Edoardo Scibona
Edoardo Scibona

Edoardo Scibona

Exploring the npm registry API

Exploring the npm registry API

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In this post, we will learn how to use the REST API provided by the npm registry to programmatically discover public Javascript packages and retrieve their metadata.

What is npm?

The term npm refers both to:

  • The npm CLI tool installed by default with Node.js on your machine
  • The npm registry, an online service which collects more than 1.6M public Javascript packages

For example, when running the npm install react command in your Javascript project, you are downloading the react package from the online npm registry.

In this post, we are interested in the online service and its public API.

What is the npm registry API?

While many people regularly use npm's website to discover packages, only a few know that npm also provides a public REST API accessible at registry.npmjs.org.

This API provides methods to:

  • Get information about the registry itself
  • Get all available information about a specific package
  • Get information about a specific version of a package
  • Search packages by text
  • Count the number of downloads for packages

We can call these methods by:

Before we start

You can follow along online on this RunKit notebook or on your machine by installing the isomorphic-unfetch and query-registry packages as follows:

npm install isomorphic-unfetch query-registry

You can also use as references the official API specification and the documentation for query-registry.

Finally, you can explore the API and its responses in your browser by going to registry.npmjs.org.

Example 1: Get information about the registry itself

Endpoint

If we want to know more about the underlying database used by the registry, we can send a GET request to the / endpoint, that is https://registry.npmjs.org/.

With fetch

async function example1WithFetch() {
  const endpoint = "https://registry.npmjs.org/";
  const res = await fetch(endpoint);
  const data = await res.json();
  console.log(data);
}

With query-registry

async function example1WithQueryRegistry() {
  const data = await queryRegistry.getRegistryMetadata();
  console.log(data);
}

Response

We receive a response containing information about the registry's database, including its name and some interesting attributes, as shown below:

{
  "db_name":"registry",
  "engine":"couch_bt_engine",
  "doc_count":2226548,
  "doc_del_count":334,
  "update_seq":5769731,
  "purge_seq":0,
  "compact_running":false,
  "sizes":{
    "active":57693928578,
    "external":132154863659,
    "file":58937123056
  },
  "disk_size":58937123056,
  "data_size":57693928578,
  "other":{
    "data_size":132154863659
  },
  "instance_start_time":"1624686290809498",
  "disk_format_version":7,
  "committed_update_seq":5769731,
  "compacted_seq":5729968,
  "uuid":"964c127ddcbbd59982db296a0f9e8a56"
}

Example 2: Get all available package metadata

Endpoint

If we want to get a packument (package document) containing all the information available on a package, we can send a GET request to the /<package> endpoint, for example https://registry.npmjs.org/react or https://registry.npmjs.org/@types/node.

With fetch

async function example2WithFetch(name) {
  const endpoint = `https://registry.npmjs.org/${name}`;
  const res = await fetch(endpoint);
  const data = await res.json();
  console.log(data);
}

With query-registry

async function example2WithQueryRegistry(name) {
  const data = await queryRegistry.getPackument({ name });
  console.log(data);
}

Response

We receive a response containing all the data associated to a package, including its ID, name, description, author, license and manifests for each published version.

{
  "_id": "react",
  "_rev": "1684-29eba7dd741dee3c165b86b7e4f63461",
  "name": "react",
  "description": "React is a JavaScript library for building user interfaces.",
  "dist-tags": {…},
  "versions": {…},
  "maintainers": […],
  "time": {…},
  "repository": {…},
  "readme": "",
  "readmeFilename": "",
  "homepage": "https://reactjs.org/",
  "keywords": […],
  "bugs": {…},
  "users": {…},
  "license": "MIT"
}

Example 3: Get information about a specific version of a package

Endpoint

If we want to get a package manifest containing information about a specific version of a package, for example react@17.0.2 or @types/node@15.14.0, we can send a GET request to the /<package>/<version> endpoint, for example https://registry.npmjs.org/react/17.0.2 or https://registry.npmjs.org/@types/node/15.14.0.

With fetch

async function example3WithFetch(name, version) {
  const endpoint = `https://registry.npmjs.org/${name}/${version}`;
  const res = await fetch(endpoint);
  const data = await res.json();
  console.log(data);
}

With query-registry

async function example3WithQueryRegistry(name, version) {
  const data = await queryRegistry.getPackageManifest({ name, version });
  console.log(data);
}

Response

We receive a response containing data that describes a published version of a package. This data consists of the contents of package.json at publishing time plus some additional attributes added by the registry.

{
  "name": "react",
  "description": "React is a JavaScript library for building user interfaces.",
  "keywords": […],
  "version": "17.0.2",
  "homepage": "https://reactjs.org/",
  "bugs": {…},
  "license": "MIT",
  "main": "index.js",
  "repository": {…},
  "engines": {…},
  "dependencies": {…},
  "browserify": {…},
  "_id": "react@17.0.2",
  "_nodeVersion": "15.11.0",
  "_npmVersion": "7.6.0",
  "dist": {…},
  "_npmUser": {…},
  "directories": {},
  "maintainers": […],
  "_npmOperationalInternal": {…},
  "_hasShrinkwrap": false,
}

Example 4: Search packages by text

Endpoint

If we want to search packages by text, we can send a GET request to the /-/v1/search?text=<some query> endpoint, for example https://registry.npmjs.org/-/v1/search?text=react.

We can also use special keyword parameters in our text query to improve our results. For example, to find packages that I published we can use the author:velut keyword parameter like this: https://registry.npmjs.org/-/v1/search?text=author:velut.

The official API specification contains the full list of supported search criteria.

With fetch

async function example4WithFetch(text) {
  const endpoint = `https://registry.npmjs.org/-/v1/search?text=${text}`;
  const res = await fetch(endpoint);
  const data = await res.json();
  console.log(data);
}

With query-registry

async function example4WithQueryRegistry(text) {
  const data = await queryRegistry.searchPackages({ query: { text } });
  console.log(data);
}

Response

We receive a response containing a list of packages matching our query inside the objects attribute. Each package comes with a small number of important attributes, including name and version, plus some score values for the package itself and for its relevance to our query.

{
  "objects": [
    {
      "package": {
        "name": "react",
        "scope": "unscoped",
        "version": "17.0.2",
        "description": "React is a JavaScript library for building user interfaces.",
        "keywords": ["react"],
        "date": "2021-03-22T21:56:19.536Z",
        "links": {
          "npm": "https://www.npmjs.com/package/react",
          "homepage": "https://reactjs.org/",
          "repository": "https://github.com/facebook/react",
          "bugs": "https://github.com/facebook/react/issues"
        },
        "publisher": {
          "username": "…",
          "email": "…"
        },
        "maintainers": [
          { "username": "…", "email": "…" },
          { "username": "…", "email": "…" }
        ]
      },
      "score": {
        "final": 0.5866665170132767,
        "detail": {
          "quality": 0.5246016720020373,
          "popularity": 0.8931981392742823,
          "maintenance": 0.3333333333333333
        }
      },
      "searchScore": 100000.63
    }
  ],
  "total": 164637,
  "time": "Fri Jul 02 2021 13:13:14 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)"
}

Example 5: Count downloads for a package

Endpoint

If we want to count the number of downloads for a package in a given time period, we can send a GET request to a slightly different API endpoint at https://api.npmjs.org/downloads/point/<period>/<package>, for example https://api.npmjs.org/downloads/point/last-week/react. Supported time periods include last-day, last-week, last-month and last-year.

The download counts API also provides other methods to count downloads for packages and for the whole registry.

With fetch

async function example5WithFetch(name, period) {
  const endpoint = `https://api.npmjs.org/downloads/point/${period}/${name}`;
  const res = await fetch(endpoint);
  const data = await res.json();
  console.log(data);
}

With query-registry

async function example5WithQueryRegistry(name, period) {
  const data = await queryRegistry.getPackageDownloads({ name, period });
  console.log(data);
}

Response

We receive a simple response containing the package's name, its total number of downloads and the start and end dates for the selected time period.

{
  "downloads": 10889040,
  "start": "2021-06-25",
  "end": "2021-07-01",
  "package": "react"
}

Bonus: Using a registry mirror

Why use a mirror?

Sometimes we may want to use a proxy or mirror of the npm registry instead of the original registry itself. For example, Cloudflare provides a mirror at https://registry.npmjs.cf with CORS enabled, allowing us to query the registry directly from the browser or client-side applications.

For example, try pasting this snippet in your browser's console:

fetch("https://registry.npmjs.org/react").then(res => res.json()).then(console.log)

It should fail with a CORS error because it's using the original registry. Instead, the following snippet should work because it's using Cloudflare's registry mirror.

fetch("https://registry.npmjs.cf/react").then(res => res.json()).then(console.log)

Endpoint

We can use the same endpoints available on registry.npmjs.org provided that they are supported by the chosen mirror registry.

With fetch

async function bonusWithFetch(name) {
  const endpoint = `https://registry.npmjs.cf/${name}`;
  const res = await fetch(endpoint);
  const data = await res.json();
  console.log(data);
}

With query-registry

async function bonusWithQueryRegistry(name, registry) {
  const data = await queryRegistry.getPackument({ name, registry });
  console.log(data);
}

Response

The responses should be the same as the ones provided by the original npm registry, maybe slightly delayed due to the mirroring process.

Conclusion

In this post, we have learnt what is npm, how we can use its public API to discover and analyze public Javascript packages and how we can take advantage of API client wrappers such as query-registry and registry mirrors such as https://registry.npmjs.cf to improve our interactions with this API both in server-side and client-side Javascript applications.

Be sure to leave a comment if you have any doubts or if you end up building something interesting using this lesser known but powerful API.

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