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We have had a requirement from a customer to be able define every package including dependencies within a Node solution (as it happens Apollo GraphQL), not only the complete download path but the version numbering as well. There are many ways to solve this problem. But here is an elegant(?) and portable answer. To ensure that we don’t get pollution from a global node space we created a project package in an empty folder using:

 npm init --yes

This defaults all the package,json settings which for our requirements is fine. Then in the same location its npm install <product from the npm registry to pull> e.g. for Apollo GraphQL:

npm install apollo-server graphql

This will bring down to your npm project all the dependencies putting them in the node_modules child folder. We’re now in a position to retrieve all the details of the packages, their dependencies and version information. This can be done by using the command:

npm list --json

If you don’t provide the –json paramteter then you’ll get a pretty text tree representation rather than a more usable JSON structure.

JSON Output
Without the JSON Flag

As you can see the JSON representation is a lot easier to work if we want to extract more meaning. So it’s worth piping the output to a file. The next step is to extract the two key values – any package nested or not with the JSON attributes Resolved and Version so that we can incorporate the values into a report, spreadsheet etc. There are plenty of ways to process the JSON, but I wanted to have a means that is platform agnostic and simple. So we elected to make use of a ./jq which a JSON processor that is cross-platform, supports an expression and a set of functions that allowed to recurse through the JSON tree of dependencies and tease out the attributes. You can download and put the jq binary in your PATH, but for getting the expression debugged there is a brilliant web tool (jqplay.org) where you can supply the JSON and then online edit your expression and it shows you the result.

JQ play in action

Not all parts of the structure have the resolved attribute. So we needed to introduce some conditionality into the JQ filter expressions, which is as follows:

..| if (has("resolved")? == true) then .resolved+", "+.version else "" end

The initial .. forces the the process to recurse through the structure. Each time we recurse the substructure gets passed onto the next expression like a pipeline in a bash script. Within this piped operation we have an if condition which is predicated on whether the resolved attribute exists. The question mark at the end of the expression has(“resolved”)? tells JQ that if the it can’t resolve, rather than terminating with an error, to return a false result, just to be safe. The condition then says to build a string using the attributes resolved and version with a comma separator character. Lastly if there is no value then just output an empty string. Unfortunately JQ does complain if the use of an else is missing.

As you can see in the screenshot this yields a comma separated lines with the full path and version number. The only challenge is that there empty lines with just quotes. The last step is to just search and replace the quotes will an empty string and we can then pull the content in as CSV.