Your Monorepo Dependencies Are Asking for Trouble

When I wrote the title of this post, I had planned on saying “please forgive me for using such a click-bait title” but I’ve decided that, no, I actually do kinda think your (or, well the Royal “Your”) dependency management just might be asking for trouble.

The topic I want to discuss in this post, monorepo workspaces with incompatible dependency versions, definitely doesn’t apply to every monorepo, and also, even if it does apply to your monorepo, there’s more than one way to solve for it.

This post will talk about the method I use in my own projects to ensure my monorepo workspaces don’t use conflicting dependency versions. Any choice of how to handle this topic in your own monorepo will come with tradeoffs, and my method is no exception. We’ll talk about those tradeoffs at the end 👍.

Note — this topic isn’t exclusive to the JavaScript ecosystem, but it is a topic I’ve encountered as I work to build the Lemmy App, the code for which lives in a TypeScript (mostly) monorepo, so discussion and examples in this post will be from the perspective of a Node monorepo.

The Problem

You’re building an application in a monorepo so that you can share as much code as possible between different concerns of your project. Let’s say you’ve got a marketing-website workspace and a webapp workspace and you want them both to use the same UI components (buttons, accordions, typography, etc), so you decide you’ll make a shared ui-lib workspace that both other workspaces can depend on.

For simplicity, we’ll assume that these three workspaces all use React so there’s nothing complicated about getting the marketing-website to render out the <Button /> component from the shared ui-lib, and similarly there’s nothing complicated about getting the webapp to render out the <Sidebar /> component from the shared ui-lib…right?

Early in the project, yeah, that’s probably true! You’ll be able to just import { Button } from 'ui-lib'; in either of the other workspaces and you’ll see a button render.

The problems lurk a little down the road when you want to bump the version of React that your ui-lib uses to take advantage of the awesome new features available in the latest version of React. The components in ui-lib don’t exist in a vacuum — they are only relevant in the context of the applications that import them, and what happens when the applications that import them, in our example marketing-website and webapp, are on a version of React that is incompatible with the newest React features?

Spoiler Alert!!! Only click here if you want spoilers!!1!1

💣 (It blows up at runtime...Sad App 😢)

“Sad App” Demonstration

Hey! — right here on larger screens there is an embedded demo using StackBlitz, but to be effective it needs a little more space than your device provides. You'll be better served by opening the demo directly in another browser tab:

^ that demo is a bare-bones version of the exact scenario I talked about above (minus the “marketing website”), and what we see is that when we upgraded the ui-lib so that we can use the super awesome new React.useId() API added in react@18 within the <Button /> component, but don’t or can’t upgrade the webapp from where it’s at (react@16) to also be on React version 18, we get a “crash” at runtime when the webapp tries to render the <Button />…Sad App 😢.

What Now

Of course, in this exact scenario, the fix seems pretty simple and clear - just upgrade the webapp to use react@18, the project is tiny and it’ll take about 5 seconds to safely make the change. Also, of course, this exact scenario is not very realistic to the real world where you’ve got a lot more code of your own, a lot more code from 3rd party libraries, and usually more people/teams involved in contributing to the project. Saying “just upgrade lol” is almost rudely dismissive of the complexity that’s potentially involved in mitigating this pain point.

So what should we do? There’s lots of things we might want to look into that can help fix our broken webapp. We could have the ui-lib declare react@^18 as a peerDependency and that would at least potentially help us realize at author-time that we’re careening towards a pitfall…that would be helpful, but it doesn’t actually solve the issue, and in a lot of ways it kind of makes it worse because now we’ve got another classification of dependency we need to worry about managing. You don’t have to look hard on Stack Overflow to find threads filled with people frustrated and confused by peer dependencies.

Maybe there’s something we could do with package resolutions if our package manager supports them (yarn does, which is what I use)? I don’t really see how that would help in this scenario, but it’s the kind of thing people toss out dismissively when you try and seek help on the internet for this type of issue.

Maybe we should just switch all of the projects to svelte so that we’re shipping compiled-to-vanilla JavaScript and all of our problems are solved??? (just jokin’ svelte is super neat, and I’m eager to build something real with it, but it’s also really common for people to suggest “just use a different tool” as the solution to a problem like this, and it annoys me)

I contend that there’s really only two options available that actually solve for this pain point:

  1. don’t upgrade the ui-lib to use a newer version of React (and by extension, don’t get access to new features, bug fixes, security patches, etc)
  2. upgrade everything that uses React to use the newer version (and by extension, mandate upgrades to everything else that’s downstream and impacted by your choice of React version)

as you might agree, both of these options suck. In my opinion, option 1 is like the tautological choice where “not making a choice is a choice”, and while technically a possibility especially for a short-term solution, hopefully it’s clear that it’s not a viable long-term option.

That leaves us with option 2, which is extra annoying, because like 2 minutes ago I said:

Saying “just upgrade lol” is almost rudely dismissive of the complexity that’s potentially involved in mitigating this pain point

— Andrew, 2 minutes ago

so, instead I’m saying the following:

I’m very sorry to say this dear stranger, but unfortunately, the best, or really least-bad, option available to solve the issue of “incompatible and shared 3rd party dependencies” is to ensure that all 3rd party shared dependencies have the same (or at least definitely compatible) version in every project that shares them.

The Fix

Taking a Step Back Before Going Forward

If you take another look at the workspaces in the “Sad App” Demo above, you’ll notice that each workspace has a package.json in which it declares its dependencies. In the package.json at the root of the monorepo, we tell our package manager where to find child workspaces, and it handles the intricacies of “hoisting” everything it can from the child workspaces into the root node_modules when you do an install (thus saving space on disk only keeping 1 copy of any dependencies where it’s possible to do so)…there’s nothing new here, this is standard Node monorepo stuff and it’s the exact structure you get out of tools like Turborepo and Lerna when you initialize a brand new monorepo project.

Unfortunately, it’s this structure which ends up leading down the road to “The Problem” above. You see, by allowing each child workspace to declare its own dependencies we’re opening the door for divergence from one workspace to another when it comes to dependencies that they “share” - in fact when using this kind of project structure, I am to the point now where I even push back on the nomenclature of “share” in that last statement.

If two workspaces declare different versions of the same dependency name, can we really say they “share” that dependency? Your package manager is potentially going to end up resolving two completely different sets of files to satisfy each workspaces’ declared dependencies, and at runtime, the code that gets executed could be wildly different! In my opinion, these are “shared” dependencies “in name only”.

I’ll keep using the term dependency name going forward, and all I mean by that is just divorcing the “name” of a dependency from any particular version. The difference between “my project uses React” and “my project uses react@18

Not only that, but this structure of monorepo makes it harder even for diligent maintainers to keep the versions of a given dependency name in sync between workspaces because as your project grows and you add more workspaces that also need to use that same dependency name, you have more places to check and keep up to date. If you miss one or make a mistake, well, bad news, your package manager isn’t going to complain at you about that because it’s perfectly happy and capable of resolving more than one version, even though it’s not what you want to happen - and if you’re unlucky, you won’t find out about the mistake or missed update until it explodes at runtime.

Tools and scripting are definitely helpful here, at least with the mechanics of performing these updates, but tools can’t safely do this on their own (yet) and one way or another a human needs to be involved in this maintenance task. Mistakes will happen.

Implementing a Solution

At long last, time to discuss how I now go about solving “The Problem”. The key insight for me was when I had that thought from earlier about dependency names. Really, what I want is to have, for any given dependency name, 1 and only 1 version for the entire monorepo. I don’t even want the opportunity for my child workspaces to declare different versions of a given 3rd party dependency name.

It turns out, it’s really easy to accomplish that — just put all of your 3rd party dependencies into your root package.json, and none of them into any child workspace package.json! With this style of declaring workspace dependencies, when a child workspace has some code that imports React, the Node require() resolution logic will traverse up the file tree until it gets to the root node_modules where it’ll always resolve to the same exact version of React, regardless of which child workspace did the import.

In many cases, there are literally no additional consideration to make with regards to the machinery of managing your dependencies** and you no longer need to worry about ui-lib using a version of React that’s incompatible with webapp or marketing-website…because they use the exact same version always.

**oh, for sure there are more considerations overall, namely the tradeoffs involved here (and we’ll talk about those at the end), but I just mean with respect to the mechanics of ensuring you use one version everywhere

“Happy App” Demonstration

Hey! — right here on larger screens there is an embedded demo using StackBlitz, but to be effective it needs a little more space than your device provides. You'll be better served by opening the demo directly in another browser tab:


In the “Happy App” demo, you see that any 3rd party dependency that any of the child workspaces needs to function is just tossed into the root package.json under the dependencies key.

Care about why I only use the "dependencies" key?

It's because, from the perspective of the workspace root, there's no way to know if a given dependency is for runtime or author-time...they're all just "dependencies" of one child workspace or another.

It also helps simplify some tools that need to look up dependency versions by their name (discussed further down in this section)

Further, each child workspace declares no 3rd party dependencies directly. They do declare 1st party “workspace” dependencies which enables tools like Turborepo and Nx to build a relationship graph between workspaces and optimize task running, but technically, even these “workspace” dependencies could be omitted.

You might also notice a strange shadow key in the child workspaces package.json, under which you’ll see a structure that looks suspiciously like the top level “dependency” declaration keys, except instead of being an object declaring names with versions, it’s just an array declaring names.

This declaration of shadow dependencies (just a name I chose and made sense in my head) lets each child workspace keep track of exactly which 3rd party packages it depends on, both at runtime as well as author-time, and further enables construction of the "effective" package.json for a given workspace (by looking up the declared shadow dependencies in the root package.json which knows the concrete version information).

Depending on what you’re building and in particular, what your build tooling looks like, construction of the "effective" package.json might not matter for you. For the Lemmy App, one of the child workspaces contains an Electron-based desktop app, and I’m using the electron-builder package to compile the app into its distributable form for production builds.

Unfortunately, electron-builder doesn’t play seamlessly with the ”go look in the root of the workspace to find all dependencies” idea out of the box when building for production, so I use the ability to construct an "effective" package.json during production builds to perform a workspace-local install of my production runtime dependencies and allow electron-builder to be non-the-wiser about how dependencies are managed in the monorepo writ-large.

The monorepo for the Lemmy App also includes some projects that use Vite for builds, and these work seamlessly out of the box with my dependency management strategy, without the need to do anything with the shadow dependency concept. In fact, during development, even the desktop app uses Vite so for me the shadow dependencies only come into play when I build that one workspace for production in CI.

BTW, if you want to see the tooling I made to work with this shadow dependency concept, take another look at the “Happy App” demo code in the scripts directory at shadow.ts (or take a look on GitHub)

Outcomes and Tradeoffs


  • There is a single canonical version of every single dependency name for the entire monorepo - “The Problem” from above is not possible.
  • It’s easy to adopt the solution and requires no ongoing curation of your child workspace dependency versions to keep them in sync.
  • Guaranteed to minimize disk space usage and install time for the monorepo because there’s only 1 version of each dependency name and they all live in the root.


  • You now must deal with any and all version migrations/breaking changes across your entire fleet of child workspaces all at once when you upgrade a dependency.

    • For my own projects, I find this to be a positive tradeoff. If this project lives for a while, I’m going to be handling those breaking changes eventually anyway, and if I just handle them all at once, it’s easier and then I can forget about them rather than have to keep the steps of the upgrade in my working memory for longer. That said, if my typical project had dozens of complex apps and doing an upgrade of React in my monorepo meant committing to an hour of changes for each of them before I can be productive again, I would definitely consider if the risks of “The Problem” as outlined above are acceptable.
  • You now may need to choose solutions or 3rd party dependencies more carefully because you can’t (shouldn’t) massage versions on a single workspace.

    • Technically, if you really needed to, you could still have child-workspace-level 3rd party dependencies declared that could bypass the pain point of 3rd party dependencies that don’t play well together at the versions enforced by your only 1 version allowed rule. That has not come up for me, but if it did, I think I would prefer a solution that uses a different 3rd party dependency altogether (or a vendored/patch-package‘d dependency) before I introduced an exception to my only 1 version allowed rule.
  • For this solution to be effective, you should put safeguards in place to ensure nobody accidentally adds a 3rd party dependency to a child workspace directly.

    • I wrote both a custom ESLint rule and a git pre-commit hook to guard against this at author-time.

Further Reading

I started thinking about this topic when I began building the Lemmy App which was the first project I had ever started that used a monorepo. Admittedly, “The Problem” as outlined above wasn’t something I actually encountered, just something I felt confident I would encounter eventually and so I wanted a solution to it in hand.

I thought a lot about it and came up with the solution outlined in this post and implemented it without doing much outside research as to the “state of the art” on the topic.

Since then I have discovered that Nx actually has thought a lot about this topic too (not surprising) and that they even have terminology to ascribe to the strategies I talk about in this post; Package Based Monorepo is the name that they use to refer to a monorepo with the dependency management strategy like that of the “Sad App” in my post. Then, Integrated Monorepo is the name that they use to refer to a monorepo with canonicalized dependency versions as in the “Happy App” in my post.

I was pretty chuffed to learn that they even have the same "effective" package.json concept in their integrated monorepo structure, though they construct it by parsing your source files rather than relying on a shadow dependency manifest.

Note, I am not an expert on the Nx flavors of monorepo, so I am probably missing a lot of details here. I just thought it was interesting continued reading on the topic!

Closing Thoughts

I do not think that the steps taken in this post are right, or even necessary, for every monorepo out there, but with how hot the topic of monorepos is right now, I do think that it’s important that potential monorepo pitfalls receive due consideration. Hopefully now, after reading, you’re slightly better prepared to deal with a potential issue in your own monorepo. Thanks for reading!


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