What is Node.js Corepack?

Matt Labrum

A breakdown of the Node.Js Corepack and how to implement it into your solutions.

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Node.js is a popular platform for writing all sorts of applications, from backend API projects or utility scripts to frontend website development. However, one of the challenges that developers face when using Node.js is managing different versions of NPM alternative package managers such as Yarn and PNPM and keeping the exact versions of these tools in sync between developers. 

If you’ve ever hit an issue with a yarn.lock or .pnpm-lock.yaml and developers overriding or deleting these files because the version of Yarn or PNPM that developers are using are widely different (or the build agent is installing the wrong version!) 

That's where Node.js Corepack comes in. Corepack is a new feature that was introduced in Node.js 14.9.0/16.9.0 as an “Experimental” tool to help with managing versions of your package managers. It exposes binary proxies for each supported package manager that, when called, will identify whatever package manager is configured for the current project, transparently install it if needed, and finally run it without requiring explicit user interactions. 

This way, you can avoid potential conflicts, errors, or security issues that might arise from using different or outdated tools. 

Corepack reduces the number of steps developers need to run to get the exact version of the package management tool the project needs, and will only use this tool for this single project which helps when developers are swapping between projects that need different versions of Yarn/PNPM. 

How to use Node.js Corepack 

Using Node.js Corepack is very simple. You just need to have Node.js 16.9.0 or higher installed on your system, and then you can use the corepack command to run any of the supported tools.  

First since Corepack is listed as experimental you’ll need to enable this feature with 

corepack enable 

This will symlink some proxy binaries linking to PNPM and Yarn sitting next to the node binary. 

To set the desired package manager version for your project you can use the following command, this command only needs to be ran when configuring the version for the project. 

example using PNPM 

corepack use pnpm@9.x 

This command adds a “packageManager” field into the package.json file to track the specific package manager for the project. 

Now when you run “pnpm” or “yarn” on the command line the corepack proxy binaries will first look at the current directories (or closest) package.lock file to find the packageManager it needs to run. If this package manager version has not been cached yet corepack will automatically download, cache and execute the specified version of the package manager. 

Why you should use Node.js Corepack 

Node.js Corepack offers several benefits to Node.js developers, such as: 

  • Consistency: You can use the same package manager and versions across different projects, environments, and machines, without having to worry about installing or updating them manually or accidentally using the wrong version of a package manager. 
  • Reliability: You can avoid potential errors or bugs that might occur from using incompatible or outdated tools, or from having corrupted or missing dependencies. 
  • Flexibility: You can choose the tools and versions that suit your needs and preferences, and switch between them easily and quickly. 

Node.js Corepack is a great addition to the Node.js platform, and it makes the Node.js tooling experience more enjoyable and productive. If you are a Node.js developer, you should definitely give it a try and see how it can improve your workflow and projects. 

For more information see the following links