. (Write W3C's sysreq if you don't have permissions to block the account yourself.)