Developer guide

Getting started

The first thing you’ll need is a Github account. You can sign up for free. If you are an academic or student, request a free pro-account to get access to private repositories.


The easiest way to contribute is to submit issues and bug reports. Feature requests, typo fixes, suggestions for the documentation, it’s all welcome!


If you are new to version control (or don’t know what that means), start with the Software Carpentry lessons on version control with Git. After you’ve gone through those, the Github help page and guides are great resources for finding your way around the quirks of git and Github.

All of the “official” code for Fatiando lives in the fatiando/fatiando repository (the first fatiando refers to the fatiando Github account). The master branch of the repository contains the latest code that is stable (should have tested and working code). Code that is in other branches are things that are under development by the main developers.

To contribute some code/fix/documentation, start by forking fatiando/fatiando (click the “Fork” button). This will grab a complete copy of the code repository and add it to your account. This “fork” is isolated from the main repository, so you don’t have to worry about “breaking” anything. Go nuts! If you break your fork beyond repair you can always delete it and make a new fork. Beware that you will lose everything in your fork if you delete it.

Once you have your fork, clone a copy to your computer:

git clone


Not sure what to work on? Have a look at the open issues and pick one that you find interesting. Please leave a comment on the issue if you are going to work on it. This helps us keep track of who is doing what and avoid duplicated work. We are trying to curate a list of “low-hanging fruit” that are suitable for new-comers. Note that “low-hanging” does not necessarily mean trivial, but that it doesn’t require extensive knowledge of the project. Helping by writing/reviewing/improving the documentation is VERY appreciated. We welcome even the simplest typo fix!

Setting up

You will need some extra dependencies installed for development. See files ci/requirements-conda.txt and ci/requirements-pip.txt. If you are using Anaconda (and you should), the repository provides an environment.yml file that specifies a conda virtual environment with all packages that you’ll need. This will keep the Fatiando development related installation from you main Python. The main advantage is that you can make changes to Fatiando and test them while still using a stable release (like 0.4) for your main work. Otherwise, changes to the code would likely break everything else you’re working on.

Run the following from the repository base directory to create the environment using the specification in the environment.yml file:

conda env create

Now, whenever you want to run code using the fatiando-dev environment we just created, you must run this first to activate the environment:

source activate fatiando-dev

or on Windows:

activate fatiando-dev

Optionally, you can use make to take advantage of the project Makefile to compile and run tests.

Once you have your fork and local clone as well as the environment created and activated, you need to make sure that Python can import the fatiando code from your fork. This way, you can make changes and run code to test that your changes work.


Don’t set the PYTHONPATH environment variable. This can be tricky under Windows. It’s better to use pip in editable mode (below).

First, make sure you have uninstalled Fatiando from your environment (just to be sure):

pip uninstall fatiando

To make it so that Python can find the code in the repository, run pip install in editable mode:

pip install -e .

If you’re using the Makefile you can run make develop to do this.

Now, changes to the repository code will be accessible from your installed Fatiando.


Fatiando uses automated tests to check that the code works and produces the expected results. There are two types of tests currently being used: unit tests and doc tests.


If you are new to automated tests, see the Software Carpentry lessons on Testing: Unit Testing.

Unit tests are implemented in tests folders inside each subpackage of fatiando. Doctests are part of the docstrings of functions and modules. You’ll recognize them by the >>> in each line of code. Both tests are found and run automatically by py.test.

There are different ways of running the tests. From the command line using the py.test app:

py.test --doctest-modules --pyargs fatiando

Or from Python using the fatiando.test function:

import fatiando

Or from the command line using the function:

python -c "import fatiando; fatiando.test()"

If you use the Makefile, running make test will perform the above in a temporary folder.

You can also check the test coverage (how much of each module is tested) by:

py.test --cov=fatiando --doctest-modules --pyargs fatiando

or passing coverage=True to the fatiando.test function:

python -c "import fatiando; fatiando.test(coverage=True)"


All new code contributed must be tested. This means that it must have unit tests and/or doctests that make sure it gives the expected results. Tests should also make sure that the proper errors happen when the code is given bad input. A good balance would be to have both doctests that run a simple example (they are documentation, after all) and unit tests that are more elaborate and complete (using more data, testing corner/special cases, etc).

Our goal is to reach at least 90% test coverage by version 1.0.

Adding new code/fixes/docs

All new code should be committed to a new branch. Fatiando uses the “Github Flow” for managing branches in the repository. The tutorial “Understanding the Github flow” offers a quick visual introduction to how that works. See the Pull Requests section below.


Don’t edit the master branch directly!

Before working on the code for a new feature/fix/documentation, you’ll need to create a branch to store your commits. Make sure you always start your new branch from master:

git checkout master
git checkout -b NAME_OF_NEW_BRANCH

Replace NAME_OF_NEW_BRANCH to something relevant to the changes you are proposing. For example, doc-devel-start-guide, refactor-gravmag-prism, seismic-tomo-module, etc.


Don’t make multiple large changes in a single branch. For example, refactoring a module to make it faster and adding a new function to a different module. If you do this, we will only be able to merge your code once all new features are tested, discussed, and documented. Make separate branches for different things you are working on (and start all of them from master). This way we can merge new changes as they are finished instead of having to wait a long time to merge everything. It will be even worse if one of the changes is controversial or needs a lot of discussion and planning.

Once you have your new branch, you’re all set to start coding/writing. Remember to run make test and check if your changes didn’t break anything. Write tests sooner rather than later. They will not only help you check if your new code is working properly, but also provide you with a “deadline” of sorts. When your code passes your tests, then it is probably “good enough”.

You should consider openning a Pull Request as soon as have any code that you might want to share. The sooner you open the PR, the sooner we can start reviewing it and helping you make your contribution.

Code Style

Fatiando follows the PEP8 conventions for code style.

Conformance to PEP8 can be checked automatically using the pep8 package. To see which if any code is not following the standard, run:

pep8 --show-source --ignore=W503,E226,E241 fatiando cookbook gallery


make pep8

This command will tell you exactly which file and line broke PEP8 compliance and what was wrong with it.


The documentation for Fatiando is built using sphinx. The source files for the documentation are in the doc folder of the repository. The most sections of the docs are built from the doc/*.rst files. The API section is automatically built from the docstrings of packages, modules, functions, and classes.


Source files and docstrings are written in reStructuredText (rst) and converted by sphinx to HTML. This quick guide to rst is a good reference to get started with rst.

Docstrings are formatted in a style particular to Fatiando. PEP257 has some good general guidelines. Have a look at the other docstrings in Fatiando and format your own to follow that style.

Some brief guidelines:

  • Module docstrings should include a list of module classes and functions followed by brief descriptions of each.

  • Function docstrings:

    def foo(x, y=4):
        Brief description, like 'calculates so and so using bla bla bla'
        A more detailed description follows after a blank line. Can have
        multiple paragraphs, citations (Bla et al.,  2014), and equations.
        .. math::
            g(y) = \int_V y x dx
        After this, give a full description of ALL parameters the
        function takes.
        * x : float or numpy array
            The variable that goes on the horizontal axis. In Meh units.
        * y : float or numpy array
            The variable that goes on the vertical axis. In Meh units.
            Default: 4.
        * g : float or numpy array
            The value of g(y) as calculated by the equation above.
        You can include examples as doctests. These are automatically found
        by the test suite and executed. Lines starting with >>> are code.
        Lines below them that don't have >>> are the result of that code.
        The tests compare the given result with what you put as the
        expected result.
        >>> foo(3)
        >>> import numpy as np
        >>> foo(np.array([1, 2])
        array([ 45.  34. ])
        Include a list of references cited.
        Bla B., and Meh M. (2014). Some relevant article describing the
        methods. Journal. doi:82e1hd1puhd7
  • Class docstrings will contain a description of the class and the parameters that __init__ takes. It should also include examples (as doctests when possible) and references. Pretty much like function docstrings.

You’ll need to install the Sphinx bootstrap theme to build the docs. Run this in your terminal/cmd.exe:

pip install sphinx_bootstrap_theme

To compile the documentation, run:

cd doc
make all

To view the compiled HTML files, run this inside the doc folder:

make serve

This will start a server in the doc/_build/html folder. Point your browser to to view the site. Use Ctrl+C to stop the server.

Pull Requests

Pull requests (PRs) are how we submit new code and fixes to Fatiando. The PRs are were your contribution will be revised by other developers. This works a lot like peer-review does in Science, but we hope you’ll find it a much nicer experience!


To get the general idea of the Pull Request cycle, see “Understanding the Github flow”.

After you have your set of changes in a new branch of your fatiando fork, make a Pull Request to the master branch of fatiando/fatiando. Use the main text of the PR to describe in detail what you have done and why. Explain the purpose of the PR. What changes are you proposing and why they are good/awesome/necessary/desirable? See PR 137 for an example.

PRs serve as a platform for reviewing the code. Ideally, someone else will go through your code to make sure there aren’t any obvious mistakes. The reviewer can also suggest improvements, help with unfixed problems, etc. This is the same as the peer-review processes in scientific publication (or at least what it should be). See the list of completed pull requests for examples of how the process works.


Reviewers should always be polite in their constructive criticism. Rudeness and prejudice will not be tolerated. Beware of wit, humor, and sarcasm. It might not always be understood in writting and not always translates accross native languages.

PRs will only be merged if they meet certain criteria:

  • New code must be have automated tests
  • All tests must pass (this will be evaluated automatically by TravisCI)
  • All code must follow the PEP8 style conventions. This will also be check automatically by the tests and TravisCI
  • All new code and changes must be documented with docstrings
  • New code must not cause merge conflicts (someone will help you resolve this in case it happens and you don’t know what to do)

Even if all of these requirements are met, features that fall outside of the scope of the project might not be accepted (but we will discuss the possibility). So before you start coding open an issue explaining what you mean to do first so that we can discuss it. Check if there isn’t an issue open for this already. This way we can keep track of who is working on what and avoid duplicated work.

To help keep track of what you need to do, a checklist will be automatically inserted into the pull request description (adapted from the khmer docs):

## Checklist:

- [ ] Make tests for new code
- [ ] Create/update docstrings
- [ ] Include relevant equations and citations in docstrings
- [ ] Code follows PEP8 style conventions
- [ ] Code and docs have been spellchecked
- [ ] Include new dependencies in docs, README, and .travis.yml
- [ ] Documentation builds properly
- [ ] All tests pass
- [ ] Can be merged
- [ ] Changelog entry (leave for last)
- [ ] Firt-time contributor? Add yourself to `doc/contributors.rst` (leave for last)

This will create check boxes that you can mark as you complete each of the requirements. If you don’t know how to do some of them, contact a developer by writing a comment on the PR @-mentioning their user name (e.g., @leouieda or @birocoles).