Today, application developers rely on many open-source libraries to focus on enhancing those functionalities that are important to their business. But downloading each library separately is challenging and, not to forget, time-consuming. Thankfully, most programming language ecosystems come with a standard package manager.

What is a package manager?

Also known as a package-management system, a package manager enables developers to install, manage, and consistently upgrade those libraries. A package is an archive containing the binaries of software, data about dependencies, and configuration files.

Once the user requests a package, the package manager of that system finds it from a known location, downloads it, and advises on any manual steps, the user has to take.

Benefits of using a package manager

It is believed that large-scale software development is impossible without the use of one bundling tool or another. That is where the JavaScript package manager enters the picture.

  • It lets you know which library versions you are using and ensures the configuration information is accurate.
  • Even if the original website gets removed, the package manager holds all the library versions ever created, thus enabling centralized hosting.
  • It helps prevent incompatible files and/or libraries from mixing.
  • It helps avoid checking in large binaries, which, as it is, should not be checked into the source control.
  • It helps you distribute your dependencies, which would not be uploaded to the repository.

Many JS package managers in the market have carved a niche for themselves. Some of the names include:

  • Ringo.JS
  • BOWER
  • Volo
  • Grunt
  • Yarn package manager, one of the Facebook Open Source projects
  • npm for Node.JS

The last two package managers specifically manage a project’s dependencies, a difficult task for any developer to accomplish. This article studies Yarn and npm in detail and compares the two competitive yet dynamic JavaScript package managers.

Yarn

Yarn is a safe, fast, and reliable JavaScript dependency management tool. It caches every package that it downloads so that it does not have to repeat the activity. It also runs parallel operations to maximize resource utilization, thus making installation timeframes shorter.

Companies such as Trivago, Alibaba Travels, and Revolut use the Yarn package manager in their tech stacks. Moreover, this package manager can easily integrate with phpMyAdmin, WhiteSource, Serverless Chrome, Dependabot, and Bit, among others.

Yarn is perfect for one-shot projects and a large mono repository. From hobbyists to enterprise users—anyone can benefit from this JavaScript package manager.

Key features

1. License checks

It can restrict licenses of installed modules and means for supplying license information. This is helpful when you have to check the licenses of all the modules on which you depend.

2. Compatibility

It is compatible with both BOWER and npm workflows, which means it supports mixing registries.

3. Offline cache

Any package using Yarn, when installed, is placed on the disk. This means, during the next install, this package is used instead of sending an HTTP request and hence, can even work on offline mode. Simply put, Yarn packages can be re-installed without the internet.

4. Enhanced performance and security

Yarn uses lock-files, which help generate the same dependency tree irrespective of the installation order. This means it is vital for you to commit your Yarn.lock file to the source control.

Naturally, this feature helps in predictable installs, enhanced performance, and security as a core value. Yarn lock files are easy-to-merge and are predictable because of their design.

5. Improved network performance

Yarn queues HTTP requests efficiently and avoids request waterfalls altogether. The package manager also prevents individual failed requests from stopping the entire installation. That means that failed requests are automatically retired.

6. Zero duplication

Since the installation structure in the Yarn package manager is independent of the installation order, it eliminates duplicates by resolving mismatched versions of dependencies to a single version.

Drawbacks

  • Yarn is not a standalone package manager but is considered an improved version of npm.
  • Yarn also takes up a lot of hard disk space, which is not helpful in the long-term.
  • Given the Yarn package manager’s newness in the software development realm, many developers are still hesitant to use it.

Installation process

To install Yarn, npm has to be installed. Simply enter the following command:

npm install Yarn --global

Another efficient way of installing Yarn into your system is via the native package manager. If you are using brew, an open-source software package management system integrated with Mac, all you have to do is enter:

brew update
brew install Yarn

This is the correct way of following the method if you wish to use Yarn on an existing npm package.

npm

Short for Node Package Manager, npm is the default package manager used in the Node.JS development. It simplifies the process of sharing and reusing the code for developers.

Amongst the developers, it is also jokingly called “Nonprofit Pizza Makers” and “Ninja Pumpkin Mutants.” npm consists of two parts:

A Command-Line Interface (CLI) tool to publish and download packages

An online repository for hosting JS packages

In a nutshell, the repository is the fulfillment center that receives packages of goods from sellers—who are npm package authors—and distributes these goods to buyers—who are npm packager users.

Companies such as Slack, Netflix, Salesforce, and Zillow use npm in their tech stacks. Moreover, this package manager easily integrates with Travis CI, cdnjs, PKG, Apache OpenWhisk, and more.

npm is perfect for individual creators, growing development teams, and organizations. Unlike Yarn that works brilliantly in large-scale development projects, npm can also beautifully handle small-scale projects.

Key features

1. Smoother management

Since npm provides package-lock.json that displays all the project’s dependencies, it is easier to manage them all. It also manages globally-installed project tools. Besides, npm downloads standalone tools that developers can use right away.

2. Flexible and adaptable

npm adapts packages of code for the app and incorporates the packages as they are. It also manages multiple code versions and code dependencies. Plus, you do not need to download npx for running packages.

3. Greater control

This JavaScript package manager restricts code to specific developers, which is a boon when the development teams are dispersed or when there is a need to control the codebase for a critical project or infrastructure.

4. Set protocol

When new developers join your team, they do not necessarily have to learn the package management conventions you used. npm ensures the new hires do not have to invest a lot of time figuring out libraries managed in your codebase.

5. Large, active community

npm has a thriving community where it is easy to find other developers who have worked on similar problems and projects.

Drawbacks

1. Due to installed dependencies, npm does not have a license checker to share handy descriptions of all the licenses that a project is bound with.

2. npm does not come with a “why” command, which tells why a dependency is present in the project.

3. Npm’s package-lock.json file is complicated due to a trade-off between simplicity and determinism, because of which, the package-lock will generate the same modules for different npm versions.

Installation process

You cannot install and use npm unless you have installed Node.JS frameworks in your system. The good thing is as soon as you start downloading the Node.JS solutions, npm will automatically get installed on your system for use.

To check if the Node.JS solutions and npm installation are working fine, please run these command in your terminal, one-by-one:

node -v
npm -v

Yarn vs. npma comparison between the best package managers

FeaturesYarnnpm
Installation processTo install Yarn, npm has to be installednpm gets installed with the Node.JS solutions automatically
Lock fileYarn generates a yarn-lock filenpm generates a package-lock.json file 
Output logOutput logs are clean, brief, and visually distinctOutput logs are voluminous
Global dependenciesHas a “why” functionality built-inDoes not have a “why” functionality built-in
License checkerCan restrict licenses of installed modules and means for supplying license informationNo license checker to give a handy description of all the license that a project is bound with
Fetching packagesYarn stores dependencies locally and fetches them from the disk, instead of sending an HTTP requestnpm fetches dependencies from the npm registry

Wrapping it up

When it comes to choosing the best package manager between Yarn and npm – that is a tough one. Depending on your requirement, you can select either of the two JavaScript package managers. Both have different benefits and drawbacks.

If Yarn is more efficient and capable of managing the system sophisticatedly, then npm is a proven package manager in the industry, which is robust and follows set protocols.

Both have brilliant security features and upgrades that are beneficial in the long run and help developers in their projects. In conclusion, Yarn is a newer package manager in the market, whereas npm has already established its benefits in the application development realm.

So, what is it going to be for you, and why? Let us know in the comments below!