WTF npm update?!
Do not use
npm update with any package which use custom dist-tags.
This package has officially those 3 last versions:
1.0.2. But inside the
dist-tags (read more), we have two of them: the classic
latest which refers to the latest stable release of the package and a custom one, named
canary, indicating the last non-stable release of the package. If you are wondering if real projects are using such tags, the answer is yes, the
npm package is using
next tags for it’s weekly pre-release (read more).
latest points to
1.0.2. Meaning that if you run
npm view test-npm-update, you will have something like:
It’s important to realize a few things here.
1.0.2 is a released version just as
1.0.1 and we will say it’s the greatest one (as in the biggest number according to semver) but not the latest one (as in the one tagged with the
latest dist-tag). We need to make such distinction to fully understand what will happen after that.
So, when you run
npm view test-npm-update, it actually runs
npm view test-npm-update@latest, meaning it will grab the informations of the latest version. But maybe some other versions have been released with a custom tag after this one. For me, so far, so good. NPM is doing exactly what I would expect. If I want a custom release such as the canary one, I can run
npm view test-npm-update@canary and it will display infos about the
1.0.2 version. In fact, but I might be wrong but I except NPM to always use the latest version (aka the
latest dist-tag) by default if I don’t specify anything. That’s what you can mostly read all over the NPM documentation.
1.0.2 is inside the
versions array just like any other version. So first warning, if you use such metadata for whatever stuff you are doing, do not assume that the greatest version inside the
versions array is the latest one.
Now, what if I run
npm install test-npm-update? What would you expect to be installed?
1.0.1 right? And of course it will be this version, the latest one. That’s normal, after all, latest is the default one. All good here.
What if I clean my folder and then run
npm install test-npm-update@^1.0.0? Guess what,
1.0.1 will be installed. And I’m totally ok with that. I asked for the best 1.x.x version and I’m glad to have the latest one since it matches.
But most of the time, you don’t install or update from command line, you have a
package.json file with a range inside it. Let’s say we have the following one:
Pretty classic, right? Now, for the purpose of the demo, let’s say we currently have the
1.0.0 version of
test-npm-update locally installed. If you want to reproduce, just create an empty folder, then create a
package.json inside it with the previous content and run
npm install email@example.com to force the install of an old version.
Done? Cool, let’s move forward. NPM has a command to test if you have outdated versions locally installed. Which is our case. Let’s check that by running
npm outdated. You should have something like:
Wait a minute? I’m ok with current (the locally installed) being
1.0.0 and latest (matching the dist-tag) being
1.0.1 but wanted is supposed to be the best matching version I should install according to
package.json. How can it be greater than latest?
Actually, it’s all ok according to the NPM documentation. After all, the
package.json range is
^1.0.0 which means the greatest possible version without changing the first non-zero digit. And among all our versions (see the
versions array from
npm view), both
1.0.2 match this range, but since
1.0.2 is greater than
1.0.1, the wanted version is
I didn’t expect that to be honest. That’s not wrong but I can’t help myself finding that strange.
Quick mention to the fact that if I run
npm install with my
package.json in an empty folder (aka without the
1.0.0 version already installed), it will still install
1.0.1 version. That’s ok according to latest being the default one. Back to our outdated
Things start to get really ugly now. So,
npm outdated just told me I have an old local version. I should probably update it, and NPM has a command for that. Let’s run
npm update. To be honest, I wasn’t sure anymore what would be installed locally. I mean, I would have normally expected the
1.0.1 version. My brain was like “It should be the greatest stable version which match the range”, with stable meaning lower or equal to the
latest tag, but for NPM, it’s more like “It should be the greatest version which match the range. Period.”. And it makes all the difference. My brain stops at
1.0.1 as the latest stable but NPM browse all version, including any custom dist-tags, including the
At the end, running
npm update will install
1.0.2 version. This is wrong. According to documentation:
This command will update all the packages listed to the latest version (specified by the tag config), respecting semver.
I read that as the latest version according to
latest dist-tag. But we just updated to a version beyond this latest version. In any case, this is super dangerous! It means you can update to non-stable versions without even noticing it.
What if we didn’t have the
1.0.0 already installed? Since
npm update also install missing packages, it will indeed install
test-npm-update according to
package.json and, of course, to the
IMHO, I think this is way too dangerous,
npm update should be capped by the latest version, and so should
npm outdated. By default, no command should target versions beyond
latest dist-tag. Also, it seems inconsistent to have
update both capable of installing a missing package from a
package.json file but not to the same version.
I raised an issue on Github, we will see. Be careful from now on.
Thanks for reading! Spread the word.
It might be a bit too early to speak about that, but if you need an
outdated command which is actually capped by the
latest tag and also support other package managers (like Bower), please check my outdated project. It’s not ready at all yet but it will be in the next few days, promise.