Jan 27, 2023 • 13 min read

Publishing an NPM Package with Private pnpm Monorepo Dependencies

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Vadim Korolik
Software Engineer @ Highlight

Trying to publish an npm package but have a complicated monorepo setup? Publishing a library that depends on other packages you've built but don't want published to npm? We'll be covering how we do this at highlight.io to setup our npmjs package. But first...

What is a monorepo?

A monorepo is a code repository that stores multiple distinct projects side by side, typically organized via the directory structure. Projects of a common language may reside in a

Here's what our application's structure looks like abridged:

highlight/ ├─ backend/ │ ├─ main.go ├─ packages/ │ ├─ ui/ │ │ ├─ package.json │ │ ├─ src/ │ │ │ ├─ index.ts ├─ sdk/ │ ├─ highlight-run/ │ │ ├─ package.json │ │ ├─ src/ │ │ │ ├─ index.ts │ ├─ highlight-next/ │ │ ├─ package.json │ │ ├─ src/ │ │ │ ├─ index.ts │ ├─ highlight-py/ │ │ ├─ pyproject.toml │ │ ├─ highlight_io/ │ │ │ ├─ ... ├─ frontend/ │ ├─ package.json │ ├─ src/ │ │ ├─ index.tsx ├─ package.json ├─ yarn.lock ├─ ...
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Our repository stores our golang backend, sdks (nodejs, nextjs, python, and more), and typescript frontend all side-by-side. Why? Packages in a monorepo can use one another directly, without having to push/pull from an external store like npm. Another way to put it: we can test our highlight-run package from our frontend directly, without the need for yalc or any other steps to sync the dependency.

So how does the referencing work?

In our repository, we use yarn v3 workspaces to bring together our javascript / typescript packages. Setting the workspaces key in the top level package.json is all we need to do, and yarn handles pulling in dependencies of packages into the overall yarn.lock file. Conveniently, running yarn from anywhere in our monorepo works, as yarn finds the top level package.json and resolves dependencies accordingly.

... "workspaces": [ "packages/*", "frontend", "sdk/highlight-next", "sdk/highlight-run", ... ], ...
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Let's take a look at how frontend might use the highlight.run library. If highlight.run is built as a library that will be published to NPM, the library should be referenced as a package import. The import looks exactly the same as if you were to use the library from npm, but yarn will automatically use the local version instead. In our frontend index.tsx, we reference the local package as follows:

import { H } from 'highlight.run' H.init('...')
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Yarn knows that highlight.run exists under sdk/... because that directory is part of the workspaces key and has the corresponding name in its package.json. That's all

Publishing an NPM package with workspace dependencies

That setup sounded simple, right? Just write JS/TS, reference other local packages as you would if they were imported from npm, and you can publish your library. There's a bit of a catch here though: our highlght.run library uses our internal client typescript package that isn't public. While we want to publish highlight.run to npm, we don't want to publish the client library. Though highlight.run references typescript type definitions from client, we also don't want to bundle most of the code into highlight.run as that would increase the bundle size (instead we have highlight.run inject client as a deffered <script> tag at browser runtime; see more as to why in our performance docs).

Just like with the frontend usage of highlight.run, we started with having highlight.run import from client by referencing the package.json name of @highlight-run/client. This successfully worked in development as the reference could be resolved, but when we built highlight.run for production, the bundle contained references to @highlight-run/client which could not be resolved in our customers' environments since it was not a published package.

Next, we tried to use relative imports to make sure that the bundle didn't have any references to the private package. We replaced imports of @highlight-run/client with relative paths like ../../client/src/foo.ts . This worked great both in development for publishing the bundle to npm, until we noticed that our highlight.run npmjs package had a large bundle size as it was bundling the entire codebase of @highlight-run/clien

The Solution

After a bit of trial and error, we arrived at a solution: use relative path imports and rely on code splitting and type imports.

Here's a snippet of the imports from our highlight.run entrypoint.

... import { GenerateSecureID } from '../../client/src/utils/secure-id' import type { Highlight, HighlightClassOptions } from '../../client/src/index' ...
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When we need to import source code, like a function or a constant, we import it using a path import, making sure that the file that is imported from has as little other code as possible by breaking up our code into many files. This allows our bundler, rollup, to minimize the amount of code it needs to pull in when resolving the import.

When we import a typescripe type, using an import type statement allows rollup to ensure it is only importing the type definitions from the file, without importing the actual source code implementations. As a result, the output is efficiently constrained just to what is actually necessary, yielding a smaller bundle size as a result.

A simplified example of private dependencies

Check out our pnpm example of the monorepo setup here (with tsup bundling using rollup under the hood)! A other few gotchas that we discovered along the way that we show how to configure in the example repo:

tsconfig.json changes required

You'll need to update your tsconfig.json to include a references key to resolve the types of workspace packages. Private packages imported via references also need to have "composite": true set.

Use pnpm-workspace.yaml with pnpm

If you are migrating to pnpm from a yarn workspaces setup, you'll need to move your workspace definitions from your package.json to a new file named pnpm-workspace.yaml in the top level of your repository.

Individial package build steps

When setting up your code bundling, your packages may need build steps to output the production bundle that will be published to npm. In our example, we start simple with a manual tsup src --target esnext --dts script in the packages' package.json files, but for a larger project, you'll likely be interested in setting up something like turborepo or Nx. These build systems provide automation for the bundling steps that make it easier to manage the order in which your packages must be built. We'll have a blog about digging into javascript build systems in the future! If you're interested, let us know!

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