This evening I wanted to start hacking on a project of mine, which is a simple WordPress theme. My main development machine was being used by somebody else, so I decided to boot up my old Sony Vaio running Ubuntu. It’ll be simple, I thought. I’ve just got to clone the repo, run npm install, bower install, and grunt build, and I’ll be good to go. I was wrong.

First, the version of npm installed on the laptop is apparently so out-of-date that it can’t run the install. So I let it update itself (and all the other packages I have installed - why not?) with sudo npm -g update. Being a Sunday night, my broadband connection is running spectacularly slow, so the update process takes about 10 minutes at 40kB/s. But hey, at least now I can run npm install, right?

Nope. Now npm is throwing some errors with unhelpful messages, but that’s fine, I’ll just trawl through the error log. 5 minutes later, I figure out that ~/tmp belongs to root (probably from running npm update as root). OK, fine, I’ll change the permissions and try again. This time npm install works! But of course, my connection is so horribly slow and grunt has so many dependencies that the install process takes over 15 minutes.

After all of that, I can finally run bower install, and then I can build the damn project and start hacking. At least bower works first try, but now it’s got to clone all of these repos, which takes another 5 minutes on my slow connection. By the time I’ve run grunt build and started hacking, over 30 minutes has passed and I’m really pissed off.

Did this process really have to be so complicated? I remember a time when things were much simpler. I could checkout a project and build it in 5 minutes - all the dependencies were already installed globally from working on other projects. I didn’t need to have a local copy of grunt and all of its dependencies. Third-party components were part of the checkout; I didn’t have to checkout their entire repos along with tests, documentation, and other junk I don’t need._


When you throw virtual environments into the mix, things get even more complicated. What if I had to download a Vagrant box to set the project up? This process could’ve taken hours. Don’t get me wrong, I use package management tools like npm, bundler and bower on a daily basis. They make my life easier, most of the time. But sometimes I feel like they can make things so complicated, and it makes me think we’ve taken a massive step backwards in terms of simplicity and productivity.