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JavaScript is becoming a leading programming language for IoT due to the popularity of Node.js [1] [2] [3]. However Node.js application packages (or modules as they are typically known) tend to have many dependencies and often are not very descriptive of what versions of these dependencies they require. Node.js modules are managed by a tool called Node Package Manager (NPM) which accesses a module registry to install dependencies. In previous versions of Yocto Node.js module recipes created the package by running npm in the do_compile task that would look something like this

SRC_URI = ""

do_compile() {
    # changing the home directory to the working directory, the .npmrc will be created in this directory
    export HOME=${WORKDIR}

    # configure cache to be in working directory
    npm set cache ${WORKDIR}/npm_cache

    # clear local cache prior to each compile
    npm cache clear

    # compile and install node modules in source directory
    npm --arch=${TARGET_ARCH} --verbose install

The problem with this approach is that the npm install command triggers download of dependent modules. You have to manually track down the licences of all these component and add them to the recipe. Also due the loose specification of dependent package versioning, building with the same recipe at a later date may result in different package contents. Furthermore, as web operations are not expected in the do_compile task, proxy variables are not propagated so recipes must be extended to add configuration for handling corporate firewalls. In summary although this approach is functional, it's far from ideal.

NPM fetcher and recipetool support was added in Yocto 2.1 and improved in 2.2. This simplifies the locking down the packaging of Node.js modules as well as helping you check your licensing requirements.

Aspects of these features are not yet documented in the bitbake manual [4], so this article will help you get the best out of it.

Creating NPM Packages

Introduction and Caveats

Although npm recipes can be created manually, using devtool makes the job much easier. There are two options for creating recipe, using the NPM registry and NPM project source code. The registry approach is slightly simpler, but you're more likely to use the project approach as you don't have to publish your module in the registry.

There are a few requirements and caveats

  • You need to be familiar with devtool to get the best out of this article
  • The npm host tools need the native nodejs-npm package which is part of meta-oe. You must get the meta-openembedded layer from git:// and add /path/to/meta-openembedded/meta-oe to conf/bblayers.conf.
  • Devtool cannot detect native libraries in module dependencies, you'll need to manually add packages to recipe
  • At deployment time devtool cannot determine which dependent packages are missing on the target (e.g. the node runtime, nodejs), so you have to do that manually.
  • Although npm may not be needed to run your node package, it is useful to have on the target. Package name is nodejs-npm.

Registry Modules

In this example, we'll use the cute-files module that is file browser web app. First we'll use the registry approach. Note that you need to know the module version.

devtool add "npm://;name=cute-files;version=1.0.2"

Under the hood devtool, runs recipetool create with the same fetch uri. Recipetool downloads each dependency, capturing licence details where possible and generates a recipe file. The recipe file is fairly simple but will contain every license that recipetool has found and include it in the LIC_FILES_CHKSUM. Many node modules have unclear licensing so you'll see "unknown" in the LICENSE field. Have a look at the modules not listed.

Recipetool will also create shrinkwrap and lockdown files for your recipe. Shrinkwrap files capture the version of all dependent modules. Many packages don't provide this so we create one on the fly. You can replace it with your own file by setting the NPM_SHRINKWRAP variable. Lockdown files contain the checksum for each module to check if your users will download the same files when building with your recipe. This ensure that dependencies have not been changed and that your NPM registry is still handing out the same file. Note also that a package is created for each sub module. This may seem like overkill but it's the only practical way to have the licenses for all of the dependencies represented in the license manifest of the image.

You can take a look at the generate recipe with

devtool edit-recipe cute-files

There are three key points to note

  • SRC_URI uses the npm scheme so that the npm fetcher is used
  • Recipetool has collected all the licence info (if it can't get a licence for specific sub-modules, you see their names listed in the comments)
  • inherit npm causes the npm class package up all the modules
SUMMARY = "Turn any folder on your computer into a cute file browser, available on the local network."
LICENSE = "BSD-3-Clause & Unknown & MIT & ISC"
LIC_FILES_CHKSUM = "file://LICENSE;md5=71d98c0a1db42956787b1909c74a86ca \
                    file://node_modules/content-disposition/LICENSE;md5=c6e0ce1e688c5ff16db06b7259e9cd20 \
                    file://node_modules/express/LICENSE;md5=5513c00a5c36cd361da863dd9aa8875d \

SRC_URI = "npm://;name=cute-files;version=${PV}"
NPM_SHRINKWRAP := "${THISDIR}/${PN}/npm-shrinkwrap.json"
NPM_LOCKDOWN := "${THISDIR}/${PN}/lockdown.json"
inherit npm
# Must be set after inherit npm since that itself sets S
S = "${WORKDIR}/npmpkg"

LICENSE_${PN}-content-disposition = "MIT"
LICENSE_${PN}-express = "MIT"

You can run devtool build cute-files to build package. Remember that nodejs must be installed on the target before deploying. Assuming IP address of target is, deploy as follows:

devtool deploy-target -s cute-files root@

Once installed on the target, test app as follows (note that you can't simply run cute-files as if you'd done an 'npm install'. This is a known issue).

cd /usr/lib/node_modules/cute-files
node cute-files.js

Then, on a browser go to and you'll see the following


Recipe can be found in workspace/recipes/cute-files and can be added to layer of your choice.

NPM Projects in Development

Although it is useful to package modules already in the registry, adding node.js projects in development is a more common developer use case. The is very similar to the "registry" approach, but instead we give devtool a URL to the source code. To create the cute-files example above from source code we would have done as follows:

devtool add

If you look at the generated recipe, it will be very similar, but the SRC_URI will look like this:

SRC_URI = "git://;protocol=https \
          npm://;name=commander;version=2.9.0;subdir=node_modules/commander \
          npm://;name=express;version=4.14.0;subdir=node_modules/express \
          npm://;name=content-disposition;version=0.3.0;subdir=node_modules/content-disposition \

You can see that the main module is taken from git repo and dependents obtained from registry. Other than that, recipe is fairly similar and can be built and deployed as above.

Yocto 2.1.1 (krogoth) Restrictions

  • The npm fetcher only supports node modules that are in the registry, so cannot get modules not yet published.
  • The npm class does not add node as a runtime dependency so you have to add this to the recipe (will be fixed in 2.1.2)

Non-Registry Workaround

Here is a workaround for packaginfg node projects not in the registry. We'll use cute-files again as the example.

  • Make sure you in Yocto build environment and run the following to get into a shell that has the correct version of npm
bitbake nodejs-native -c devshell 

In the devshell, run the following

cd /path/to/tmp/folder
cd cute-files-master
npm install --production
tar cvzf node_modules.tar.gz node_modules/*
  • This will create dependencies in the node_modules folder that we will package into a tarball. This obviates the need for shrinkwrap and lockdown as the dependencies are defined by what is in the tarball. And the tarball has a checksum set in the recipe.
  • Now create recipe. The following shows a recipe snippet that does not include package meta-data, licence or tarball checksum details.
    • The node_modules tarball you just created must go in the files sub-directory.
    • Add RDEPENDS_${PN} = "nodejs" (this is an omission from the npm class)
    • SRC_URI includes the module source code and the node_module tarball you just created (file://node_modules.tar.gz)
      • Note that node_modules entry uses the subdir parameter to ensure files are extracted into project directory
    • inherit the npm class to do the hard work.
    • As npm class sets ${S}, we need to override it to pick up our unpacked node module. This has to be done after inherit npm directive
    • As npm fetcher has not been used you must manually add licence information from dependent modules
SUMMARY = "Turn any folder on your computer into a cute file browser, available on the local network"


# Add missing RDEPENDS (should be implemented by npm class)
RDEPENDS_${PN} += "nodejs"

SRC_URI = " \
SRCREV = "98fe76448b8367adf206de6809b4adb7189b05ee"
SRC_URI[md5sum] = "27b69a1cb53abb4890c169cc61abed86"
SRC_URI[sha256sum] = "65ff714e6549d5e576275c425b301d60d163ec1e308d3661864e68fb9f2669d9"

inherit npm

# npm class sets ${S} so we need to override it. This has to be done after 'inherit npm' directive
S = "${WORKDIR}/cute-files-master"

# You must go through dependent modules extract licences and add them here.
# This snippet shows a subset
LIC_FILES_CHKSUM = "file://LICENSE;md5=71d98c0a1db42956787b1909c74a86ca \
                    file://node_modules/content-disposition/LICENSE;md5=c6e0ce1e688c5ff16db06b7259e9cd20 \

LICENSE_${PN}-content-disposition = "MIT"
LICENSE_${PN}-express = "MIT"

To quickly test the module, copy to target

scp -r tmp/work/${TARGET_SYS}/cute-files/1.0-r0/package/usr/lib/node_modules/cute-files/ root@
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