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Why Running `yarn upgrade` Does Not Update My `package.json`

Wei Gao
Building the web.
Originally published at ・4 min read

Why Running yarn upgrade Does Not Update My package.json

Today I wanted to upgrade the dependency of React of one of my projects. So I ran

yarn upgrade react
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And it seems everyone was happy.

Then I checked my package.json, nothing changed.

"react" "^16.5.1",
"react-dom": "^16.5.1",
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My first Google enquiry was yarn upgrade does not update package.json. A few results seemed to be indicating bug in earlier versions of Yarn. But it didn't seem to be going anywhere.

Yarn's official doc clearly indicated that running such command should update the dependency here.

I then checked my yarn.lock and realized that the latest versions of my upgrading packages are already installed.

Why, why, why 🤷🏻‍♀️

I had a rough understanding of what might have happened here. The current react@^16.5.1 accepts the upgraded version 16.8.6, as indicated by yarn.lock.

But what is a proper way for me to upgrade dependency in this semantic situation? Namely, to upgrade dependency to latest package and indicating that my app now depends on that version?

I mean, other than manually changing package.json?

I played around a few things to do. Some apparently not the right direction, but they helped to gain some understanding of the situation.

Understanding the semantic versioning ranges

The installed version in our node_modules might not be the literal number we see in our package.json. This is because the versions we indicate can be a range.

For example, the caret ranges are specified as follows:

Allow changes that do not modify the first non-zero digit in the version, either the 3 in 3.1.4 or the 4 in 0.4.2.

The caret range is used by default when adding a package by running

$ yarn add package-name
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This will install the package with its latest stable version, and Yarn writes our package.json of that version with the caret range.

If I understand this correctly, it seems that if I run yarn my package in the future, or if some other package depends on a later version, it will use the later version as long as it satisfies the range.

There are more ranges in semantic versioning:

You may read the Yarn's docs here, or NPM's docs here.

Understanding the command yarn upgrade

So what I learned today is that running yarn upgrade does not necessarily update package.json as I imagined it would.

yarn upgrade (without modifier)

Running yarn upgrade without any modifiers does not update package.json.

If we run yarn upgrade without any flags, it will install the latest version that matches the version pattern indicated by package.json. And it will not update package.json.

  • yarn upgrade on dependency "react": "~16.5.1": installs the latest version on tilde range with ~16.5.1 which is 16.5.2
  • yarn upgrade on dependency "react": "^16.5.1": installs the latest version on caret range with ~16.5.1 which is 16.8.6 as of today
  • yarn upgrade on exact dependency "react": "16.5.1" does not install anything new at all 🧐

yarn upgrade --latest

Running yarn upgrade might update package.json, when the latest stable version no longer matches current range.

But it still might not update package.json. And specifically, when the latest version matches the semantic version range indicated in package.json.

  • yarn upgrade --latest on dependency "react": "~16.5.1": installs the latest version 16.8.6 as of today, and updates package.json to "react": ~16.8.6"
  • yarn upgrade --latest on dependency "react": "^16.5.1": installs the latest version 16.8.6 as of today, and updates package.json to "react": ^16.8.6"
  • yarn upgrade --latest on exact dependency "react": "16.5.1" installs the latest version 16.8.6 as of today, and updates package.json to "react": 16.8.6"

What should I do if I want to upgrade to a version and update package.json

If dealing with a library where even minor versions are sensitive, it is better to indicate a stricter version range, even an exact one. And upgrade with --latest.

Other than that, after playing around with a few commands, I find this command interesting and the most straightforward in this situation:

$ yarn upgrade react@^
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This will pull up an interactive list of versions for you to select. And after installation, it will update package.json to the selected version with a caret range again.

Wrapping up

For version sensitive libraries (such as Flow??? 🙈), indicate the version dependency without any ranges.

Use yarn upgrade package@[version] is perhaps the most intuitive way of the actual action of upgrading packages.


Discussion (9)

muhammadmuzammilqadri profile image
Muhammad Muzammil

Nice article, but there is one little mistake that I found, which is:

yarn upgrade --latest on dependency "react": "^16.5.1": installs the latest version 16.8.6 as of today, and DOES NOT update package.json to "react": ^16.8.6". AS THE VERSION 16.8.6 IS ALREADY IN THE SPECIFIED RANGE ^16.5.1

canrau profile image
Can Rau

Great write up 👏

I prefer to use yarn upgrade-interactive --latest thankfully Oh My ZSH' Git plugin cones with a alias yui
Anyway, upgrading interactive let's me see and selectively upgrade and it updates package.json as well 🥳

jianwu profile image

It's just a weird design of yarn upgrade. Anyway thanks for your article which saved my day.

I faced a bug because of the old dependencies. Tried yarn upgrade, never get it to work.

I finally upgraded all my versions in my package.json and solved my problem by removing the version range. And run:

yarn upgrade --latest

tanhauhau profile image
Tan Li Hau

That's why yarn.lock is important...

...And are we getting react hooks soon?!

developarvin profile image
Arthur Vincent Simon

Yup, I had the same problem with yarn upgrade.

I solved this by mandating specific versions in package.json so that there is no ambiguity about what version is installed.

mysticaltech profile image
K. N.

Saved my butt, thanks

sturpin profile image
Sergio Turpín

Good article Wei!! Just clarified my doubt ;)

stevugnin profile image
Steve Huguenin-Elie

Simply use yarn upgrade all

jorgecuevas92 profile image
Jorge Cuevas

POG solution, I was beating my head with this.