This post is a discovery report written by Coder55 and slightly edited for publication. It’s part of a series of candid essays written by Google Code-in students, outlining their first steps as members of the Wikimedia technical community. You can write your own.


I’m a 17-year-old boy from Germany interested in computer science. I write my own little programs in PHP, Python and Java and have even produced some Android apps. I completed a Python course in three days, and now I’m using Python to solve math problems. I heard about Google Code-in on a German news site for young people interested in computer science.

Account creation and language selection

The instructions for Google Code-in students were easy to understand, even for people who aren’t so good in English. After that, I created an account on mediawiki.org. The registration form looked modern; I wanted to take the user name ‘Coder55’, but it was already taken so an account creation error was displayed. The text I typed in for password and email were deleted after the error; maybe it could be saved in a session variable and written into the text fields via JavaScript.

After registering and logging in, I saw many different options in the top line. It was easy to change the language and to read my welcome message. Maybe the button with the text ‘log out’ could be replaced by a logout button with a little picture, to make the top line smaller and even easier to understand.

After that, I changed the language to German and Spanish because I wanted to see how much of the site had been translated. I was quite disappointed that only the top menu was completely translated. The left sidebar was not completely translated, even though many important links can be found there, like one to the Main Page. I was also surprised that the language of the content on the page didn’t change after I changed my language options: if I’m on the Main Page and I change the language to German, I still see the Main Page in English, although the left menu has partially changed to German. This puzzled me until I found out I had to click on ‘Hauptseite’, ‘Página principal’ etc. to see the Main Page in another language.

How to become a MediaWiki hacker

I am really interested in Developing, so the next thing I did was visiting the How to become a MediaWiki hacker page, where I found interesting tutorials that explained how to develop something on the MediaWiki platform. The page was clearly arranged and I really liked it. It clearly separated the required abilities (PHP, MySQL e.g.) and made it easy to see where I needed to learn something and where I already knew enough. The ‘Get started’ part was particularly helpful: I could start quite fast extending MediaWiki.

One thing that was missing for someone like me: example code of a really easy extension. Although all the aspects of developing are explained in detail in the Developing manual, seeing those easy extensions requires to follow several links; it would be really helpful for beginners to include and explain one or two of these examples in the manual.

I had already been programming some little programs in PHP (chat server, forum etc.) so the next thing I did was to study MediaWiki’s coding conventions; they were explained clearly and were easy to understand. The ‘C borrowings’ part was really interesting.

Around MediaWiki: API, bugzilla, git and Wikitech

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the video on the API page very helpful. The pictures were blinking and the voices hard to understand. But the rest of the API documentation was really informative and easy enough to understand.

After that, I looked at the “Development” section of the left sidebar. I visited the Bugzilla overview, and then the actual site. I really liked the idea of Bugzilla, where every developer can see where help is needed. However, if you don’t know specifically, what to look for, the search function in Bugzilla isn’t very helpful[Note 1].

I then clicked on the link called ‘browse repository’. I was positively surprised by what the site looked like. I especially liked the possibility to see which parts of MediaWiki had been just updated. I also took a look at at Wikitech; The Main Page looked really similar to Wikipedia and MediaWiki, so it seemed easy to navigate.

The Pre-Commit Checklist

On the next day, I read about how to install and configure MediaWiki. The documentation was clear and easy to read, but I didn’t understand all of it, probably because I’m more interested in developing than in hosting.

Following this, I looked into more details about developing at the Developer hub. I had already studied the coding conventions, so I started reading the Pre-Commit Checklist.

This checklist contained many questions, but for someone like me who hasn’t already uploaded code there, they are partially not understandable. The part about Testing was clearer for me because it was explained a little bit more. Maybe the questions in the checklist should be written in a little more detail, or some of the difficult words should be converted into links.

I liked having an overview over all conventions at the bottom of the page. I could easily navigate to another convention list, like the coding conventions for JavaScript. These conventions were explained in detail and with clear examples. I especially liked the part about whitespace where many rules have been written clearly and concisely.

In conclusion

MediaWiki is a very interesting platform and although some things are not perfect (e.g. translation or registering form), it is easy to join the community. The most active contributors are accessible on IRC, which makes communication easier. After discovering the technical world of MediaWiki, I’m really interested in getting involved into the community, although that will need to wait until I finish school.

Coder55
2013 Google Code-in student


  1. Editor’s note: Bugzilla has since been upgraded, and its main page now features common search queries.

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