Easily install local NPM packages by simply referring to their local path

Directly installing a package with npm install and referring to its local path is a quick way to work with a local package. To be safe though, the usage of npm link is still recommended.

To work with local NPM packages on can reside to using npm link. You make a package available locally with npm link and later on symlink it into your project using npm link package:

cd ~/projects/node-redis    # go into the package directory
npm link                    # creates global link

cd ~/projects/node-bloggy   # go into some project directory
npm link redis              # link-install the redis package (by its name)

This methods works fine and – above all – allows you to have a package.json that has no record of that link. That way you can check it into Git and push it, while still using the local version.

A downside however is that this way of working change is not explicit: by checking your package.json you can’t really tell whether you’re using a locally linked version or not.

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A more easy quick and dirty way of achieving this is to directly install a package by simply referring to its directory:

cd ~/projects/node-bloggy   # go into some project directory
npm install ../node-redis   # install the redis package by referring to its directory

Apart from symlinking the package into your project, your package.json will have been adjusted like this:

{
  …
  "dependencies": {
    "redis": "file:../node-redis"
  }
}

This change is explicit: a look at your package.json clearly tells you that you’re using a locally installed package.

⚠️ Do note that this way of working comes with a big caveat though: you may not commit this change into Git. While this change Works Fine on my Machine™ it won’t in your build system, your colleague their machine, …

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So which technique to use when? Personally I go for:

  • npm link when adjusting an existing library (most likely a clone/fork to land a bugfix) while testing it in an existing project
  • npm install ../path when splitting off a new library from an existing project

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Published by Bramus!

Bramus is a Freelance Web Developer from Belgium. From the moment he discovered view-source at the age of 14 (way back in 1997), he fell in love with the web and has been tinkering with it ever since (more …)

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