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npm Dependency Queries and the Cross-Pollination of Ideas

I found out about npm dependency queries by reading Pawel’s post on the subject (and following links to the RFC). It’s an intriguing idea: discover information about your project and its dependencies by querying for it with selectors informed by CSS!

For example: want to see dependency information for react? Query for it with an ID selector.

npm query "#react"

Building on that, want to see dependency info for everything with “react” in its name? Use an attribute selector!

npm query "[name*=react]"

(Obligatory link to my fav post ever on the topic of attribute selectors.)

Ok, let’s expand the query net even further: what about finding dependencies that have the keyword “react” in their package? For that, there’s :attr() which can evaluate the key/value pairs in package.json.

npm query "*:attr([keywords=react])"

In some cases npm essentially copied CSS. In other cases, they borrowed from it or even invented their own syntax. For example: want to find all outdated dependencies? There’s a pseudo class for that.

npm query ":outdated"

Now that’s something you can’t do in CSS — and yet, it’s familiar.

Here’s another example of a selector that’s not in CSS, is specific to the context of npm, and yet remains familiar: a semver selector. Want to find all dependencies that haven‘t yet reached a version 1.0?

npm query ":semver(0.x)"


I love API design like this that leverages existing knowledge in a new context — especially for web-adjacent technologies.

Not just for the re-usability aspect of it, but for how it stimulates the imagination. For me, a kind of cross-pollination occurs when I find myself in a new context that leverages ideas from a familiar (or adjacent) context. I often find myself thinking: “I wish I could take the enhanced capabilities of these transplanted ideas and bring them back to the context I was already familiar with!”

For example: the idea of :semver() — which is so very specific to a core data type in a package manager like npm — makes me want more powerful, data-specific selectors in CSS.

To illustrate, imagine you wanted to style some information in a data- attribute that’s a number. It would be neat if we had a :number pseudo class with which to do comparative operations, something like:

<div data-count="5">…</div>
<div data-count="12">…</div>
<div data-count="7">…</div>
<div data-count ="22">…</div>

  /* Everything’s red by default */
  [data-count] {
    background-color: red;
  /* Except for items whose value is great than 10 */
  [data-count]:number(> 10) {
    background-color: green;

I’m totally spitballing here and should take the time to think up more concrete examples, but I know I’ve wanted to do stuff like this in CSS.

npm query "" is the real CSS-in-JS ;)