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The difference between dependencies and devDependencies in a JavaScript project

clairecodes profile image Claire Parker-Jones Originally published at clairecodes.com Updated on ・2 min read

When you use npm to install a package to your project with the command npm install <package-name>, the name and version of the package appears in the project's package.json file under the “dependencies” key. For example, npm install react will look write something like this to the file:

{
    ...
    "dependencies": {
        "react": "^16.8.4",
        ...
    }
    ...
}

The code for the package will be installed in the project's local "node_modules" folder.

(Note: with older versions of npm, the --save or -S flag was required in order to write the package to the "package.json". The latest version of npm at time of writing is 6.9.0).

The list of packages in "package.json" is used by npm when your app is installed from scratch. Alongside the "package-lock.json" file, it ensures that the packages used in your app are a consistent version.

It's also possible to add packages under the "devDependencies" key in "package.json". Instead, add the --save-dev or shorter equivalent -D flag when installing, for example:

npm i -D jest

What is the difference between devDependencies and dependencies?

dependencies

"dependencies" are packages required to run the application in a production-ready environment. Without these packages, your app won't work. A couple of general examples are:

  • frameworks: React, AngularJS, Vue.js
  • utility libraries: lodash, Ramda, date-fns, polished

devDependencies

"devDependencies" are required to develop and build your app, but are not needed to run the final version that customers will use. For example:

  • testing libraries: Jest, Mocha, Jasmine
  • linters: ESLint, Prettier
  • transpilers: webpack, Babel (since production-ready code is already transpiled and minified)

When you run npm install in the root of a project with a "package.json" file, all packages in both dependencies and devDependencies are installed. This is because you're working with the source code, so probably need the code in every package to develop it. However, if you only want to install the packages listed under the dependencies key, then use the —-production flag, like npm install --production.

In conclusion, when deciding where a package should sit in the "package.json" file, ask yourself whether the package is required for the app to work in the final, production-ready version. If it's not, add it to the devDependencies object, otherwise, it belongs in dependencies.

Do you have any other examples? Let me know!

For more information, see the official npm documentation page for the npm install command.

Equivalent Yarn commands

If you use yarn as your package manager instead of npm, the equivalent commands mentioned in this post are:

npm yarn
npm install yarn install
npm install react yarn add react
npm i --save-dev react yarn add --dev react
npm i -D react yarn add -D react

Discussion (2)

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joelnet profile image
JavaScript Joel

There is also a lesser known peerDependency section for creators of libraries!

peerDependency is useful when your library requires an upstream application to have a dependency installed.

An example is if you create a React component. You do not want to specify the dependency in the dependency section. It is possible this may create conflicts in the App. So instead you use the peerDependency section. This will tell the installer "Hey, this also needs React to work!"

Other use-cases of peerDependency is if a library is optional. For example, if I am writing a library that outputs some text to the console, I might check to see if colors is installed. If so, I will colorize the text, if not, then It'll just be black and white. It's up to the upstream application to install the dependency.

Cheers!

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clairecodes profile image
Claire Parker-Jones Author

Thanks for sharing, that's really useful!