This is the first of a sequence of papers proving the quantum invariance under ordinary flops over an arbitrary smooth base.
In this first part, we determine the defect of the cup product under the canonical correspondence and show that it is corrected by the small quantum product attached to the extremal ray. We then perform various reductions to reduce the problem to the local models.
In Part II, we develop a quantum Leray--Hirsch theorem and use it to show that the big quantum cohomology ring is invariant under analytic continuations in the Kähler moduli space for ordinary flops of splitting type. In Part III, together with F. Qu, we remove the splitting condition by developing a quantum splitting principle, and hence solve the problem completely.