Understanding the basics of package management in Dart

If you're building applications or libraries in Dart, you'll quickly realize the importance of package management. Managing dependencies, sharing code between projects, and staying up-to-date with bug fixes and security patches can quickly become a nightmare without a robust package management system.

Fortunately, Dart comes with a built-in package manager, Dart Pub, that handles all of these tasks with ease. In this article, we'll cover the basics of package management in Dart, including what packages are, how to use them, and best practices for managing dependencies.

What are packages?

At their most basic level, packages are collections of Dart code that can be easily shared and reused between projects. Packages can contain anything from simple helper functions to complex frameworks and libraries.

Dart packages are uploaded to the pub.dev website, where they can be easily downloaded and integrated into your own projects. You can also create your own packages and upload them to pub.dev.

Using packages in your projects

To use a package in your Dart project, you need to add it to your project's pubspec.yaml file. This file contains a list of all the packages your project depends on, as well as their versions.

Packages can be added to your project's pubspec.yaml file in two ways:

  1. Manually entering the package name and version numbers
  2. Using the pub command-line tool to automatically add packages to the file

For example, let's say you wanted to add the http package to your project. You would first need to add it to your pubspec.yaml file like so:

  http: ^0.13.3

This tells Dart Pub that your project depends on version 0.13.3 of the http package. The ^ symbol indicates that your project can use any compatible version of the package (i.e., any version greater than or equal to 0.13.3 and less than 1.0.0).

Once you've added the http package to your pubspec.yaml file, you can run the pub get command to download and install the package:

dart pub get

This will download the http package and all of its dependencies (if any) and install them in your project's packages directory.

From there, you can import the package into your Dart code using the import statement:

import 'package:http/http.dart' as http;

This code imports the http package and gives it an alias of http in your code. You can then use the http package's functions and classes in your code like so:

final response = await http.get(Uri.parse('https://example.com'));

This sends an HTTP GET request to https://example.com using the http package's get function, and stores the resulting response in a response variable.

Best practices for managing packages and dependencies

Now that we've covered the basics of using packages in your Dart projects, let's talk about best practices for managing your project's dependencies.

Use specific version numbers

Whenever possible, it's best to use specific version numbers for your project's dependencies. This ensures that your project always uses the same version of a package, which can help prevent compatibility issues and unexpected behavior.

For example, instead of using the ^ symbol to allow any compatible version of a package, you might choose to use an exact version number like so:

  http: 0.13.3

This tells Dart Pub to use version 0.13.3 of the http package, and only that version.

Pin your dependencies

To ensure that everyone working on your project uses the same versions of your project's dependencies, it's a good idea to "pin" your dependencies by locking them to specific version numbers.

You can do this by running the pub get command with the --offline flag, which tells Dart Pub to use only the versions of your project's dependencies that are already installed, rather than downloading newer versions:

dart pub get --offline

This will download and install all of your project's dependencies, and then create a pubspec.lock file that contains a list of each dependency and its specific version number.

You can then commit this pubspec.lock file to your version control system (e.g., Git), so that everyone working on your project has the same set of dependencies.

Update your dependencies regularly

While it's important to lock your dependencies to specific version numbers, it's also important to keep them up-to-date with bug fixes and security patches.

To update your project's dependencies to their latest compatible versions, you can run the pub upgrade command:

dart pub upgrade

This will update your project's dependencies to their latest compatible versions (i.e., versions that match the version constraints in your pubspec.yaml file). You can then review the changes in your pubspec.lock file and commit them to your version control system.

Remove unused dependencies

Finally, it's important to regularly review your project's dependencies and remove any that aren't actually being used. Unused dependencies can slow down your project's build times and increase its disk space usage.

To see a list of your project's dependencies and their sizes, you can run the pub deps command:

dart pub deps

This will output a list of your project's dependencies and their transitive dependencies (i.e., dependencies that they depend on). You can use this list to identify any unused dependencies and remove them from your pubspec.yaml file.


Package management is a crucial aspect of developing Dart applications and libraries. Knowing how to use packages, manage dependencies, and follow best practices can help make your code more maintainable and easier to share with others.

In this article, we covered the basics of package management in Dart, including how to add packages to your projects, manage dependencies, and follow best practices. Armed with this knowledge, you're ready to start building more robust and maintainable Dart applications and libraries!

Additional Resources

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Written by AI researcher, Haskell Ruska, PhD (haskellr@mit.edu). Scientific Journal of AI 2023, Peer Reviewed