Understanding Composer: A Simple Analogy of Grocery Shopping for Better Dependency Management

Developer shopping

Whether you’re an application developer working in PHP or simply a tech enthusiast interested in the field, you’ve likely encountered Composer. It plays a significant role in managing dependencies for PHP projects. But in today’s blog post, I’ll take a different approach to understanding PHP’s Composer, by seeing it as a personal shopper who buys groceries for various recipes.

The composer.json – Our Custom Grocery List

Think of the composer.json file as a grocery list that outlines the essential items you need to make your favorite dish. In the realm of dependency management, this list includes the names and desired quantities (versions) of libraries and packages required for the successful functioning of your application recipe.

For example, imagine that you must prepare spaghetti with marinara sauce. You provide a personal shopper with a list containing pasta, tomato sauce, and Italian seasoning. Similarly, when crafting your composer.json file, you specify the required packages, like Laravel and Guzzle, that form the building blocks of your software application.

Composer Commands – Add, Update, or Remove Items From the List

Sometimes, you might want to make changes to your grocery list – perhaps to update an item or remove it altogether. In the context of Composer, you can use commands such as composer require package-name and composer remove package-name to instruct your personal shopper to add or remove items (libraries or packages) from the list (composer.json file).

For instance, if you suddenly decide to add mushrooms to your spaghetti marinara recipe, you can communicate with your personal shopper to include that item. Similarly, when you want to add a new package or update an existing one, you can use the respective composer commands to adjust the list quickly and efficiently.

The composer.lock – The Final Purchased List

Once the personal shopper has perused the shopping aisles, they provide you with an itemized receipt that clearly states the brands and amounts of each ingredient purchased. This is the composer.lock file – a precise representation of the libraries and packages in their specific versions that were procured to follow your grocery list.

By sharing the composer.lock file with your team members, you can be confident that everyone on the project uses the same, carefully selected groceries for the application recipe. This consistency is crucial when developing software, ensuring that all collaborators are working with the same library versions, which eliminates any potential discrepancies.


This article explores dependency management by drawing a simple analogy between grocery shopping and dependency management in software development. By conceptualizing composer.json and composer.lock files as grocery lists, you can more easily grasp the inner workings of Composer and manage dependencies more effectively.

While using a personal shopper to manage your groceries might not be necessary for whipping up quick meals at home, it becomes essential when running complex projects like hotels or restaurants, highlighting the importance of using the right tools in scenarios that demand them.

Now it’s time to cook up some exceptional applications, knowing full well that you have the perfect ingredients on hand!