What Does it Mean When Your GitHub Issue is Closed, and What Can You Do?

Yihui Xie 2021-03-21

After using GitHub for a little over a decade, I have encountered a handful of people who could become angry after I close their GitHub issues without fulfilling their requests. Since I’m more concerned about the people who were similarly disappointed but silently walked away, I want to explain in this post what I mean when closing an issue, to clarify the potential misunderstandings.

Usually I try hard not to close issues without a response. I did close a few out of the thousands of issues that I have dealt with over the years, but these ones were often far below the minimum requirements, e.g., an issue with no content but only a brief title that I don’t completely understand, or an issue asking a random question that is completely irrelevant to the GitHub repo. Normally I do not even close issues right away that lack minimum reproducible examples, although that requirement is mentioned in the issue guide and should be seen when a new issue is opened.

The most common reason why I close issues without fulfilling the original requests is the combination of the two conditions below:

  1. I don’t see any hope that I (or my team) would have time or resources to resolve the issue in the foreseeable future. No one has an infinite amount of time, and at some point you must set priorities. By definition, setting priorities has to offend or hurt or sacrifice someone. This has become even worse for me personally since the pandemic, since my time has become even more limited. I guess this is also true for most people in the world. At RStudio, we can take as much time off as we want, but the fact for me is that I rarely feel comfortable with actively taking a break because of the endless work, so my usual breaks have been sick leaves. I will save this topic for another post in the future.

  2. There exists a workaround. Normally I hate blocking users' ways and will try to leave other ways open. That means you may have workarounds, even though they may not be straightforward. However, even with workarounds, I was still called a “dictator” a while ago by someone when an issue was closed. I thought dictators would not give you options…

In short, when I don’t have time, and the workaround is not awfully bad or complicated, I tend to close the issue, so I can move on to other issues—there are so many after all. A closed issue does not necessarily mean that it is invalid, but often means that it is not manageable under all the constraints.

However, it is possible that my evaluation of the workaround is wrong. It might be okay or easy in my eyes, but bad or complicated in your opinion. Therefore I don’t mean that once an issue is closed, the request is denied forever. You could continue to argue and I could reopen it later. Sometimes I do make mistakes in my judgment, and sometimes you may have walked into my blind spots. I’ll be happy to reconsider the requests or correct my mistakes even years later.

So you may need some persistence if you feel I really missed anything in your request. BTW, if you want to learn what a terribly stubborn person I am, check out the hugo issue #3632 (perhaps someday I’ll just give it up, since I’ve already found a workaround in blogdown).