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One of the limitations of implementing native add-on modules is that at some point they need to be compiled and linked. In the absence of a downloadable binary, each user of a native add-on will need to compile and link the module. This requires each user to have the necessary C/C++ build tools installed.

An alternative is for the native add-on maintainer to pre-build binaries for supported platforms and architectures and to upload these binaries to a location where users can download them.

This is the specific solution offered by prebuild.

Note that Node-API support was added to prebuild in version 8.1.0.

node-pre-gyp is an alternative tool that addresses this same issue.

This page describes the modifications required to an Node-API add-on module in order for it to support prebuild.

prebuild and prebuild-install

The capabilities offered by prebuild are actually delivered by two separate packages:

As a developer, you will use prebuild to build and upload your binaries. The users of your native add-on will use prebuild-install to first attempt to download one of your pre-built binaries before falling back to building the binary themselves.


When getting started with prebuild, it’s easiest to install prebuild as a global package:

npm install -g prebuild

As you become proficient in prebuild, you may choose to alternatively install prebuild as one of your devDependencies.

GitHub Releases

By default, prebuild uploads generated binaries as GitHub Releases. Creating and uploading GitHub releases requires the use of a GitHub personal access token. The steps to create a token are as follows:

  • Go to the Github page to create personal access tokens. (You may need to log in.)
  • Click Generate new token.
  • Under Select scopes, your token must have either public_repo or repo scope to upload releases.

    • Choose public_repo if you will be uploading only to public repositories.
    • Choose repo if you will be uploading to private repositories.
  • Click Generate token.
  • Make a note of the generated token as this will be the only time it is visible.
  • Create the GITHUB_TOKEN environment variable containing the token. For example:

    export GITHUB_TOKEN=<github-token>

    Replace the text <github-token> with the token generated above.


The repository property

Since prebuild uploads your binary to GitHub, you must specify the GitHub repository in a repository property:

  "repository": {
    "type": "git",
    "url": ""

The dependencies property

The users of your native add-on will need to install prebuild-install in order to download your pre-built binary. This makes prebuild-install a dependency:

  "dependencies": {
    "prebuild-install": "^5.3.3"

The scripts properties

Here are some suggested scripts entries to get started:

  "scripts": {
    "install": "prebuild-install --runtime napi || node-gyp rebuild",
    "rebuild": "node-gyp rebuild",
    "prebuild": "prebuild --runtime napi --all --strip --verbose",
    "upload": "prebuild --runtime napi --upload ${GITHUB_TOKEN}"

For the prebuild and prebuild-install commands, the --runtime argument must be napi to request Node-API builds. When requesting Node-API builds, the module’s package.json file must include a binary property as described next. And the binding.gyp CMakeLists.txt file must include a define for NAPI_VERSION as described below.

One or more --target arguments may be specified to request builds for specific Node-API versions. Node-API versions are positive integer values. Alternatively, --all may be used to request builds for all Node-API versions supported by the module.

In the absence of both --target and --all arguments, prebuild will build the most current version of the module supported by the Node instance performing the build.

The binary property

Native modules that are designed to work with Node-API must explicitly declare the Node-API version(s) against which they can build. This is accomplished by including a binary property on the module’s package.json file. For example:

"binary": {
  "napi_versions": [2,3]

In the absence of a need to compile against a specific Node-API version, the value 3 is a good choice as this is the Node-API version that was supported when Node-API left experimental status.

Modules that are built against a specific Node-API version will continue to operate indefinitely, even as later versions of Node-API are introduced.


The Node-API header files supplied with Node use the NAPI_VERSION preprocessor value supplied by the user to configure each build to the specific Node-API version for which the native addon is being built. In addition, the module’s C/C++ code can use this value to conditionally compile code based on the Node-API version it is being compiled against.

prebuild supports two build backends: node-gyp and cmake-js. The NAPI_VERSION value is configured differently for each backend.


The following code must be included in the binding.gyp file of modules targeting Node-API:

"defines": [


The following line must be included in the CMakeLists.txt file of modules targeting Node-API:


Building and uploading your binary

Using the package.json scripts entries as a starting point, this command will build and package your native add-on:

npm run prebuild

You can run this command as often as necessary.

When you’re ready, run this command to upload your compiled binary to GitHub:

npm run upload

This command requires that the GITHUB_TOKEN environment variable contains a valid GitHub token as described above.

Once you become proficient in prebuild, you can modify the package.json scripts entries to meet your specific needs.

Life for your users

You’ve declared prebuild-install as a dependency. The install script in your package.json file looks like this:

    "install": "prebuild-install --runtime napi || node-gyp rebuild"

When a user installs your native add-on, the prebuild-install tool first looks to see if it can locate a suitable pre-built binary on GitHub for the user’s specific Node-API version, architecture, and platform. If the binary is found, prebuild-install downloads, unpacks, and installs the binaries in the correct location.

If the binary is not found, the install script falls back to whatever is specified after the ||. In this case, a node-gyp rebuild is triggered which will attempt to build the binary on the user’s machine.


prebuild Project GitHub page

prebuild-install Project GitHub page