Specifics of npm's package.json handling


This document is all you need to know about what's required in your package.json file. It must be actual JSON, not just a JavaScript object literal.

A lot of the behavior described in this document is affected by the config settings described in npm-config.


The most important things in your package.json are the name and version fields. Those are actually required, and your package won't install without them. The name and version together form an identifier that is assumed to be completely unique. Changes to the package should come along with changes to the version.

The name is what your thing is called.

Some rules:

Some tips:

A name can be optionally prefixed by a scope, e.g. @myorg/mypackage. See npm-scope for more detail.


The most important things in your package.json are the name and version fields. Those are actually required, and your package won't install without them. The name and version together form an identifier that is assumed to be completely unique. Changes to the package should come along with changes to the version.

Version must be parseable by node-semver, which is bundled with npm as a dependency. (npm install semver to use it yourself.)

More on version numbers and ranges at semver.


Put a description in it. It's a string. This helps people discover your package, as it's listed in npm search.


Put keywords in it. It's an array of strings. This helps people discover your package as it's listed in npm search.


The url to the project homepage.


The url to your project's issue tracker and / or the email address to which issues should be reported. These are helpful for people who encounter issues with your package.

It should look like this:

{ "url" : ""
, "email" : ""

You can specify either one or both values. If you want to provide only a url, you can specify the value for "bugs" as a simple string instead of an object.

If a url is provided, it will be used by the npm bugs command.


You should specify a license for your package so that people know how they are permitted to use it, and any restrictions you're placing on it.

If you're using a common license such as BSD-2-Clause or MIT, add a current SPDX license identifier for the license you're using, like this:

{ "license" : "BSD-3-Clause" }

You can check the full list of SPDX license IDs. Ideally you should pick one that is OSI approved.

If your package is licensed under multiple common licenses, use an SPDX license expression syntax version 2.0 string, like this:

{ "license" : "(ISC OR GPL-3.0)" }

If you are using a license that hasn't been assigned an SPDX identifier, or if you are using a custom license, use a string value like this one:

{ "license" : "SEE LICENSE IN <filename>" }

Then include a file named <filename> at the top level of the package.

Some old packages used license objects or a "licenses" property containing an array of license objects:

// Not valid metadata
{ "license" :
  { "type" : "ISC"
  , "url" : ""

// Not valid metadata
{ "licenses" :
    { "type": "MIT"
    , "url": ""
  , { "type": "Apache-2.0"
    , "url": ""

Those styles are now deprecated. Instead, use SPDX expressions, like this:

{ "license": "ISC" }

{ "license": "(MIT OR Apache-2.0)" }

Finally, if you do not wish to grant others the right to use a private or unpublished package under any terms:

{ "license": "UNLICENSED" }

Consider also setting "private": true to prevent accidental publication.

people fields: author, contributors

The "author" is one person. "contributors" is an array of people. A "person" is an object with a "name" field and optionally "url" and "email", like this:

{ "name" : "Barney Rubble"
, "email" : ""
, "url" : ""

Or you can shorten that all into a single string, and npm will parse it for you:

"Barney Rubble <> ("

Both email and url are optional either way.

npm also sets a top-level "maintainers" field with your npm user info.


The "files" field is an array of files to include in your project. If you name a folder in the array, then it will also include the files inside that folder. (Unless they would be ignored by another rule.)

You can also provide a ".npmignore" file in the root of your package or in subdirectories, which will keep files from being included, even if they would be picked up by the files array. The .npmignore file works just like a .gitignore.

Certain files are always included, regardless of settings:

README, CHANGES, LICENSE & NOTICE can have any case and extension.

Conversely, some files are always ignored:


The main field is a module ID that is the primary entry point to your program. That is, if your package is named foo, and a user installs it, and then does require("foo"), then your main module's exports object will be returned.

This should be a module ID relative to the root of your package folder.

For most modules, it makes the most sense to have a main script and often not much else.


A lot of packages have one or more executable files that they'd like to install into the PATH. npm makes this pretty easy (in fact, it uses this feature to install the "npm" executable.)

To use this, supply a bin field in your package.json which is a map of command name to local file name. On install, npm will symlink that file into prefix/bin for global installs, or ./node_modules/.bin/ for local installs.

For example, myapp could have this:

{ "bin" : { "myapp" : "./cli.js" } }

So, when you install myapp, it'll create a symlink from the cli.js script to /usr/local/bin/myapp.

If you have a single executable, and its name should be the name of the package, then you can just supply it as a string. For example:

{ "name": "my-program"
, "version": "1.2.5"
, "bin": "./path/to/program" }

would be the same as this:

{ "name": "my-program"
, "version": "1.2.5"
, "bin" : { "my-program" : "./path/to/program" } }

Please make sure that your file(s) referenced in bin starts with #!/usr/bin/env node, otherwise the scripts are started without the node executable!


Specify either a single file or an array of filenames to put in place for the man program to find.

If only a single file is provided, then it's installed such that it is the result from man <pkgname>, regardless of its actual filename. For example:

{ "name" : "foo"
, "version" : "1.2.3"
, "description" : "A packaged foo fooer for fooing foos"
, "main" : "foo.js"
, "man" : "./man/doc.1"

would link the ./man/doc.1 file in such that it is the target for man foo

If the filename doesn't start with the package name, then it's prefixed. So, this:

{ "name" : "foo"
, "version" : "1.2.3"
, "description" : "A packaged foo fooer for fooing foos"
, "main" : "foo.js"
, "man" : [ "./man/foo.1", "./man/bar.1" ]

will create files to do man foo and man foo-bar.

Man files must end with a number, and optionally a .gz suffix if they are compressed. The number dictates which man section the file is installed into.

{ "name" : "foo"
, "version" : "1.2.3"
, "description" : "A packaged foo fooer for fooing foos"
, "main" : "foo.js"
, "man" : [ "./man/foo.1", "./man/foo.2" ]

will create entries for man foo and man 2 foo


The CommonJS Packages spec details a few ways that you can indicate the structure of your package using a directories object. If you look at npm's package.json, you'll see that it has directories for doc, lib, and man.

In the future, this information may be used in other creative ways.


Tell people where the bulk of your library is. Nothing special is done with the lib folder in any way, but it's useful meta info.


If you specify a bin directory in directories.bin, all the files in that folder will be added.

Because of the way the bin directive works, specifying both a bin path and setting directories.bin is an error. If you want to specify individual files, use bin, and for all the files in an existing bin directory, use directories.bin.

A folder that is full of man pages. Sugar to generate a "man" array by walking the folder.


Put markdown files in here. Eventually, these will be displayed nicely, maybe, someday.


Put example scripts in here. Someday, it might be exposed in some clever way.


Put your tests in here. It is currently not exposed, but it might be in the future.


Specify the place where your code lives. This is helpful for people who want to contribute. If the git repo is on GitHub, then the npm docs command will be able to find you.

Do it like this:

"repository" :
  { "type" : "git"
  , "url" : ""

"repository" :
  { "type" : "svn"
  , "url" : ""

The URL should be a publicly available (perhaps read-only) url that can be handed directly to a VCS program without any modification. It should not be a url to an html project page that you put in your browser. It's for computers.

For GitHub, GitHub gist, Bitbucket, or GitLab repositories you can use the same shortcut syntax you use for npm install:

"repository": "npm/npm"

"repository": "gist:11081aaa281"

"repository": "bitbucket:example/repo"

"repository": "gitlab:another/repo"


The "scripts" property is a dictionary containing script commands that are run at various times in the lifecycle of your package. The key is the lifecycle event, and the value is the command to run at that point.

See npm-scripts to find out more about writing package scripts.


A "config" object can be used to set configuration parameters used in package scripts that persist across upgrades. For instance, if a package had the following:

{ "name" : "foo"
, "config" : { "port" : "8080" } }

and then had a "start" command that then referenced the npm_package_config_port environment variable, then the user could override that by doing npm config set foo:port 8001.

See npm-config and npm-scripts for more on package configs.


Dependencies are specified in a simple object that maps a package name to a version range. The version range is a string which has one or more space-separated descriptors. Dependencies can also be identified with a tarball or git URL.

Please do not put test harnesses or transpilers in your dependencies object. See devDependencies, below.

See semver for more details about specifying version ranges.

For example, these are all valid:

{ "dependencies" :
  { "foo" : "1.0.0 - 2.9999.9999"
  , "bar" : ">=1.0.2 <2.1.2"
  , "baz" : ">1.0.2 <=2.3.4"
  , "boo" : "2.0.1"
  , "qux" : "<1.0.0 || >=2.3.1 <2.4.5 || >=2.5.2 <3.0.0"
  , "asd" : ""
  , "til" : "~1.2"
  , "elf" : "~1.2.3"
  , "two" : "2.x"
  , "thr" : "3.3.x"
  , "lat" : "latest"
  , "dyl" : "file:../dyl"

URLs as Dependencies

You may specify a tarball URL in place of a version range.

This tarball will be downloaded and installed locally to your package at install time.

Git URLs as Dependencies

Git urls are of the form:

<protocol>://[<user>[:<password>]@]<hostname>[:<port>][:][/]<path>[#<commit-ish> | #semver:<semver>]

<protocol> is one of git, git+ssh, git+http, git+https, or git+file.

If #<commit-ish> is provided, it will be used to clone exactly that commit. If the commit-ish has the format #semver:<semver>, <semver> can be any valid semver range or exact version, and npm will look for any tags or refs matching that range in the remote repository, much as it would for a registry dependency. If neither #<commit-ish> or #semver:<semver> is specified, then master is used.



GitHub URLs

As of version 1.1.65, you can refer to GitHub urls as just "foo": "user/foo-project". Just as with git URLs, a commit-ish suffix can be included. For example:

  "name": "foo",
  "version": "0.0.0",
  "dependencies": {
    "express": "expressjs/express",
    "mocha": "mochajs/mocha#4727d357ea",
    "module": "user/repo#feature\/branch"

Local Paths

As of version 2.0.0 you can provide a path to a local directory that contains a package. Local paths can be saved using npm install -S or npm install --save, using any of these forms:


in which case they will be normalized to a relative path and added to your package.json. For example:

  "name": "baz",
  "dependencies": {
    "bar": "file:../foo/bar"

This feature is helpful for local offline development and creating tests that require npm installing where you don't want to hit an external server, but should not be used when publishing packages to the public registry.


If someone is planning on downloading and using your module in their program, then they probably don't want or need to download and build the external test or documentation framework that you use.

In this case, it's best to map these additional items in a devDependencies object.

These things will be installed when doing npm link or npm install from the root of a package, and can be managed like any other npm configuration param. See npm-config for more on the topic.

For build steps that are not platform-specific, such as compiling CoffeeScript or other languages to JavaScript, use the prepare script to do this, and make the required package a devDependency.

For example:

{ "name": "ethopia-waza",
  "description": "a delightfully fruity coffee varietal",
  "version": "1.2.3",
  "devDependencies": {
    "coffee-script": "~1.6.3"
  "scripts": {
    "prepare": "coffee -o lib/ -c src/"
  "main": "lib/waza.js"

The prepare script will be run before publishing, so that users can consume the functionality without requiring them to compile it themselves. In dev mode (ie, locally running npm install), it'll run this script as well, so that you can test it easily.


In some cases, you want to express the compatibility of your package with a host tool or library, while not necessarily doing a require of this host. This is usually referred to as a plugin. Notably, your module may be exposing a specific interface, expected and specified by the host documentation.

For example:

  "name": "tea-latte",
  "version": "1.3.5",
  "peerDependencies": {
    "tea": "2.x"

This ensures your package tea-latte can be installed along with the second major version of the host package tea only. npm install tea-latte could possibly yield the following dependency graph:

├── tea-latte@1.3.5
└── tea@2.2.0

NOTE: npm versions 1 and 2 will automatically install peerDependencies if they are not explicitly depended upon higher in the dependency tree. In the next major version of npm (npm@3), this will no longer be the case. You will receive a warning that the peerDependency is not installed instead. The behavior in npms 1 & 2 was frequently confusing and could easily put you into dependency hell, a situation that npm is designed to avoid as much as possible.

Trying to install another plugin with a conflicting requirement will cause an error. For this reason, make sure your plugin requirement is as broad as possible, and not to lock it down to specific patch versions.

Assuming the host complies with semver, only changes in the host package's major version will break your plugin. Thus, if you've worked with every 1.x version of the host package, use "^1.0" or "1.x" to express this. If you depend on features introduced in 1.5.2, use ">= 1.5.2 < 2".


This defines an array of package names that will be bundled when publishing the package.

In cases where you need to preserve npm packages locally or have them available through a single file download, you can bundle the packages in a tarball file by specifying the package names in the bundledDependencies array and executing npm pack.

For example:

If we define a package.json like this:

  "name": "awesome-web-framework",
  "version": "1.0.0",
  "bundledDependencies": [
    'renderized', 'super-streams'

we can obtain awesome-web-framework-1.0.0.tgz file by running npm pack. This file contains the dependencies renderized and super-streams which can be installed in a new project by executing npm install awesome-web-framework-1.0.0.tgz.

If this is spelled "bundleDependencies", then that is also honored.


If a dependency can be used, but you would like npm to proceed if it cannot be found or fails to install, then you may put it in the optionalDependencies object. This is a map of package name to version or url, just like the dependencies object. The difference is that build failures do not cause installation to fail.

It is still your program's responsibility to handle the lack of the dependency. For example, something like this:

try {
  var foo = require('foo')
  var fooVersion = require('foo/package.json').version
} catch (er) {
  foo = null
if ( notGoodFooVersion(fooVersion) ) {
  foo = null

// .. then later in your program ..

if (foo) {

Entries in optionalDependencies will override entries of the same name in dependencies, so it's usually best to only put in one place.


You can specify the version of node that your stuff works on:

{ "engines" : { "node" : ">=0.10.3 <0.12" } }

And, like with dependencies, if you don't specify the version (or if you specify "*" as the version), then any version of node will do.

If you specify an "engines" field, then npm will require that "node" be somewhere on that list. If "engines" is omitted, then npm will just assume that it works on node.

You can also use the "engines" field to specify which versions of npm are capable of properly installing your program. For example:

{ "engines" : { "npm" : "~1.0.20" } }

Unless the user has set the engine-strict config flag, this field is advisory only will produce warnings when your package is installed as a dependency.


This feature was removed in npm 3.0.0

Prior to npm 3.0.0, this feature was used to treat this package as if the user had set engine-strict. It is no longer used.


You can specify which operating systems your module will run on:

"os" : [ "darwin", "linux" ]

You can also blacklist instead of whitelist operating systems, just prepend the blacklisted os with a '!':

"os" : [ "!win32" ]

The host operating system is determined by process.platform

It is allowed to both blacklist, and whitelist, although there isn't any good reason to do this.


If your code only runs on certain cpu architectures, you can specify which ones.

"cpu" : [ "x64", "ia32" ]

Like the os option, you can also blacklist architectures:

"cpu" : [ "!arm", "!mips" ]

The host architecture is determined by process.arch



This option used to trigger an npm warning, but it will no longer warn. It is purely there for informational purposes. It is now recommended that you install any binaries as local devDependencies wherever possible.


If you set "private": true in your package.json, then npm will refuse to publish it.

This is a way to prevent accidental publication of private repositories. If you would like to ensure that a given package is only ever published to a specific registry (for example, an internal registry), then use the publishConfig dictionary described below to override the registry config param at publish-time.


This is a set of config values that will be used at publish-time. It's especially handy if you want to set the tag, registry or access, so that you can ensure that a given package is not tagged with "latest", published to the global public registry or that a scoped module is private by default.

Any config values can be overridden, but of course only "tag", "registry" and "access" probably matter for the purposes of publishing.

See npm-config to see the list of config options that can be overridden.


npm will default some values based on package contents.

See Also

Last modified July 14, 2017           Found a typo? Send a pull request!

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