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Customer Convos: Alistair Brown, ShopKeep
This piece is a part of our Customer Convos series. We’re sharing stories of how people use npm at work. Want to share your thoughts? Drop us a line.
Q: Hi! Can you state your name and what you do?
A: Ahoy, I’m Alistair Brown and I’m a lead front-end engineer at ShopKeep, primarily focusing on our BackOffice app, which enables more than 23,000 merchants the ability to manage their business operations from anywhere. With ShopKeep’s BackOffice, business owners manage everything from inventory management to accessing customized reporting specific to their business, so this a vital component to the ShopKeep product.
How’s your day going?
It’s going pretty well — my team is mostly front-end focused, so we use npm many times every day. We’re currently prepping some dependency upgrades to make sure we’re ready to jump on the newest version of React (v16) when it’s released. It’s important to us that we stay up to date, getting the benefits of optimization, bug fixes, and new tools.
What is your history with npm?
What problem did you have that npm Orgs helped you fix?
The main problem we wanted to solve was being able to share code between upcoming projects. The npm Organization setup allowed us to create our own modules and keep control over who could access them. Having private packages within the organization has allowed us the freedom to create a versioned module, but without the fanfare of opening it up to the world.
Can you tell us a story about a specific package you wanted to make that private packages really enabled you to do?
At Node.js Interactive Europe last year, I’d been inspired by a talk by Aria Stewart, called “Radical Modularity.” With the concept of “anything can be a package” in mind, we first started small with our brand colours (JSON, SASS, etc.) and configs. I explored pulling these components out of our code base into separate modules as part of a Code Smash (our internal hackathon). This allowed us to test the waters. As we mainly write in React and had created a number of generic components, there were lots of packages we wanted to extract. In the end, we started modularizing everything and have even extracted out our icon assets.
How’s the day to-day experience of using private packages and orgs?
It’s super easy. Day to day, there’s no difference from using any other package from npm. Once the code is out in a module, we get to treat it just like any other piece of third-party code. There had been a little bit of fear that the scope prefix would cause problems with existing tooling, but so far there have been no problems at all — a great feat!
Does your company do open source? How do you negotiate what you keep private and public?
We have several repositories of useful tools that we’ve open-sourced on GitHub, hoping these same tools could be useful for other developers. These range from shpkpr, a tool we use for managing applications on marathon and supporting zero-downtime deploys, to our air traffic controller slack bot, which helps us coordinate deployments to all of the different services we run. Open sourcing a project is an important undertaking and we always want to make sure that we have pride in what we release. Using private packages gives us that middle ground, allowing us to separate out reusable code but keep it internal until we’re ready to show it off.
To people who are unsure how they could use private packages, how would you explain the use case?
We started off wanting to get code reuse by sharing code as a package. Making private packages allowed us to be more confident about pulling the code out, knowing it wasn’t suddenly visible to the world. Our ESLint config is a nice example of a small reusable module we created, containing rules which enforce our internal code style. Splitting this out allowed us to apply the rules across multiple codebases by extending from this central config. Later, we added a new rule, and having immutable packages meant we could cut a new version and stagger the updates to dependent projects. Really, we get all the benefits that you’d expect from using a third-party package, while keeping control of updating and distribution.
How would you see the product improved or expanded in the future?
Would you recommend that other groups or companies use Orgs?
Definitely! It’s not just so you can use private packages, it’s also a great way to group your modules under a brand and avoid naming clashes. With the recent pricing change making organizations free, there really is no excuse for open source groups and companies not to publish their modules under an org.
What’s your favorite npm feature/hack?
I’m a huge fan of npm scripts. It’s allowed us to provide a single interface for useful commands and avoid forcing developers to install global dependencies. From building our application with gulp, upgrading tooling with a shell script, to publishing multiple modules with lerna, the developer experience stays the same by hiding the internals behind the simplicity of `npm run`.
Building a package manager is a difficult problem to solve and it’s great to see so much engagement in this space. Deterministic installs is something that has been really important, so it’s good to see this in npm5 and yarn. I think the natural next step is a client-agnostic lock file. When there are multiple developers on a project, making sure that we can replicate a development environment across all dev machines and CI servers is very important — we use a shrinkwrap file (moving soon to a package-lock.json!), but those are npm-specific. Reducing that barrier between different packaging clients should allow for more experimentation on new approaches and optimisations.
Any cool npm stuff your company has done that you’d like to promote?
No — we’re just happy users!