Development Walk-through#

This section is a concise overview of the Sage development process. We will see how to make changes to the Sage source code and record them in the Git revision control system.

In the sections of the following chapter Working on GitHub, we will look at communicating these changes back to the Sage project. All changes to Sage source code have to go through the Sage repository on GitHub.

For examples, we assume your name Alice. Always replace it with your own name.

Checking Git#

First, open a shell (for instance, Terminal on Mac) and check that Git works:

[alice@localhost ~]$ git
usage: git [--version] [--help] [-C <path>] [-c name=value]
The most commonly used git commands are:
   add        Add file contents to the index
   tag        Create, list, delete or verify a tag object signed with GPG

'git help -a' and 'git help -g' lists available subcommands and some
concept guides. See 'git help <command>' or 'git help <concept>'
to read about a specific subcommand or concept.

Don’t worry about the giant list of subcommands. You really only need a handful of them for effective development, and we will walk you through them in this guide. If you got a “command not found” error, then you don’t have Git installed; now is the time to install it. See Installing Git for instructions.

Because we also track who does what changes with Git, you must tell Git how you want to be known. Check if Git knows you:

[alice@localhost ~]$ git config --global
Alice Adventure
[alice@localhost ~]$ git config --global
[email protected]

If you have multiple computers, then use the same name on each of them. This name/email combination ends up in commits. So if it’s not set yet, do it now before you forget! This only needs to be done once. See Configuring Git for instructions.

Obtaining the Sage source code#

Obviously one needs the Sage source code to develop. You can use your local installation of Sage, or (to start from scratch) download it from our Sage repository on GitHub:

[alice@localhost ~]$ git clone --origin upstream
Cloning into 'sage'...
Checking connectivity... done.

This creates a directory named sage containing the sources for the current stable and development releases of Sage. You next need to switch to the develop branch (latest development release):

[alice@localhost ~]$ cd sage
[alice@localhost sage]$ git checkout develop

Next, build Sage, following the instruction in the file in SAGE_ROOT. If all prerequisites to build are in place, the commands ./configure && make -j4 will do it. Additional details can be found in the section on installation from source in the Sage installation guide. If you wish to use conda-forge, see the section on conda.


macOS allows changing directories without using exact capitalization. Beware of this convenience when compiling for macOS. Ignoring exact capitalization when changing into SAGE_ROOT can lead to build errors for dependencies requiring exact capitalization in path names.

Branching out#

In order to start modifying Sage, we want to make a new branch in the local Sage repo. A branch is a copy (except that it doesn’t take up twice the space) of the Sage source code where you can store your modifications to the Sage source code (and which you can push to your fork of the Sage repository on GitHub).

To begin with, type the command git branch. You will see the following:

[alice@localhost sage]$ git branch
* develop

The asterisk shows you which branch you are on. Without an argument, the git branch command displays a list of all local branches with the current one marked by an asterisk.

It is easy to create a new branch. First make sure you are on the branch from which you want to branch out. That is, if you are not currently on the develop branch, type the command git checkout develop:

[alice@localhost sage]$ git checkout develop
Switched to branch 'develop'
Your branch is up-to-date with 'origin/develop'.

Then use the git branch command to create a new branch, as follows:

[alice@localhost sage]$ git branch last_twin_prime

Also note that git branch creates a new branch, but does not switch to it. For this, you have to use git checkout:

[alice@localhost sage]$ git checkout last_twin_prime
Switched to branch 'last_twin_prime'

Now if you use the command git branch, you will see the following:

[alice@localhost sage]$ git branch
* last_twin_prime

Note that unless you explicitly push a branch to a remote Git repository, the branch is a local branch that is only on your computer and not visible to anyone else.

To avoid typing the new branch name twice you can use the shortcut git checkout -b last_twin_prime develop to create and switch to the new branch based on develop in one command.

The history#

It is always a good idea to check that you are making your edits on the branch that you think you are on. The following command shows you the topmost commit in detail, including its changes to files:

[alice@localhost sage]$ git show

To dig deeper, you can inspect the log:

[alice@localhost sage]$ git log

By default, this lists all commits in reverse chronological order.

  • If you find your branch to be in the wrong place, see the Reset and recovery section.

  • Many tools are available to help you visualize the history tree better. For instance, tig is a very nice text-mode tool.

Editing the source code#

Once you have your own branch, feel free to make any changes to source files as you like. The chapter Writing Code for Sage explains how your code should look like to fit into Sage, and how we ensure high code quality throughout.

The Git command git status is probably the most important of all Git commands. It tells you which files changed, and how to continue with recording the changes:

[alice@localhost sage]$ git status
On branch last_twin_prime
Changes not staged for commit:
  (use "git add <file>..." to update what will be committed)
  (use "git checkout -- <file>..." to discard changes in working directory)

    modified:   src/sage/primes/

Untracked files:
  (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)


no changes added to commit (use "git add" and/or "git commit -a")

To dig deeper into what was changed in the files you can use:

[alice@localhost sage]$ git diff

to show you the differences.

Rebuilding Sage#

Once you have made any changes, you of course want to build Sage and try out your edits. As long as you only modified the Sage library (that is, Python and Cython files under src/sage/...) you just have to run:

[alice@localhost sage]$ ./sage -br

to rebuild the Sage library and then start Sage.


All changes to Python files take effect immediately after restarting Sage (unless you have used ./configure --disable-editable when you built Sage). Hence you can just start Sage instead of ./sage -br if only Python files were modified.

If you made changes to third-party packages installed as part of Sage, then you have to run

[alice@localhost sage]$ make build

as if you were installing Sage from scratch. However, this time only, the packages which were changed (or which depend on a changed package) will be rebuilt, so it should be much faster than building Sage the first time.


If you have pulled a branch from the GitHub Sage repository, it may depend on changes to third-party packages, so ./sage -br may fail. If this happens (and you believe the code in this branch should compile), try running make build.

Rarely there are conflicts with other packages, or with the already-installed older version of the package that you changed, in that case you do have to recompile everything using:

[alice@localhost sage]$ make distclean && make build

Also, don’t forget to run the tests (see Running Sage’s Doctests) and build the documentation (see The Sage Manuals).


If you switch between branches based on different releases, the timestamps of modified files will change. This triggers recythonization and recompilation of modified files on subsequent builds, whether or not you have made any additional changes to files. To minimize the impact of switching between branches, install ccache using the command

[alice@localhost sage]$ ./sage -i ccache

Recythonization will still occur when rebuilding, but the recompilation stage first checks whether previously compiled files are cached for reuse before compiling them again. This saves considerable time rebuilding.

Making commits#

Whenever you have reached your goal, a milestone towards it, or just feel like you got some work done you should commit your changes. A commit is just a snapshot of the state of all files in the repository.

Unlike with some other revision control programs, in Git you first need to stage the changed files, which tells Git which files you want to be part of the next commit:

[alice@localhost sage]$ git status
# On branch my_branch
# Untracked files:
#   (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)
#       src/sage/primes/
nothing added to commit but untracked files present (use "git add" to track)

[alice@localhost sage]$ git add src/sage/primes/
[alice@localhost sage]$ git status
# On branch my_branch
# Changes to be committed:
#   (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)
#   new file:   src/sage/primes/

Once you are satisfied with the list of staged files, you create a new snapshot with the git commit command:

[alice@localhost sage]$ git commit
... editor opens ...
[my_branch 31331f7] Added the very important foobar text file
 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+)
  create mode 100644 foobar.txt

This will open an editor for you to write your commit message. The commit message should generally have a one-line description, followed by an empty line, followed by further explanatory text:

Added the last twin prime

This is an example commit message. You see there is a one-line
summary followed by more detailed description, if necessary.

You can then continue working towards your next milestone, make another commit, repeat until finished. As long as you do not git checkout another branch, all commits that you make will be part of the branch that you created.