9 Quick Tips About npm

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Inspired by the now-outdated post 10 Cool Things You Probably Didn’t Realize npm Could Do from Isaacs, the creator of npm, I set out to give you a few more tips on how to take advantage of this ridiculously well executed package manager.


23-12-13 Update: Now with an extra bonus tip

Manage node and npm versions easily

Using nvm, you won’t ever have any versioning or sudo issues with npm again. I can’t recommend this highly enough!

curl https://raw.github.com/creationix/nvm/master/install.sh | sh

Reload your terminal, and then start by installing some other version.

nvm install 0.10.22
nvm alias default 0.10.22

Switching to another version is also really easy, and you can copy modules over when you upgrade, with nvm copy-packages <previous-version>.

Use modules directly from the source

Rather than installing a package every time it gets updated, you can use the npm link command. This command will create a symbolic link which you can later consume with npm link <pkg>.

As an example, have the following illustrative shell session.

git clone https://github.com/bevacqua/grunt-ec2.git
cd grunt-ec2
npm link
cd ../site
npm link grunt-ec2
grunt ec2_deploy:production

If you make any changes to grunt-ec2 in your local version, they will have an immediate effect on the package installed in site, as well. This one is also very useful if you’re a package author, as you can quickly test your package in a real usage scenario without having to publish it to npm first.

npm init in style

This one is rather straightforward. You can set some values in npm's configuration, and then using npm init will use them when creating a package.json file.

# add author info to npm
npm set init.author.name "$NAME"
npm set init.author.email "$EMAIL"
npm set init.author.url "$SITE"
npm init

Update any package to latest version

Firstly, you can get the currently installed version of a package by executing:

npm view <pkg> version

If you set the version of a few modules in package.json to *, then running npm update --save will update all those modules to the latest stable version, and since we’ve used the --save flag, the version numbers will get persisted (overwriting the stars). This is most useful in recently started projects, but should be treated carefully in solutions which are already in production, as authors might break between updates.

Clean the npm cache

If you’re having any issues with an npm package, you might have to remove it from the npm cache before attempting to install it again.

npm clean <pkg>
npm install <pkg>

Publish npm modules faster!

You can do that using an optimized npm publish created by dominictarr.

npm i -g npm-atomic-publish

Save time, use shortcuts

  • Rather than npm install, use npm i.
  • npm uninstall becomes npm r
  • Save packages directly in one step with npm i --save <pkg>
  • For devDependencies, do npm i --save-dev <pkg>

Bump package version with npm!

Just do npm version <v>! It’ll even commit and tag for you, if you’re in the context of a git repository.

npm version 2.1.0
npm publish

Use Browserify to get Common.JS in browser-land!

If you want to access 50+ thousand packages (and rapidly growing!) in your browser, and you’re starting to get tired of the AMD module definition, you might want to give Browserify a spin. You’ll be able to use the CJS notation in the browser, and you’re even able to port modules that used the file system, thanks to some creative shimmery by substack.

And, of course, there’s a Grunt plugin for that!

Read all the way to the end? Have something extra!

Contrary to the belief of many, “npm” is not in fact an abbreviation for “Node Package Manager”. It is a recursive bacronymic abbreviation for “npm is not an acronym”. (If it was “ninaa”, then it would be an acronym, and thus incorrectly named.)

“NPM”, however, is an acronym (more precisely, a capitonym) for the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. You can learn more about them at http://npm.org/.

In software, “NPM” is a Non-Parametric Mapping utility written by Chris Rorden. You can analyze pictures of brains with it. Learn more about the (capitalized) NPM program at http://www.cabiatl.com/mricro/npm/.

The first seed that eventually grew into this flower was a bash utility named “pm”, which was a shortened descendent of “pkgmakeinst”, a bash function that was used to install various different things on different platforms, most often using Yahoo’s yinst. If npm was ever an acronym for anything, it was node pm or maybe new pm.

So, in all seriousness, the “npm” project is named after its command-line utility, which was organically selected to be easily typed by a right-handed programmer using a US QWERTY keyboard layout, ending with the right-ring-finger in a postition to type the - key for flags and other command-line arguments. That command-line utility is always lower-case, though it starts most sentences it is a part of.

A package is:

  1. a folder containing a program described by a package.json file
  2. a gzipped tarball containing [1]
  3. a url that resolves to [2]
  4. a <name>@<version> that is published on the registry with [3]
  5. a <name>@<tag> that points to [4]
  6. a <name> that has a “latest” tag satisfying [5]
  7. a git url that, when cloned, results in [1].

So there you have it!

What are your favorite npm tricks?

Remove development dependencies

Using the command below, you can remove devDependencies after npm install. This is useful in some set ups where you deploy to a CI environment, which installs everything so that it can run your Grunt build, or something, and then deploys to the live servers.

npm prune --production

Woo, that’s ten!

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Comments (4)

Wil Moore III wrote

You can also install nvm via homebrew:

Install nvm

% brew install nvm
% source $(brew --prefix nvm)/nvm.sh

Install the latest 0.10.x node version:

% nvm install 0.10

Keep the active node version stuck to the latest 0.10.x release:

% nvm alias default 0.10

…so you don’t have to udpate your shell config every time you update to a new node patch version.


jan wrote

Good stuff. I’d like to add that to

update any package to latest version

david https://github.com/alanshaw/david is a very handy tool. It’s easier to use than having to modify your package.json. It can tell you which of your dependencies are outdated, and it will automatically generate the respective npm command to update those. Also, there’s a nice GitHub badge https://david-dm.org/, which you can use, if you’re project’s code is hosted is on GitHub anyway.