I find myself writing about this over and over again in the prerequisites of an article I’ve begun to write. I’d prefer to write one definitive guide to refer to in the future, so here it is.
Basic command line proficiency. Don’t skip this step! If you don’t know how to use the command line, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. The provided tutorial has everything you need to know.
Learn what Node.js and npm are
Set up Node.js and npm on Windows and Mac
What is Node.js?
What is npm?
npm doesn’t stand for Node Package Manager*, which means it’s the tool to connect to the repository containing all the Node.js programs, plugins, modules and so on.
*npm actually does not stand for “Node Package Manager” but essentially that’s what it is and does, so most people refer to it that way.
Local vs. Global
This is the most confusing concept to understand at first, so it’s important to let this settle in. Traditionally, you’re used to globally installing any sort of program or software on your computer. If you want Spotify, you’ll download Spotify, and then it will be available to you.
With npm, you will have some global installs, but mostly everything will be done on a local project basis, meaning you’ll have to install everything you need for each project in its own directory. If you want to have a project running Gulp and Sass, you’ll create a directory, with a new npm install.
For future reference, any global installations will have the -g flag.
Installation on Windows
Installing everything on Windows is a breeze.
Install Node.js and npm
Node.js and npm can be installed from a download link. Go to the Node installation page, and download the Node installer. I have a 64-bit Windows 10 OS, so I chose that one.
Once it’s done, you can test to see both node and npm functioning by opening PowerShell (or any shell) and typing node -v and npm -v, which will check the version number.
Installation on a Mac or Linux
In order to install everything on a Mac, we’ll be running commands in Terminal.app, and Linux distributions vary.
Open the ~/.bash_profile file, and make sure source ~/.bashrc is written in there somewhere. Restart the terminal.
Run the install command.
nvm install node
Run the use command.
nvm use node
Now using node v8.2.0 (npm v5.3.0)
Now that Node.js and npm are installed, test them by typing node -v and npm -v.
Create a Project
At this point, you’re set to start setting up Gulp, Webpack, Browserify, or whatever your aim is. We can also create a simple project to test that everything is working properly.
Navigate to the directory in which you want your project to exist – in my case, sites/node-test.
Now initalize a new project with npm.
The following will pop up in the terminal, and prompt you for a few
This utility will walk you through creating a package.json file.
It only covers the most common items, and tries to guess sensible defaults.
See `npm help json` for definitive documentation on these fields
and exactly what they do.
Use `npm install ` afterwards to install a package and
save it as a dependency in the package.json file.
First, it will ask for a package name.
Creating my first "Hello, World!" Node project.
The rest you can just press enter and skip. Now you’ll notice we have a package.json file that contains all the information we entered.
"description": "Creating my first \"Hello, World!\" Node project.",
"test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1"
"author": "Tania Rascia",
A package.json is a file that contains metadata about the project, and handles the dependencies (additional software and modules) of the project.
Now, we’re going to install our first dependency – a very important and useful package called left-pad, which will add white space to the left side of a string, adding up to a number.
For example, writing this:
Will output this:
left-pad is a package on npm, which as we stated previously contains the registry for all publicly available packages.
To install a dependency with npm, we use the command npm install dependency-name-here. Now, simply running npm install will download the dependency, but it won’t save it to the project. Since we’ve already created our package.json, we’ll use the flag --save to install the dependency and add it to package.json.
npm install left-pad --save
As long as you ran this command inside the project directory, it will successfully install the dependency by creating a node_modules directory. It will also create a package-lock.json file, which we can ignore. Finally, it updated our package.json file with a new line.
Now the project recognizes the left-pad dependency as existing
You can also run npm install --save-dev to specify that the dependency will only be used for development (not production) purposes.
Run Node in the terminal
Let’s create index.js in the root of our directory. This is everything you should have now:
For future reference, don’t bother looking in the node_modules rabbit hole. It will get really overwhelming with bigger projects.
In order to use a dependency, we use require() and put it in a variable, like so:
const leftPad = require('left-pad');
This will be the entirety of our index.js file, in which we require left-pad, run a leftPad() function, and send it to the console.
const leftPad = require('left-pad'); // Require left pad
const output = leftPad('Hello, World!', 15); // Define output
// Send output to the console
Since Node.js is not recognized by the browser, we’ll be testing this in the console. In your shell, run the node command followed by the filename in the root of your project.
If everything went well, you should have printed Hello, World! to the console, with two spaces on the left.
In this tutorial, we learned the following:
What Node.js is
What npm is
How to install Node.js and npm on Windows or Mac
How to make a local project
How to install a dependency with npm
How to run a file using a node_modules dependency in a shell
With this knowledge, you’re ready to start using Gulp, Grunt, Webpack, Browserify, or anything else that depends on Node.js or npm.
I'm Tania, a designer, developer, writer, and former chef from Chicago. I currently work full-time as a web developer, and sometimes I write for DigitalOcean and SitePoint. I love to create things for the web.