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Geoffrey Kim
Geoffrey Kim

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Simplifying Node.js: Understanding the `--save` Flag in NPM Install

In the ever-evolving landscape of web development, staying updated with the latest tools and practices is crucial. One such tool that has become indispensable over the years is Node.js, particularly for backend development. Alongside Node.js, npm (Node Package Manager) plays a pivotal role in managing packages that make our development process smoother and more efficient. Today, we dive deep into one specific aspect of npm: the --save flag, particularly in the context of installing Express.js, a popular web application framework for Node.js.

The Evolution of npm and the Role of --save

In the earlier days of npm, specifically before version 5.0 released in May 2017, when developers wanted to add a new package to their project, they used a command like $ npm install express --save. The purpose of this command was twofold: it not only installed Express.js into the project but also added it as a dependency in the project's package.json file using the --save flag. This action was critical because the package.json file serves as the blueprint for an application, listing all the necessary packages (dependencies) needed for the application to run.

Dependencies are the core components that your application relies on to function correctly. By adding a package to the dependencies section, you ensure that anyone who clones your project can install these essential packages using just npm install, making the setup process for your project straightforward and replicable.

The Shift with npm 5.0: Redundancy of --save

With the release of npm 5.0, a significant change was introduced: npm started adding installed packages to the dependencies in package.json by default. This automatic saving rendered the --save flag redundant. The intention behind this update was to streamline the development process, making it easier and faster for developers to add new packages to their projects without the extra step of specifying --save.

This change reflects npm's commitment to improving developer experience and efficiency. Now, to add Express.js to your project, a simple $ npm install express suffices. This command takes care of both installing the package and updating the package.json file, simplifying package management in Node.js projects.

Adapting to Changes: Best Practices for Modern Developers

While the --save flag might be redundant for those using npm version 5.0 or later, understanding its history and purpose is valuable. It highlights the evolution of npm and how developer feedback and needs drive changes in such tools. For developers, especially those who might work across different projects with varying npm versions, being aware of these nuances is crucial.

In practice, it's always a good idea to check the version of npm in your environment, especially when collaborating on projects or setting up new ones. While newer versions have streamlined many processes, knowing how to manage dependencies effectively in various contexts remains a valuable skill.


The npm ecosystem has come a long way, with each update aiming to make the development process more efficient and less cumbersome. The story of the --save flag is just one example of how tools evolve in response to the needs of the developer community. As we continue to build and innovate, staying informed and adaptable ensures we can make the most of these tools, contributing to the creation of robust, efficient, and scalable web applications.

In the realm of web development, embracing change and learning from the past are key to moving forward. Whether you're a seasoned developer or just starting, understanding the tools at your disposal and their history can enrich your development practice, making you more versatile and your projects more successful.

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