November 21, 2014

Depending on Other Atom Packages

The problem

In making my first Atom package I kind of had a crash course in package management. There were npm modules I had to depend on, sure, and this was outlined in github’s tutorial; you just stick the modules and versions you want in the dependencies object in package.json.

There was no way to include dependencies on other Atom packages, however, and the original implementation of my pdf converter required the markdown-preview package to get HTML (though this dependency was later removed).

There were other people who had the same problem, and without a built-in solution or a consistent workaround, it was impossible to programmatically force users to install packages the same way npm modules were installed automatically.

The solution?

While the issue is still not completely solved, I took a smack at it by making an npm module that checks dependencies on other Atom packages, and installs what’s missing.

It works fine for me right now, though there are a couple features absent that make it less smooth for devs who are used to npm’s way of including dependencies.


Ultimately, I would like to mirror npm’s behaviour of specifying a package/version, and installing it if it isn’t present. The problem with this is that Atom packages are installed in a different way than npm modules; they are placed in a main directory .../.atom/packages/some-atom-pack instead of a subdirectory .../this-package/node_modules/some-npm-module. This means that installing a different version of an Atom package will overwrite the existing version in .atom/packages/, so if two packages depend on separate versions of some package, there is a conflict.

There are several options to deal with this, like including the version name of a package in the installation like .atom/packages/markdown-preview@0.1.1/, but this could get cluttered, and how would Atom know which package should be active if there are several instances?

Another solution could be to create an atom_packages subdirectory in packages with those dependencies, similar to the node_modules subdirectory. To reduce weight, this could be performed only when the depended-on package results in a version conflict with the installed version of the package.

In any case, I hope that the community finds this package useful in developing further packages for Atom, and can suggest improvements for it that I have not yet conceived of.