Is npm the new jQuery? by@fagnerbrack

Is npm the new jQuery?

April 10th 2016 1,464 reads
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Fagner Brack

Npm could be going through something we’ve already seen before

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If you work in the front-end nowadays, there’s one thing that comes to mind when starting to build something:

… there is an npm module for that

Does it sound familiar?

It wasn’t that long ago when if you had to build something, the answer was:

… there is a jQuery plugin for that

In the past, many developers from the JavaScript community were heavily driven by Cargo Cult Programming. There was this famous StackOverflow question (now defunct) which raised a funny discussion, in a time where jQuery was considered a Silver Bullet for all web development problems:

How to add a number to another number in JavaScript?


A StackOverflow question that says “hallo, I have got a number in my JavaScript variable! Now how do I add another number to it? Please”. The answer below says “You should definitely use jQuery. It’s really great and does all things”. While the question has zero votes, that answer has 22.

This satirical question perfectly shows how this “jQuery effect” was influent at the time.

Just so you know and to give a little bit of context, many years ago the DOM APIs were in a very bad state. There was no document.querySelectorAll and the browsers implemented the existing APIs inconsistently.

jQuery was initially created to make it easy to traverse the DOM using JavaScript. But what it also did was to help to fix the existing browser inconsistencies and provide an easy way to be extended by plugin authors.

Those last things were never the core purpose of the library.

Instead of using it to extend the generic DOM handling functionality, some people started using the $ namespace to create widgets and full featured applications as jQuery plugins. The community was eventually caught up in the bandwagon and started creating jQuery plugins to solve all sorts of problems, including ones that were unrelated to DOM handling, like adding snow or gravity to the website, converting colors from RGB to HEX, etc.


Another satirical answer of a StackOverflow member, in the same thread. It’s written “I think there is a jQuery plugin for that. Google for jQuery basic arithmetic plugin”. There are two comments below. The first is “yeah. jQuery is definitely the way to go” and the second is “I used the jQuery diet plugin and lost 10kg in a week”. The answer is upvoted 4 times.

This effect is similar to what we can observe happening today with npm.

Npm initially served as a repository of modules for NodeJS. However, now it’s being used by web developers to publish everything, from one-line modules to all sorts of plugins, libraries, and frameworks. It stopped being nodeJS oriented and became de-facto code distribution service for the whole web. Bower was supposed to be more web focused but was eventually killed by npm popularity.

When using jQuery, you had to copy/paste the code of the plugin to be able to consume it. Now with npm, the distribution of code for all “plugins” are automated through the registry. While that makes things more convenient, that convenience doesn’t come without tradeoffs.

A masterpiece. It sings that “if you want to do anything, there is a jQuery plugin for that”. Ben Alman is a former jQuery contributor, he coined the term IIFE and built the “Grunt” task manager.

The jQuery Plugins Site was just for discovery, not for code distribution. It’s been in a read-only mode for a long time, due to the de-prioritization and lack of resources to maintain it. It was recommended to be replaced in favor of the jquery-plugin tag on npm.

Bottom line: we all depend on npm for code distribution now, even for jquery plugins.

Is npm the new jQuery Plugins site?

Most people love small snippets of code that works and have no problem of depending in a third party. This is evidenced by the sheer amount of popularity of the former jQuery Plugins and now npm.

However, people tend to overuse those tools and tend to build everything on top of it. Npm is becoming a silver bullet for distribution of code in JavaScript, the same way jQuery was a silver bullet for web pages.

Maybe this is a good thing, or maybe it’s not.

One thing for sure is that making your code dependent on a single technology can make it hard and risky for you to change it later once the technology becomes obsolete. If you put all eggs in one basket and it drops, you have lost everything.


Another answer to the same StackOverflow thread. The answer is “To add numbers together you should use the plus operator” with an example in JavaScript. It was down voted by 2 users and there’s a comment saying “-1 not enough jQuery”.

I hope I’m wrong.

I hope there’s no tendency to overuse things and it’s everything in my head.

There’s a famous show that used to say “All of this has happened before and will happen again”.

Well… For npm, I hope it doesn’t…

Thanks for reading. If you have some feedback, reach out to me on Twitter, Facebook or Github.

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