Development Workflow

This guide describes the development workflow for Amara.

Creating issues

Please follow these guidelines when creating issues, to ensure that they are easy to implement:

  • Do a quick search to check for any existing issues before creating a new one.
  • Make sure the title clearly and succinctly captures the issue at hand
  • For bugs, describe the steps needed to reproduce the problem and what the correct behavior is.
  • Try to describe the severity of the issue. Who is it affecting? How bad is the current behavior, etc.

Branches / Repositories

The production branch is what gets deployed to our production server. It’s what gets deployed to production server. The staging branch is deployed just before the production as a test run. It also is used by some of our partners to test with non-live data. The dev branch is our main branch, and is continuously deployed whenever there’s a new commit.

Commits should almost never be made directly to production or staging and only trivial commits should be made to dev. Instead, Amara development tries to follow a “one branch per feature or bugfix” workflow (See Workflow)

When should you create a new branch?

  • Most issues should have a single branch created for them
  • When you are touching the same code in several issues, and/or when the functionality of the issues seem to be too dependent on each other to work, use a single branch for all issues
  • Also consider using a single branch for multiple issues if the testing is going to be the same for both.

As you work on your topic branch, other branches may have been merged into dev by other people. Make sure you merge staging back to your branch as often as possible to keep it up-to-date.

Git Submodules

The unisubs code contains several submodules that point to other repositories:

Initial checkout

Before you can run Amara, you need to check out the submodules. Use the checkout-submodules script to do this. There are two modes:

  • checkout-submodules public – checkout the public submodules. Use this if you are a member of the public.
  • checkout-submodules all – checkout the all submodules. Use this if you are a PCF employee with access to the private submodules.

Braches and submodules

We use the following strategy to deal with branches:

  • Always create a branch on the unisubs repo, even if the only code changes are in other repositories.
  • If you need to change code in another repository, then create a branch there as well. The name should match the branch name in unisubs.
  • If you create a commit in a submodule, make sure to also add a commit in unisubs to track the changes. You can use the dev bump command to automate this in simple cases.

Switching branches

Use the dev switch [branch-name] command to switch branches. This command checks out the branch on unisubs, and also any submodules if needed.


At a minimum, make sure you run the tests after your changes and ensure that all tests pass.

If possible, use test driven development. Write new tests that cover the issue you’re working on before you start any code. Write code that makes the test pass. Then consider refactoring code to fix the problem in a cleaner way.

Exception Logging

When catching exceptions, be sure to log these with a descriptive message and the stacktrace. Exceptions should be caught whenever it’s necessary for flow control, an exception is expected, or where user input may cause unexpected behavior (such as forms). In the case where a caught exception is an expected part of flow control, such as making an invalid choice in a form, logging isn’t necessary and doesn’t need to be included.

As an example, here is a function that logs exceptions:

def foo(self, a, b):
        self.do_something(a, b)
    except InvalidChoiceError:
        self.invalid_choice_count += 1
    except ValueError:
        logger.error("Invalid input type in", exc_info=True)
    except Exception:
        logger.error("General exception in foo()", exc_info=True)

Code Review

When a developer makes a pull request, they move the issue to Needs Review and finds another developer to review their pull request. The reviewing developer needs to make sure that the code doesn’t introduce any new bugs or security vulnerabilities, and uses existing naming and style conventions. If everything looks good, the reviewer approves the pull requests and merges, and moves the issue to Dev. If not, they comment or request changes on the branch.


We use zenhub for project management. It’s basically a chrome extension that adds a kanban-like board to github. You can get it from

Zenhub adds a pipeline field to github issues. We use this field to track the current status of work on the issue. We use the following pipelines:

  • Icebox – Issues that have been deprioritized, or are inside an Epic to be scheduled later
  • Discovery – Issues that need to be triaged further and/or prioritized
  • Backlog – Prioritized issues waiting to be assigned for a sprint
  • To Do – Issues assigned to a developer and a specific sprint (usually the current one), that a developer hasn’t started yet
  • In Progress – Issues that a developer is currently working on
  • Testing – Issue that a developer believes to be handled and needs testing to verify the fix
  • Needs PR – Issue that has been verified by tester, waiting for developer to make PR
  • Needs Review – Issues with pull requests made that need to be reviewed by another developer
  • Dev – issues that have been merged to the branch
  • Ready to Deploy– issues on are moved here by QA once dev branch has been smoke tested and is ready to deploy to production
  • Closed – QA moves issues here once production is deployed, and shares release notes with copywriter who creates an entry for the Changelog

Here’s the workflow for a typical issue:

  • Prep work
    • Someone creates a github issue that captures the bug/feature and puts it in the Discovery pipeline
    • The issue is prioritized in the Backlog pipeline
  • Initial development
    • A developer creates topic branches for both the unisubs and amara-enterprise repositories to handle the issue. The branches should be named after its repository and issue number (e.g. gh-enterprise-1234 or gh-unisubs-5678 would be branches for github issue 1234 in the amara-enterprise repo and github issue 5678 in the unisubs repo, respectively). Changes for the issue get commited to these branches.
    • Once development on the issue is complete, developer moves the issue to the Testing pipeline and adds any relevant notes for testing to the issue. The developer also makes sure the requirements are updated on the issue description, and leaves any additional notes there that should be considered for Changelog entries on the blog.
  • Testing
    • Tester tests the changes.
    • If there are problems, tester notes them on the issue and moves it back to In progress.
    • Developer fixes the problems, adds a note to the issue, moves it back to Testing, and we start testing again
    • Finally, tester approves the changes, and moves issue to Needs PR for developer to make a pull request
  • Review
    • Developer merges any new code from dev/master back into the topic branches
    • Developer creates a pull request in the unisubs repository
    • A second developer reviews the code
    • If there are issues, the developer #2 adds comments to the PR and works with developer #1 to resolve them
    • Once developer #2 thinks the code is ready, they merge the PR and move the issue to Dev
    • If the code touches our submodule repositories (amara-entperprise, amara-assets, etc), then developer #1 should merge the changes back to master
    • Once we decide that dev is ready to be deployed to production, we will merge the dev branch to the staging branch, then staging to production and deploy
  • Deploy - We try to deploy new code every week. Usually this happens on a Wednesday. - We first deploy dev, tester does a check to see if things are okay, then deploy to staging and then production - Once production is deployed, tester closes all issues in Dev