Node package manager (npm) is a package manager and a software register but it’s also a place where developers can find, build and manage code packages. Right now, npm contains over 800,000 packages for various applications, from front-end and robotics to mobile apps.

When we talk about development, namely JavaScript, Node.js is one of the commonly used environments. Node.js is an open-source JavaScript scalable development environment that allows users to build full-scale web applications. Npm is the management system for Node.js packages and is the primary support for the JavaScript community that keeps the system functional.

Npm started as a private organization; GitHub acquired npm in 2020. You can find a fun easter egg on the npm website. In the top-left corner of the site there are randomly generated combinations of words to define npm’s acronym including Nasty Pirate Macaw, Nerdiest Precious Module, Neurotic and Probably Misinformed, and so on. Alas, npm does in fact stand for Node package manager.

What Are the Benefits of NPM?

  1. Reusability: Anyone can use any packages on npm to build whatever application they desire.
  2. Support: Since so many developers use npm, it can also be a community to help you build bigger and better projects.
  3. Dependency Management: It’s a great way to efficiently handle and manage dependencies when working on large projects, especially when developers don't live in the same country.

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What Is NPM Used For? 

Using npm allows you to find code packages for web development, but it’s also a place for developers to build and maintain their code packages. As a developer, you can manage your code packages locally but as your code base grows and more people get involved in developing it, maintaining the code locally becomes nearly impossible. 

That is where using npm can change your workflow and make the development process more manageable. In this case, npm is used as a package manager to handle dependencies. A dependency is a software that must be installed for your package to function correctly (or at all).

You can easily define your dependencies inside a pacakge.json file, which you will find included in all code packages on npm. When we use npm, we often run an npm install command on that JSON file to install all needed dependencies for a specific code package. In the package.json file, you will find the different versions of the dependencies on which the package depends to avoid using versions that will break the code.

Moreover, npm allows engineers to extend a package’s functionality without the need to write and maintain additional code.

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How to Install NPM 

You can use npm on any operating system; installation is simple. All you have to do is head to the Node.js website and download the installer matching the device you use, whether it’s Windows, MacOS or Linux. The Node.js installer includes the npm package manager. Just follow the steps on the installer and you’ll be able to have all the power npm has to offer. To ensure everything was installed correctly, you can run npm -v in the command prompt after the installation to check which npm version you installed.

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Common NPM Commands

When you install npm, you can use the command-line to manage your packages and all those maintained within npm. In other words, you’ll have access to various commands. Some of the most widely used ones include:

  • npm init: This command initializes a package by creating a package.json file. When you start developing a new package, npm will create a JSON file to track your dependencies and automatically update that file whenever you install or remove packages.
  • npm install: Install is the most commonly used npm command and you can use it in various ways. This command will install all dependencies in a package.json file if executed by itself. However, if executed as npm install <package-name>, it will install a specific package from the npm registry. You can also run npm install <package-name> –save to install an npm package and add its dependencies to your package.json file.
  • npm uninstall <package-name>: This command uninstalls a specific package.
  • npm update <package-name>: This command updates a package to the latest version.

There are many more npm commands you can use to manage and maintain your packages, which you can find in the npm documentation.

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Popular NPM Packages

Npm contains thousands of packages but here are five commonly used ones for you to try.

  1. Nodist: This package allows you to manage your projects using npm on Windows. Nodist supports CMD, Powershell and Git bash.
  2. Grunt: Grunt is a task runner that provides many plugins to automate minification, compilation and unit testing.
  3. Mocha: Mocha is a testing tool that runs tests frequently, thereby allowing for flexible and accurate reporting while mapping uncaught exceptions. 
  4. Cheerio: This is a fast, flexible core jQuery (database for web development).
  5. React: React is a popular UI framework. It lets you build fast interfaces that scale efficiently with a focus on the essential aspects of UI design. 
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