VTK-m  2.0
Contributing to VTK-m

This page documents how to develop VTK-m through Git.

Git is an extremely powerful version control tool that supports many different "workflows" for individual development and collaboration. Here we document procedures used by the VTK-m development community. In the interest of simplicity and brevity we do not provide an explanation of why we use this approach.


Before you begin, perform initial setup:

  1. Register GitLab Access to create an account and select a user name.
  2. Fork VTK-m into your user's namespace on GitLab.
  3. Use Git to create a local clone of the main VTK repository:

    $ git clone https://gitlab.kitware.com/vtk/vtk-m.git
    $ cd vtk-m

    The main repository will be configured as your origin remote.

  4. Run the developer setup script to prepare your VTK-m work tree and create Git command aliases used below:

    $ ./Utilities/SetupForDevelopment.sh

    This will prompt for your GitLab user name and configure a remote called gitlab to refer to it.

  5. (Optional but highly recommended.) Register with the VTK-m dashboard on Kitware's CDash instance to better know how your code performs in regression tests. After registering and signing in, click on "All Dashboards" link in the upper left corner, scroll down and click "Subscribe to this project" on the right of VTK-m.
  6. (Optional but highly recommended.) Sign up for the VTK-m mailing list to communicate with other developers and users.


VTK-m development uses a branchy workflow based on topic branches. Our collaboration workflow consists of three main steps:

  1. Local Development:
  2. Code Review (requires GitLab Access):
  3. Integrate Changes:


  1. Update your local master branch:
    $ git checkout master
    $ git pull
  2. Optionally push master to your fork in GitLab:
    $ git push gitlab master

Create a Topic

All new work must be committed on topic branches. Name topics like you might name functions: concise but precise. A reader should have a general idea of the feature or fix to be developed given just the branch name.

  1. To start a new topic branch:
    $ git fetch origin
  2. For new development, start the topic from origin/master:
    $ git checkout -b my-topic origin/master
  3. Edit files and create commits (repeat as needed):

    $ edit file1 file2 file3
    $ git add file1 file2 file3
    $ git commit


    • Data files must be placed under a folder explicitly named 'data'. This is required as VTK-m uses Git-LFS to efficiently support data files.
  4. If you are adding a new feature or making sigificant changes to API, make sure to add a entry to docs/changelog. This allows release notes to properly capture all relevant changes.

Guidelines for Commit Messages

Remember to motivate & summarize. When writing commit messages. Get into the habit of creating messages that have enough information for any developer to read and glean relevant information such as:

  1. Is this change important and why?
  2. If addressing an issue, which issue(s)?
  3. If a new feature, why is it useful and/or necessary?
  4. Are there background references or documentation?

A short description of what the issue being addressed and how will go a long way towards making the log more readable and the software more maintainable. VTK-m requires that your message start with a single subject line, followed by a blank line, followed by the message body which contains the more detailed explanatory text for the commit. You can consider a commit message to very similar to an email with the first line being the subject of an email and the rest of the text as the body.

Style guidelines for commit messages are as follows:

  1. Separate subject from body with a blank line
  2. Limit the subject line to 78 characters
  3. Capitalize the subject line
  4. Use the imperative mood in the subject line e.g. "Refactor foo" or "Fix Issue #12322", instead of "Refactoring foo", or "Fixing issue #12322".
  5. Wrap the body at 80 characters
  6. Use the body to explain what and why and if applicable a brief how.

Share a Topic

When a topic is ready for review and possible inclusion, share it by pushing to a fork of your repository in GitLab. Be sure you have registered and signed in for GitLab Access and created your fork by visiting the main VTK-m GitLab repository page and using the "Fork" button in the upper right.

  1. Checkout the topic if it is not your current branch:
    $ git checkout my-topic
  2. Push commits in your topic branch to your fork in GitLab:

    $ git gitlab-push


    • If you are revising a previously pushed topic and have rewritten the topic history, add -f or --force to overwrite the destination.
    • The gitlab-push script also pushes the master branch to your fork in GitLab to keep it in sync with the upstream master.
    • If you have created or modified Git-LFS files, you will need to push them separately using git lfs push --all origin. You will need developer access to the VTK-m repository do this. If you do not have developer access, ask the VTK-m group for help.

    The output will include a link to the topic branch in your fork in GitLab and a link to a page for creating a Merge Request.

Create a Merge Request

When you pushed your topic branch, it will provide you with a url of the form


You can copy/paste that into your web browser to create a new merge request. Alternately, you can visit your fork in GitLab, browse to the "**Merge Requests**" link on the left, and use the "**New Merge Request**" button in the upper right.

Once at the create merge request page, follow these steps. Many of these will be filled out for you.

  1. In the "**Source branch**" box select the <username>/vtk-m repository and the my-topic branch.
  2. In the "**Target branch**" box select the vtk/vtk-m repository and the master branch. It should be the default.
  3. Use the "**Compare branches**" button to proceed to the next page and fill out the merge request creation form.
  4. In the "**Title**" field provide a one-line summary of the entire topic. This will become the title of the Merge Request.

    Example Merge Request Title:

    Add OpenMP Device Adapter
  5. In the "**Description**" field provide a high-level description of the change the topic makes and any relevant information about how to try it.

    • Use @username syntax to draw attention of specific developers. This syntax may be used anywhere outside literal text and code blocks. Or, wait until the next step and add comments to draw attention of developers.
    • Optionally use a fenced code block with type message to specify text to be included in the generated merge commit message when the topic is merged.

    Example Merge Request Description:

    This branch adds a new device adapter that uses new OpenMP 4+ features
    including Task groups to better handle unbalanced and irregular domains
    Add a OpenMP 4+ task-based device adapter.
    Cc: @user1 @user2
  6. The "**Assign to**", "**Milestone**", and "**Labels**" fields may be left blank.
  7. Enable the "**Allow commits from members who can merge to the target branch.**" option, so that reviewers can modify the merge request. This allows reviewers to change minor style issues without overwhelming the author with change requests.
  1. Use the "**Submit merge request**" button to create the merge request and visit its page.

Guidelines for Merge Requests

Remember to motivate & summarize. When creating a merge request, consider the reviewers and future perusers of the software. Provide enough information to motivate the merge request such as:

  1. Is this merge request important and why?
  2. If addressing an issue, which issue(s)?
  3. If a new feature, why is it useful and/or necessary?
  4. Are there background references or documentation?

Also provide a summary statement expressing what you did and if there is a choice in implementation or design pattern, the rationale for choosing a certain path. Notable software or data features should be mentioned as well.

A well written merge request will motivate your reviewers, and bring them up to speed faster. Future software developers will be able to understand the reasons why something was done, and possibly avoid chasing down dead ends, Although it may take you a little more time to write a good merge request, you’ll likely see payback in faster reviews and better understood and maintainable software.

Review a Merge Request

Add comments mentioning specific developers using @username syntax to draw their attention and have the topic reviewed. After typing @ and some text, GitLab will offer completions for developers whose real names or user names match.

Comments use GitLab Flavored Markdown for formatting. See GitLab documentation on Special GitLab References to add links to things like merge requests and commits in other repositories.


Reviewers may add comments providing feedback or to acknowledge their approval. All comments use the GitLab Flavored Markdown, any line of a comment may be exactly one of the following votes followed by nothing but whitespace before the end of the line:

  • -1 or :-1: (:-1:) means "The change is not ready for integration."
  • +1 or :+1: (:+1:) means "The change is ready for integration."

These are used to inform the author that a merge srequest has been approved for merging.

Fetching Changes

One may fetch the changes associated with a merge request by using the git fetch command line shown at the top of the Merge Request page. It is of the form:

$ git fetch https://gitlab.kitware.com/$username/vtk-m.git $branch

This updates the local FETCH_HEAD to refer to the branch.

There are a few options for checking out the changes in a work tree:

  • One may checkout the branch:

    $ git checkout FETCH_HEAD -b $branch

    or checkout the commit without creating a local branch:

    $ git checkout FETCH_HEAD
  • Or, one may cherry-pick the commits to minimize rebuild time:
    $ git cherry-pick ..FETCH_HEAD

Robot Reviews

The "Kitware Robot" automatically performs basic checks on the commits and adds a comment acknowledging or rejecting the topic. This will be repeated automatically whenever the topic is updated. A re-check may be explicitly requested by adding a comment with a single trailing line:

Do: check

A topic cannot be merged until the automatic review succeeds.


Each time a merge request is created or updated automated testing is automatically triggered, and shows up under the pipeline tab.

Developers can track the status of the pipeline for a merge request by using the Pipeline tab on a merge request or by clicking on stage icons as shown below:

alt text

When trying to diagnose why a build or tests stage has failed it generally is easier to look at the pruned information reported on VTK-m's CDash Dashboard. To make it easier to see only the results for a given merge request you can click the cdash link under the external stage ( rightmost pipeline stage icon )

alt text

In addition to the gitlab pipelines the buildbot user (@buildbot) will respond with a comment linking to the CDash results when it schedules builds.

The builds for VTK-m that show up as part of the external stage of the gitlab pipeline are driven via buildbot, and have a different workflow. When you need to do things such as retry a build, you must issue commands via comments of the following form. The buildbot user (@buildbot) will respond signify that the command has been executed

Do: test

The Do: test command accepts the following arguments:

  • --oneshot only build the current hash of the branch; updates will not be built using this command
  • --stop clear the list of commands for the merge request
  • --superbuild build the superbuilds related to the project
  • --clear clear previous commands before adding this command
  • --regex-include <arg> or -i <arg> only build on builders matching <arg> (a Python regular expression)
  • --regex-exclude <arg> or -e <arg> excludes builds on builders matching <arg> (a Python regular expression)

Multiple Do: test commands may be given in separate comments. Buildbot may skip tests for older branch updates that have not started before a test for a new update is requested.

Build names always follow this pattern:

  • SHA: The shortened 8-digit SHA identifying the git commit being tested
  • build: build#### with #### replaced by a unique number for the build
  • os: one of windows, osx, or linux
  • libtype: shared or static
  • buildtype: release or debug
  • feature: alphabetical list of features enabled for the build
  • topic: the git topic branch being tested

Reformat a Topic

The "Kitware Robot" automatically performs basic code formatting on the commits and adds a comment acknowledging or rejecting a merge request based on the format. You may request "Kitware Robot" to automatically reformat the remote copy of your branch by issuing the following command in a merge request page comment:

Do: reformat

This reformatting of the topic rewrites the commits to fix the formatting errors, and causes the version on the developers machine to differ from version on the gitlab server. To resolve this issue you must update the local version to match the reformatted one on the server if you wish to extend or revise the topic.

  1. Checkout the topic if it is not your current branch: $ git checkout my-topic
  2. Get the new version from gitlab
    $ git gitlab-sync

If you do not wish to have the "Kitware Robot" automatically reformat your branch you can do so manually by running clang-format manually on each commit of your branch. This must be done by revising each commit not as new commits onto the end of the branch.

Revise a Topic

Revising a topic is a special way to modify the commits within a topic. Normally during a review of a merge request a developer will resolve issues brought up during review by adding more commits to the topic. While this is sufficient for most issues, some issues can only be resolved by rewriting the history of the topic.

Starting Revisions

Regardless of what revisions need to be made, you first must make sure that your topic is the current branch. To make your topic branch current:

$ git checkout my-topic

(As always, you can get the current branch with the git status command.)

A common need for revisions is to update your topic branch to the latest version of VTK-m. Even if you a revising your topic branch for some other reason, also updating to the latest master is usually not a bad idea. To update to the latest commit in master, you need to make sure that the latest commit is in your local repository. To do that run

$ git pull-master

Make Local Revisions

The easiest way to make changes to the commits on your topic branch is to rebase it to the master branch:

$ git rebase -i master

When you run this command, git will open your text editor with a list of all the commits that will be changed. The first word of each lines indicates a command for that commit. By default, all commits are picked, which means that they will be simply passed without change.

If you need to revise the commit message of one of the commits, then replace pick with reword (or just r). When the rebase starts, a new editor will be provided to let you change the commit message.

If you need to make changes to files within a commit, then replace pick with edit (or just e). When the rebase gets to this commit, it will pause to let you make changes to the files.

If you need to merge commits together, use the squash (or s) command. The rebase will give you a change to edit the commit message of the merged commit.

Once you exit your editor, the rebase will begin. If you have requested to edit any commits or if git detects a conflict while applying a commit, it will stop running so that you can make changes. Make the changes you need, use git add to stage those changes, and then use

$ git rebase --continue

to have git continue the rebase process. You can always run git status to get help about what to do next.

Push to GitLab

To push commits in your topic branch to your fork in GitLab:

$ git gitlab-push -f

Note: You need have the -f or --force to overwrite the destination as you are revising a previously pushed topic and have rewritten the topic history.

Merge a Topic

After a topic has been reviewed and approved in a GitLab Merge Request, authorized developers may add a comment with a single trailing line:

Do: merge

to ask that the change be merged into the upstream repository. By convention, only merge if you have received +1 . Do not request a merge if any -1 review comments have not been resolved.

Merge Success

If the merge succeeds the topic will appear in the upstream repository master branch and the Merge Request will be closed automatically.

Merge Failure

If the merge fails (likely due to a conflict), a comment will be added describing the failure. In the case of a conflict, fetch the latest upstream history and rebase on it:

$ git fetch origin
$ git rebase origin/master

Return to the above step to share the revised topic.

Fixing Problems

There are a lot of instructions in this document, and if you are not familiar with contributing to VTK-m, you may get your repository in a bad state that will cause problems with the other instructions. This section attempts to capture common problems contributors have and the fixes for them.

Wrong origin Remote

The VTK-m contribution workflow assumes that your origin remote is attached to the main VTK-m GitLab repository. If it is not, that will cause problems with updating your repository. To check which remote repository origin refers to, run

$ git remote -v

It will give you a list of remotes and their URLs that you have configured. If you have a line like

origin  https://gitlab.kitware.com/vtk/vtk-m.git (fetch)


origin  git@gitlab.kitware.com:vtk/vtk-m.git (fetch)

then everything is OK. If it is anything else (for example, it has your GitLab username in it), then you have a problem. Fortunately, you can fix it by simply changing the remote's URL:

$ git remote set-url origin https://gitlab.kitware.com/vtk/vtk-m.git

If you had to change the origin remote, you should also rerun Utilities/SetupForDevelopment.sh to make sure the other remotes are set up correctly.

master Not Tracking origin

The instructions in this document assume that your master branch is tracking the remote master branch at origin (which, as specified above, should be the main VTK-m repository). This should be set up if you correctly cloned the main VTK-m repository, but can get accidentally changed.

To check which remote branch master is tracking, call

$ git rev-parse --abbrev-ref --symbolic-full-name master@{upstream}

Git should respond with origin/master. If it responds with anything else, you need to reset the tracking:

$ git branch -u origin/master master

Local Edits on the master Branch

The first step in the contributing workflow is that you create a topic branch on which to make changes. You are not supposed to add your commits directly to master. However, it is easy to forget to create the topic branch.

To find out if you have local commits on your master branch, check its status:

$ git checkout master
$ git status

If status responds that your branch is up to date or that your branch is behind the origin/master remote branch, then everything is fine. (If your branch is behind you might want to update it with git pull.)

If the status responds that your branch and origin/master have diverged or that your branch is ahead of origin/master, then you have local commits on the master branch. Those local commits need to move to a topic branch.

  1. Create a topic branch:

    $ git branch my-topic

    Of course, replace my-topic with something that better describes your changes.

  2. Reset the local master branch to the remote master branch:
    $ git reset --hard origin/master
  3. Check out the topic branch to continue working on it:
    $ git checkout my-topic