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Resolving npm install Permission Issues on Multipass
In this post I’m sharing my experience using Multipass on my Apple Silicon Mac to upgrade Node.js within a project. I encountered a permission error while using npm install, which led me to a solution involving adjusting maxfiles limits, and I’ve documented the process with helpful resources.

I was in the midst of upgrading some legacy software systems, and part of this endeavor involved upgrading the Node.js version within a specific project. I was using an M2 MacBook Pro and intended to run Docker through a virtual machine. My tool of choice for this task was Multipass. I set up an LTS Ubuntu instance on Multipass and proceeded to install a Docker VM within it. You can refer to this guide for a step-by-step setup: Running a container with the Docker blueprint in Multipass.

I successfully emulated the server environment in Docker, with the only difference being the utilization of LTS Node and npm versions. However, as I executed the npm install command, I encountered this permission error:

npm WARN tar TAR_ENTRY_ERROR EPERM: operation not permitted

I delved into Multipass’s GitHub repository and stumbled upon a relevant issue: Insufficient permissions inside created Instance to install npm packages. Towards the end of the conversation within that thread, a critical insight was shared, leading me to the root of my problem. It was a maxfiles limit issue.

The term “maxfiles” refers to the maximum number of open file descriptors. A file descriptor is a unique identifier associated with an open file, socket, or other I/O resource. Therefore, during the npm install operation within the virtual machine, there must have been more file descriptors in use than anticipated. I executed the launchctl limit maxfiles command to check my current default maxfiles limit, which was set to 256, which seemed inadequate. I followed this guide to update the limit: How to Change Open Files Limit on OS X and macOS. Alternatively, you can use the following command to update the limit: sudo launchctl limit maxfiles 200000 200000. When I ran this command, I got Could not set resource limits: 150: Operation not permitted while System Integrity Protection is engaged and couldn’t update the limit. I came across this solution: No Longer Able to Increase Maxfile Limits MacOS Recent Versions. The fix involved running launchctl limit maxfiles 256 unlimited, which was the default limit before running sudo launchctl limit maxfiles 200000 200000 to update to the new limit. With the limits appropriately updated, my npm install command worked flawlessly.

This entry serves as a developer diary, chronicling my encounter with an issue while attempting to utilize Multipass on an Apple Silicon Mac, along with some of the useful online resources I found to solve it.