Fixing "npm ERR! code ENOTEMPTY" on npm install


In this Byte we'll try to help you understand and fix a common npm error - "npm ERR! code ENOTEMPTY". If you've been working with Node.js and npm, chances are you've encountered this error at some point. But don't worry, we'll do our best to demystify it for you.

What is "npm ERR! code ENOTEMPTY"?

"npm ERR! code ENOTEMPTY" is an error message that npm, the Node.js package manager, throws when it encounters a non-empty directory while attempting to install a package. The "ENOTEMPTY" part of the error message is actually a standard POSIX error code, which stands for "Error, Not Empty". In simpler terms, npm is trying to tell us that it can't perform the operation because the target directory is not empty.

Note: The POSIX standard defines a set of operating system interfaces to ensure compatibility between different systems. 'ENOTEMPTY' is one of the many error codes defined in this standard.

Common Causes of the Error

The "npm ERR! code ENOTEMPTY" error typically occurs when npm tries to replace a directory with a file during the installation process, but finds that the directory is not empty. This could be due to several reasons:

  1. Concurrent installations: If you're running multiple npm installations concurrently, they may interfere with each other.
  2. Previous installation leftovers: If a previous npm installation was interrupted or didn't complete successfully, it may have left some files behind in the directory.
  3. Manual changes: If you've manually added files to the node_modules directory, npm might throw this error when it tries to update or replace a package.

The unfortunate truth about errors like these is that you might not

How to Fix "npm ERR! code ENOTEMPTY"

Now that we know what causes the error, let's look at how to solve it.

  • Delete node_modules: There may be an issue with your node_modules directory that is preventing npm from installing a new module there. This could be a corrupt state caused by a previous failed installation, manually changing contents of the directory, or something else. This is typically the solution that works for most people. Delete the directory with:

    $ rm -r node_modules

    To be safe, you could even delete the package-lock.json file to ensure you get a full re-install.

  • Clean the npm cache: The npm cache is like a storage for downloaded packages. Sometimes, this cache can become corrupted, leading to errors. You can clean the cache using the following command:

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    $ npm cache clean --force
  • Delete specific package: If you're npm install takes a very long time and you'd rather take care of the specific problem, you can try just deleting the problematic package. For example:

    $ rm -r node_modules/my_module

    This way you can remove only the problem and then only reinstall that package, speeding up the process.

Similar Errors

Now, you might be wondering, what if I encounter a similar error but not exactly the npm ERR! code ENOTEMPTY? Well, npm has a wide range of errors that it can throw, and while they all have different causes, many of them can be fixed using similar solutions.

For instance, npm ERR! code EEXIST is another common error that occurs when a file that npm needs to write already exists. Similar to the previous solutions, this can often be fixed by deleting the offending file and running npm install again.

$ rm -rf offending-file
$ npm install

Another error, npm ERR! code EACCES, occurs when npm doesn't have the necessary permissions to write to a file or directory. You can often fix this by changing the permissions of the file or directory with the chmod command.

$ chmod 755 offending-directory
$ npm install


In this Byte, we've covered a few common npm errors, specifically the npm ERR! code ENOTEMPTY error. We've learned about its common causes and how to solve it, as well as other similar errors and their solutions, broadening our understanding of npm and its quirks.

Last Updated: September 27th, 2023
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