This post is meant to be a primer of sorts to aid you in the usage, and local development patterns of lerna. I am by no means an expert on the topic, so some of the stuff in here will likely be nowhere near perfect. If you’d like to correct something feel free to go to this post and make a pull request with changes.

First off, if you can do so then having all of your dependencies under a single repository in packages is optimal. From what I’ve seen it’s the canonical way to use lerna. However sometimes we cannot do so, so the patterns here are intended for easing the pain of development when you cannot create a monorepo.

When everything is in a single repository under packages, lerna bootstrap will automatically create system links between your dependencies. This can be extremely useful for increasing development agility.

However, if not all of your dependencies are under packages, lerna will not system link them. Thus, we need to find a way to get around this.

Development patterns:

First, let us assume we have the following scenario:

Our packages has a server, and a couple of libraries we have created, and would like to reuse throughout development. Something like so:


our-awesome-server-utilities depends on both libraries, and so far lerna bootstrap has been rocking. However, we suddenly need to add another-library-from-our-friends to our-awesome-server, this library exists in the repository of one of our teammates, and for whatever reason we cannot pull it over.

No problem, we can install it through the package.json in our-awesome-server. Problem is, we need to make some changes to the library to account for our use case. And we want to quickly iterate through the changes in our server to make sure everything is working.

The best option I’ve found is using npm link, this is a fairly manual method, but it will get the job done.

First, go to the root of another-library-from-our-friends, where package.json is located. Once there we will type npm link. This will create a symlink to our global node_modules folder.

We then go back to our-awesome-server, and once there we add our-awesome-server-utilities as a dependency. And we write npm link another-library-from-our-friends. This will install the version you linked on your local node_modules on our-awesome-server-utilities.

This way, when we make changes in another-library-from-our-friends they are automagically reflected in our-awesome-server-utilities. You can now develop with agility, huzzah!

Using canary versions

An alternative would be to use canary versions, and updating your package.json manually with the canary versions each time you need to create an update you wish to test.

This will, however, take drastically more time than the previous approach, so it should be avoided unless the changes are so minimal setting up the npm link is not worthwhile.