It seems it’s impossible to make a website these days without using some kind of package manager, whether its npm for your frontend dependencies or something like composer for your php dependencies. If you need to do something a bit tricky then, chances are, someone else had the same problem and created a package to solve that problem so you can just add it to your dependencies, install it and away you go. But does this mean web development is just copying and pasting other people’s work into your website?
Some people don’t like packages at all and would rather write everything from scratch so they know what everything does and they know that only the code that is needed is in their finished product. I don’t have a problem with that. I kind of admire the determination and control they have.
I used to be a bit like this, as I had the idea that using other peoples packages was kind of like cheating, just copying someone else’s work into yours.
But eventually it seemed like everyone was doing it. Every blog, forum and tutorial would start along similar lines of, pull in this package to do X, this library to do Y, so it seemed like there was no choice but to learn about packages.
Once I started learning about composer and npm I realised how powerful they were. Rather than spending hours of my own time solving a problem I could use a package that would do something I needed. I could build upon what someone else had done and keep on developing faster solutions.
Once I was used to the idea of pulling packages into my project there was no stopping me. Why should I spend time writing a function to do what I needed when I can pull in a library to do that for me? Feature Z sounds a bit tricky to develop, I can just pull in package A and all would be good.
But the end result was not as I expected. Rather than being in developer heaven, I was in dependency hell.
I had been greedy, lazy and irresponsible, trying to take as many shortcuts as I possibly could to make my life easier, but only resulting in making it more difficult.
Package managers like composer and npm also offer the facility of saving dependencies as either production or development, meaning you can specify which should be pulled down for your local development only and which are only needed for production. An example of this is phpunit. You don’t want this on your production server, only on your local development environment where you run the tests, so just add it to the require-dev section of your composer.json.
I think everyone needs to learn how useful package and dependency managers, but also to spend some time learning about the best ways of using them, and whether you really need to include the whole package or spend a little bit of time cherry picking just the features you need to include.