Choosing the Right Node.js Package Manager in 2024: A Comparative Guide

The year 2024 marks a crucial juncture in the Node.js ecosystem, where developers face different choices when it comes to selecting the right package manager for their projects. npm, Yarn, and pnpm stand out as the frontrunners, as they are the most widely used in the Node.js ecosystem. Each package offers unique features and capabilities tailored to address the challenges of modern development environments.

Let’s examine the differences, advantages and disadvantages between them to help developers make informed decisions about which tool best suits your project needs, and get insights into the evolving trends shaping their usage in 2024.

npm – Node Package Manager

npm is the default package manager for Node.js, known for its extensive package registry and seamless integration with the Node.js ecosystem. It was created to simplify the process of installing, managing, and sharing code dependencies in Node.js projects. npm provides a vast repository of over two million packages, making it a comprehensive ecosystem for JavaScript developers and the largest software registry in the world.

Here’s a closer look at npm:

Advantages:

__Vast Package Repository__: Developers love npm for its unmatched package registry, boasting over two million packages covering a wide range of functionalities and use cases. Developers have access to a rich ecosystem of open-source libraries and modules, enabling them to leverage existing solutions and accelerate development.
__Default Choice for Node.js__: npm comes bundled with Node.js installations, making it the default package manager for Node.js projects. Its seamless integration with the Node.js ecosystem simplifies dependency management and ensures compatibility with the Node.js runtime.
__Mature Ecosystem__: npm has a mature and well-established ecosystem with robust infrastructure and community support. It has been in use for many years and has undergone continuous improvements, resulting in a stable and reliable tool for managing project dependencies.
__Comprehensive CLI__: npm provides a comprehensive command-line interface (CLI) with a wide range of commands and options for managing packages, scripts, and configurations. Developers can perform tasks such as installing, updating, publishing, and scripting with ease using npm’s intuitive CLI.
__Semantic Versioning__: npm follows semantic versioning (SemVer) rules, allowing developers to specify version ranges for dependencies accurately. This ensures compatibility and predictability when updating packages, minimizing the risk of breaking changes in projects.
__Custom Scripts__: npm allows developers to define custom scripts in the “package.json” file, which can be executed using the npm run command. This feature enables automation of various development tasks such as building, testing, and deployment, streamlining the development workflow.
__Integration with npm Registry__: npm seamlessly integrates with the npm registry, a centralized repository where developers can publish and discover packages. This centralized infrastructure fosters collaboration and code sharing within the JavaScript community, contributing to the growth and innovation of the ecosystem.

Overall, npm offers a robust and feature-rich package management solution that addresses the needs of developers building Node.js applications. Its extensive package repository, mature ecosystem, comprehensive CLI, and community support make it a preferred choice for JavaScript developers worldwide.

Disadvantages:

__Performance Issues__: npm can sometimes suffer from performance issues, especially in large-scale projects with many dependencies. Some developers find Yarn and pnpm faster. Slow installation times and high resource consumption may impact developer productivity and build times.
__Versioning Complexity__: Managing package versions and dependency conflicts can be challenging with npm, particularly in projects with complex dependency trees. Resolving version conflicts and ensuring compatibility between packages may require manual intervention and careful oversight.
__Dependency Bloat__: npm’s default behavior of installing packages locally can lead to dependency bloat, where projects accumulate unnecessary dependencies over time. This can increase project size and complexity, potentially impacting performance and maintenance efforts.
__Security Concerns__: npm packages are not immune to security vulnerabilities, and relying on third-party code introduces potential risks to projects. While npm provides tools for auditing packages and detecting vulnerabilities, developers must remain vigilant and proactive in addressing security issues.
__Reliance on Centralized Registry__: npm’s reliance on a centralized registry for package distribution and discovery introduces a single point of failure and potential network bottlenecks. Disruptions or outages in the npm registry can disrupt development workflows and dependency management processes.
__Limited Offline Support__: While npm provides some support for offline installations through local caches, its offline capabilities are not as robust as some other package managers like Yarn. Developers working in environments with limited or intermittent internet connectivity may encounter difficulties when relying on npm.

Overall, while npm is a powerful and widely adopted package manager, developers should be aware of its limitations and consider alternative solutions or best practices to mitigate potential challenges in dependency management and project maintenance.

Yarn:

Yarn is a package manager for Node.js, developed by Facebook. It was created to address some of the limitations and performance issues encountered with npm and it focuses on performance, reliability, and deterministic dependency resolution. Let’s explore its features:

Advantages:

__Improved Performance__: Yarn is known for its faster installation times and more efficient dependency resolution compared to npm. It achieves this through parallel package installations and caching mechanisms, reducing the time and resources required for managing dependencies.
__Deterministic Dependency Resolution__: Yarn ensures deterministic dependency resolution by generating a lockfile (yarn.lock) that captures the exact versions of dependencies used in a project. This helps prevent dependency conflicts and ensures consistency across different development environments.
__Offline Support__: Yarn provides robust support for offline installations, making it suitable for environments with limited or intermittent internet connectivity. It caches packages locally, allowing developers to install dependencies without relying on an active internet connection.
__Intuitive CLI__: Yarn offers an intuitive command-line interface (CLI) with clear and concise commands for managing packages and running scripts. Its CLI is designed to be user-friendly and easy to use, streamlining the development workflow.
__Improved Error Handling__: Yarn provides detailed error messages and diagnostics, making it easier for developers to troubleshoot and resolve issues related to package installation or dependency management.
__Backward Compatibility__: Yarn maintains compatibility with the npm registry and existing npm workflows, allowing developers to transition seamlessly from npm to Yarn without disrupting their projects.

Overall, Yarn is a powerful and efficient package manager for Node.js, offering performance improvements, deterministic dependency resolution, offline support, and an intuitive CLI. It has gained significant adoption within the Node.js community and is widely used in both small and large-scale projects.

Disadvantages:

__Compatibility Issues__: Although Yarn aims for compatibility with npm, there may still be occasional compatibility issues or differences in behavior between the two package managers. This can sometimes lead to unexpected behavior or difficulties when migrating projects between npm and Yarn.
__Resource Consumption__: Yarn’s caching mechanisms and parallel installation processes can consume significant system resources, especially in projects with large dependency trees. This may impact the performance of development environments, particularly on systems with limited resources or older hardware.
__Community Fragmentation__: While Yarn has gained widespread adoption within the Node.js community, its ecosystem and community support may still be smaller and less extensive than npm’s. This can result in fewer third-party plugins, integrations, and community-driven initiatives compared to npm.
__Potential for Lockfile Drift__: Yarn generates a lockfile (yarn.lock) to ensure deterministic dependency resolution. However, if developers manually modify dependencies or update packages without updating the lockfile, it can lead to lockfile drift, where the lockfile becomes out of sync with the actual dependencies installed in the project.
__Limited Configuration Options__: Yarn’s configuration options are more limited compared to npm, which provides more granular control over package installation, registry settings, and other aspects of dependency management. Developers may find themselves lacking certain customization options available in npm.
__Maintenance Overhead__: While Yarn offers benefits such as improved performance and dependency resolution, it also introduces additional maintenance overhead in terms of managing the Yarn-specific configuration, lockfile, and dependencies. This can add complexity to project maintenance and version control.

Overall, while Yarn addresses many of the shortcomings of npm and offers significant improvements in performance and reliability, it’s essential for developers to consider the trade-offs and potential drawbacks when deciding whether to adopt Yarn for their projects.

pnpm

pnpm, short for “Performant npm,” is a package manager for Node.js applications. Unlike traditional package managers like npm and Yarn, pnpm takes a unique approach to dependency management, emphasizing efficiency, disk space optimization, and installation speed.

Advantages:

Key features of pnpm include:

__Shared Dependencies__: pnpm utilizes a shared dependency model, where common dependencies across projects are stored in a single location on disk. This approach minimizes disk space usage by avoiding duplicate copies of dependencies, leading to significant savings in storage resources.
__Efficient Installation__: By leveraging shared dependencies and efficient caching mechanisms, pnpm offers faster installation times compared to traditional package managers. It can dramatically reduce the time required to install dependencies, particularly in projects with large dependency trees.
__Deterministic Dependency Resolution__: Similar to Yarn, pnpm ensures deterministic dependency resolution by generating a lockfile (pnpm-lock.yaml) that captures the exact versions of dependencies used in a project. This helps prevent dependency conflicts and ensures consistency across different development environments.
__Reduced Network Bandwidth__: pnpm optimizes network bandwidth usage by sharing package downloads across projects. When multiple projects require the same dependency, pnpm fetches the package only once and shares it among all projects, reducing the amount of data transferred over the network.
__Improved Cache Efficiency__: pnpm’s caching mechanisms are designed to be highly efficient, reducing the need to re-download packages and improving installation speeds. It maintains a centralized cache of packages and dependencies, enabling faster installations and minimizing redundant downloads.
__Command-Line Interface (CLI)__: pnpm provides an intuitive CLI with commands for installing, updating, and managing packages. Its CLI is designed to be user-friendly and easy to use, with clear and concise syntax for executing common tasks.
__Compatibility with npm__: pnpm maintains compatibility with the npm registry and existing npm workflows, making it easy for developers to transition from npm to pnpm without disrupting their projects. It can install packages from the npm registry and works seamlessly with existing npm packages and configurations.

Overall, pnpm offers significant advantages in terms of disk space optimization, installation speed, and network bandwidth usage, making it an attractive choice for developers looking to streamline dependency management in Node.js projects. Its shared dependency model and efficient caching mechanisms make it well-suited for projects with large dependency trees and resource constraints.

Disadvantages:

__Learning Curve__: Switching from traditional package managers like npm and Yarn to pnpm may require developers to learn new commands, workflows, and concepts specific to pnpm. While pnpm’s CLI is intuitive, there is still a learning curve involved, particularly for developers unfamiliar with its shared dependency model and caching mechanisms.
__Compatibility Issues__: Although pnpm aims for compatibility with npm and Yarn, there may still be occasional compatibility issues or differences in behavior between the package managers. This can sometimes lead to unexpected behavior or difficulties when migrating projects between npm/Yarn and pnpm.
__Resource Consumption__: While pnpm’s shared dependency model reduces disk space usage, it may still consume significant system resources, especially in projects with large dependency trees. Caching dependencies and managing shared packages can require additional memory and processing power, impacting the performance of development environments.
__Lockfile Handling__: pnpm generates a lockfile (pnpm-lock.yaml) to ensure deterministic dependency resolution. However, managing the lockfile and ensuring its consistency across different environments can be challenging. Developers must be careful to avoid lockfile drift, where the lockfile becomes out of sync with the actual dependencies installed in the project.
__Community Support__: While pnpm has gained adoption within the Node.js community, its ecosystem and community support may still be smaller and less extensive than npm and Yarn. This can result in fewer third-party plugins, integrations, fewer documentation resources and tutorials available, and community-driven initiatives, limiting the available resources and support for pnpm users.

Overall, while pnpm offers compelling advantages in terms of disk space optimization and installation speed, developers should carefully weigh the trade-offs and consider the potential drawbacks when deciding whether to adopt pnpm for their projects.

Structure of the projects:

__npm__: When using npm install, the package-lock.json is created, and generates the node_modules folder. You can manually place a .npmrc configuration file at the root level.

__Yarn__: Similarly, Yarn generates both a yarn.lock file and a node_modules folder. You can also configure your yarn with a .yarnrc file; Yarn also acknowledges .npmrc files.

One problem with the npm and yarn approach, is that packages were copied several times to satisfy multiple dependencies. pnpm solved this issue without flattening the dependency tree. Each package’s dependencies are grouped in a node_modules folder and symlinks are used to group dependencies together, so the directory tree is flat.

__pnpm__: In contrast, pnpm diverges and doesn’t create a flattened dependency tree.
Upon installing dependencies with pnpm i, a package.json file is generated alongside a node_modules folder. However, the structure of the node_modules directory differs significantly from that of npm and Yarn due to pnpm’s content-addressable storage approach.

Which one should you choose?

Ultimately, the best package manager for your project depends on your specific requirements, preferences, and willingness to adapt to new workflows. Experimentation and careful consideration of the trade-offs involved will help you make an informed decision that aligns with your project’s goals and constraints.

According to some advantages and disadvantages previously mentioned, some further research and personal opinion, we can see a comparative chart below, number 1 meaning the lowest score and number 3 the highest score:

Even though npm and yarn are more popular, pnpm seems to have a promising future. Let’s check some benchmarks of JavaScript Package Managers:

Speed: pnpm is three times faster and more efficient than npm, and with both cold and hot cache, pnpm is faster than Yarn.

Source: Benchmarks of JavaScript Package Managers

Security: Pnpm, like yarn, has a special file with the checksum of all the installed packages. This ensures the integrity of all the installed packages before their code is executed. Regarding npm, there have been some security vulnerabilities that have directly affected many projects due to the way npm handles bad packages.
Disk space efficiency: pnpm employs a content-addressable file system to store packages and dependencies on disk. This means that identical packages are not duplicated. Even with varying versions of the same package, pnpm intelligently maximizes code reuse. For instance, if version 1 of a package consists of 500 files and version 2 adds just one more file, pnpm will not duplicate the original 500 files for version 2. Instead, it will establish a hard link to the existing 500 files and only write the new file. In contrast, npm would duplicate the original 500 files for version 2. This distinction becomes significant in large monorepo projects where a package is utilized by numerous others, potentially saving substantial disk space when using pnpm.
Lock files: Yarn generates a yarn.lock file to ensure that all team members are using the same package versions. This helps prevent “works on my machine” issues. Like Yarn, pnpm uses a pnpm-lock.yaml file to ensure consistent dependency versions. npm can present inconsistencies in package-lock.json which can be annoying and present issues for developers.

Migrating from npm/Yarn to pnpm:

If your projects use npm or yarn, then migrating to pnpm will not be very difficult. Here is a comparison of commands between npm, yarn, and pnpm.

npm command
Yarn command
pnpm equivalent

npm install
yarn
pnpm install

npm install [pkg]
yarn add [pkg]
pnpm add [pkg]

npm uninstall [pkg]
yarn remove [pkg]
pnpm remove [pkg]

npm update
yarn upgrade
pnpm update

npm list
yarn list
pnpm list

npm run [scriptName]
yarn [scriptName]
pnpm [scriptName]

npx [command]
yarn dlx [command]
pnpm dlx [command]

npm exec
yarn exec [commandName]
pnpm exec [commandName]

npm init [initializer]
yarn create [initializer]
pnpm create [initializer]

Source: Why you should prefer using pnpm over npm and yarn?

Real Time Monitoring with N|Solid

Which package do you use? Let us know on Twitter @NodeSource!

Using N|Solid, you can get real time insights and keep your apps secure, providing developers the tools to optimize their Node.js applications and enhance efficiency. You can also check the performance of your projects with different package managers.

Connect with us on Twitter @NodeSource, LinkedIn, and to stay updated with the latest from N|Solid.

Generated by Feedzy