Verifying "npm ci" reproducibility

Posted on August 1, 2018
Updated on May 22, 2019

When npm@5 came bringing package-locks with it, I was confused about the benefits it provided, since running npm install more than once could resolve all the dependencies again and yield yet another fresh package-lock.json file. The message saying “you should add this file to version control” left me hesitant on what to do1.

However the addition of npm ci filled this gap: it’s a stricter variation of npm install which guarantees that “subsequent installs are able to generate identical trees”. But are they really identical? I could see that I didn’t have the same problems of different installation outputs, but I didn’t know for sure if it was really identical.

Computing the hash of a directory’s content

I quickly searched for a way to check for the hash signature of an entire directory tree, but I couldn’t find one. I’ve made a poor man’s Merkle tree implementation using sha256sum and a few piped commands at the terminal:

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merkle-tree () {
  dirname="${1-.}"
  pushd "$dirname"
  find . -type f              | \
    sort                      | \
    xargs -I{} sha256sum "{}" | \
    sha256sum                 | \
    awk '{print $1}'
  popd
}

Going through it line by line:

Positive points:

  1. ignore timestamp: running more than once on different installation yields the same hash;
  2. the name of the file is included in the final hash computation.

Limitations:

  1. it ignores empty folders from the hash computation;
  2. the implementation’s only goal is to represent using a digest whether the content of a given directory is the same or not. Leaf presence checking is obviously missing from it.

Testing locally with sample data

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mkdir /tmp/merkle-tree-test/
cd /tmp/merkle-tree-test/
mkdir -p a/b/ a/c/ d/
echo "one"   > a/b/one.txt
echo "two"   > a/c/two.txt
echo "three" > d/three.txt
merkle-tree . # output is       be343bb01fe00aeb8fef14a3e16b1c3d1dccbf86d7e41b4753e6ccb7dc3a57c3
merkle-tree . # output still is be343bb01fe00aeb8fef14a3e16b1c3d1dccbf86d7e41b4753e6ccb7dc3a57c3
echo "four"  > d/four.txt
merkle-tree . # output is now   b5464b958969ed81815641ace96b33f7fd52c20db71a7fccc45a36b3a2ae4d4c
rm d/four.txt
merkle-tree . # output back to  be343bb01fe00aeb8fef14a3e16b1c3d1dccbf86d7e41b4753e6ccb7dc3a57c3
echo "hidden-five" > a/b/one.txt
merkle-tree . # output changed  471fae0d074947e4955e9ac53e95b56e4bc08d263d89d82003fb58a0ffba66f5

It seems to work for this simple test case.

You can try copying and pasting it to verify the hash signatures.

Using merkle-tree to check the output of npm ci

I’ve done all of the following using Node.js v8.11.3 and npm@6.1.0.

In this test case I’ll take the main repo of Lerna2:

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cd /tmp/
git clone https://github.com/lerna/lerna.git
cd lerna/
git checkout 57ff865c0839df75dbe1974971d7310f235e1109
npm ci
merkle-tree node_modules/ # outputs 11e218c4ac32fac8a9607a8da644fe870a25c99821167d21b607af45699afafa
rm -rf node_modules/
npm ci
merkle-tree node_modules/ # outputs 11e218c4ac32fac8a9607a8da644fe870a25c99821167d21b607af45699afafa
npm ci      # test if it also works with an existing node_modules/ folder
merkle-tree node_modules/ # outputs 11e218c4ac32fac8a9607a8da644fe870a25c99821167d21b607af45699afafa

Good job npm ci :)

#6 and #9 take some time to run (21 seconds in my machine), but this specific use case isn’t performance sensitive. The slowest step is computing the hash of each individual file.

Conclusion

npm ci really “generates identical trees”.

I’m not aware of any other existing solution for verifying the hash signature of a directory. If you know any I’d like to know.

Edit

2019/05/22: Fix spelling.

  1. The documentation claims npm install is driven by the existing package-lock.json, but that’s actually a little bit tricky

  2. Finding a big known repo that actually committed the package-lock.json file was harder than I expected.