npm vs. Yarn: Choosing the Right JavaScript Package Manager

by Codrut Radu, Senior Developer

In the ever-evolving world of JavaScript development, tools like npm and Yarn have become indispensable for managing packages and dependencies. These package managers are essential for any modern web developer. This blog will delve into what npm and Yarn stand for, provide brief descriptions of their functions, and then explore their differences and strengths.

1. npm (Node Package Manager)

npm is a package manager for JavaScript and Node.js. It's the default package manager for Node.js and is widely used for installing, managing, and sharing open-source JavaScript packages.

What npm does:

  1. Package Installation: npm allows developers to install JavaScript packages from the npm registry easily. These packages can be libraries, frameworks, or tools that enhance and streamline development.
  2. Dependency Management: It manages project dependencies by creating a package.json file that lists the required packages and their versions.
  3. Scripts: npm can run scripts defined in the package.json file, making it convenient for tasks like building, testing, and deploying projects.
  4. Publishing: Developers can publish their packages to the npm registry, making it accessible to others.

Here are five of the most commonly used npm commands

npm init

  // Initializes a new Node.js project, creating a `package.json` file
  npm init

npm install [package]

  // Installs a package and adds it to your project's dependencies.
  npm install lodash

npm install [package] --save-dev

  // Installs a package and adds it to your project's development dependencies.
  npm install --save-dev jest

npm install

  // Installs all the dependencies listed in your `package.json` file.
  npm install

npm run [script]

  // Executes a script defined in your project's `package.json` file.
  // In `package.json`:
  "scripts": {
    "start": "node server.js",
    "test": "jest"
  }

  // To run the "start" script:
  npm run start

  // To run the "test" script:
  npm run test

Yarn

Yarn is a fast, reliable, and secure package manager for JavaScript. It was developed by Facebook and is designed to be a more efficient alternative to npm.

What Yarn does:

  1. Dependency Resolution: Yarn resolves dependencies more efficiently and predictably than npm, thanks to a lock file (Yarn.lock) that ensures consistent installations.
  2. Parallel Installation: Yarn can install packages in parallel, significantly speeding up the installation process compared to npm's sequential installation.
  3. Offline Mode: Yarn has an offline mode, allowing you to install packages without an internet connection, which is useful for environments with limited connectivity.
  4. Workspaces: Yarn introduced workspaces, making managing multiple packages within a single repository easier.

Here are the equivalent Yarn commands

yarn init

  // Initializes a new Node.js project, creating a `package.json` file
  yarn init

yarn add [package]

  // Installs a package and adds it to your project's dependencies.
  yarn add lodash

yarn add [package] --dev

  // Installs a package and adds it to your project's development dependencies.
  yarn add --dev jest

yarn install

  // Installs all the dependencies listed in your `package.json` file.
  yarn install`

yarn run [script]

  // Executes a script defined in your project's `package.json` file.
  // In `package.json`:
  "scripts": {
    "start": "node server.js",
    "test": "jest"
  }

  // To run the "start" script:
  yarn run start

  // To run the "test" script:
  yarn run test

Differences and Strengths:

Now, let's explore the differences between npm and Yarn and their respective strengths:

  1. Performance: Yarn is generally faster than npm due to its parallel installation and deterministic dependency resolution, making it an excellent choice for large-scale projects or CI/CD pipelines.
  2. Deterministic Dependency Resolution: Yarn's lock file ensures that all developers working on a project have the same dependencies, reducing potential conflicts and ensuring consistent builds.
  3. Offline Mode: Yarn's offline mode is invaluable for projects in isolated or low-connectivity environments, whereas npm may struggle in such scenarios.
  4. Workspaces: Yarn's workspaces feature simplifies mono repo management, making it a preferred choice for large projects with multiple packages.
  5. Community and Ecosystem: npm has a larger and more established ecosystem with a vast repository of packages. If you rely on less common packages, npm might be the better choice.

In conclusion, npm and Yarn are essential tools in the JavaScript developer's toolkit. The choice between them largely depends on your project's requirements and personal preferences. If you value performance and predictability, Yarn might be your go-to option. At the same time, npm's extensive package repository makes it a compelling choice for projects that rely on a wide range of packages. Ultimately, both package managers are potent tools that can help streamline your JavaScript development workflow.

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