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Version: 6.x

Symlinked `node_modules` structure

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This article only describes how pnpm's node_modules are structured when there are no packages with peer dependencies. For the more complex scenario of dependencies with peers, see how peers are resolved.

pnpm's node_modules layout uses symbolic links to create a nested structure of dependencies.

Every file of every package inside node_modules is a hard link to the content-addressable store. Let's say you install foo@1.0.0 that depends on bar@1.0.0. pnpm will hard link both packages to node_modules like this:

node_modules
└── .pnpm
├── bar@1.0.0
│ └── node_modules
│ └── bar -> <store>/bar
│ ├── index.js
│ └── package.json
└── foo@1.0.0
└── node_modules
└── foo -> <store>/foo
├── index.js
└── package.json

These are the only "real" files in node_modules. Once all the packages are hard linked to node_modules, symbolic links are created to build the nested dependency graph structure.

As you might have noticed, both packages are hard linked into a subfolder inside a node_modules folder (foo@1.0.0/node_modules/foo). This is needed to:

  1. allow packages to import themselves. foo should be able to require('foo/package.json') or import * as package from "foo/package.json".
  2. avoid circular symlinks. Dependencies of packages are placed in the same folder in which the dependent packages are. For Node.js it doesn't make a difference whether dependencies are inside the package's node_modules or in any other node_modules in the parent directories.

The next stage of installation is symlinking dependencies. bar is going to be symlinked to the foo@1.0.0/node_modules folder:

node_modules
└── .pnpm
├── bar@1.0.0
│ └── node_modules
│ └── bar -> <store>/bar
└── foo@1.0.0
└── node_modules
├── foo -> <store>/foo
└── bar -> ../../bar@1.0.0/node_modules/bar

Next, direct dependencies are handled. foo is going to be symlinked into the root node_modules folder because foo is a dependency of the project:

node_modules
├── foo -> ./.pnpm/foo@1.0.0/node_modules/foo
└── .pnpm
├── bar@1.0.0
│ └── node_modules
│ └── bar -> <store>/bar
└── foo@1.0.0
└── node_modules
├── foo -> <store>/foo
└── bar -> ../../bar@1.0.0/node_modules/bar

This is a very simple example. However, the layout will maintain this structure regardless of the number of dependencies and the depth of the dependency graph.

Let's add qar@2.0.0 as a dependency of bar and foo. This is how the new structure will look:

node_modules
├── foo -> ./.pnpm/foo@1.0.0/node_modules/foo
└── .pnpm
├── bar@1.0.0
│ └── node_modules
│ ├── bar -> <store>/bar
│ └── qar -> ../../qar@2.0.0/node_modules/qar
├── foo@1.0.0
│ └── node_modules
│ ├── foo -> <store>/foo
│ ├── bar -> ../../bar@1.0.0/node_modules/bar
│ └── qar -> ../../qar@2.0.0/node_modules/qar
└── qar@2.0.0
└── node_modules
└── qar -> <store>/qar

As you may see, even though the graph is deeper now (foo > bar > qar), the directory depth in the file system is still the same.

This layout might look weird at first glance, but it is completely compatible with Node's module resolution algorithm! When resolving modules, Node ignores symlinks, so when bar is required from foo@1.0.0/node_modules/foo/index.js, Node does not use bar at foo@1.0.0/node_modules/bar, but instead, bar is resolved to its real location (bar@1.0.0/node_modules/bar). As a consequence, bar can also resolve its dependencies which are in bar@1.0.0/node_modules.

A great bonus of this layout is that only packages that are really in the dependencies are accessible. With a flattened node_modules structure, all hoisted packages are accessible. To read more about why this is an advantage, see "pnpm's strictness helps to avoid silly bugs"