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Difference between tilde(~) and caret(^) in package.json

The tilde ~ matches the most recent patch version (the third number) for the specified minor version (the second number).
~1.2.3 will match all 1.2.x versions but will hold off on 1.3.0.

The caret ^ is more relaxed. It matches the most recent minor version (the second number) for the specified major version (the first number).
^1.2.3 will match any 1.x.x release including 1.3.0, but will hold off on 2.0.0.

Npm allows installing newer version of a package than the one specified. Using tilde (~) gives you bug fix releases and caret (^) gives you backwards compatible new functionality as well.
Old versions usually don't receive bug fixes that much, so npm uses caret (^) as the default for --save.