Game Development with Clojure/ClojureScript

This weekend it’s Ludum Dare again, the world’s longest running game jam. The idea is that, alone or with a team, you build a game in a weekend based on a certain theme.

We got a little team together here in Berlin, and so I’ve been reviewing what options there are for someone wanting to build a game in Clojure or Clojurescript.

The good news is there are plenty of options, as you’ll see from the list below. You can do desktop games, browser based games with canvas or webgl, and you can even create Unity 3D games, all from your comfortable Clojure parentheses.

That’s more or less where the good news ends. Most of these frameworks and libraries are still alpha-level software, many have a “use at your own risk, you’re on your own” kind of warning on the project page. And the documentation… well… let’s just say that you’re likely better off studying cracked turtle bones to figure out how these libraries work.

Disclaimer: most of these I haven’t actually tried, certainly not in anger, so much of what follows is from what I could gather looking at the project page and perusing some code samples and (if present) docs. Feel free to “well actually” me on Twitter if you feel I’m misrepresenting things.

Desktop/mobile offerings


Platforms: desktop, web
Based on: Processing / Processing.js
Maturity: 👴
Documentation: 😊

Quil is Clojure’s version of the graphics programming toolkit Processing. It’s beginner friendly, and really lends itself to exploration, which is also why ClojureBridge chose it for the official curriculum.

It’s been around for a while and “just works”. The project site has decent API docs, there’s a wiki with useful info, and you can find plenty of examples floating around, like the ones I created last year for The Land of Quil, or the ones that are being worked on as part of the ClojureBridge Berlin Study Group Curriculum.

It’s also the only offering on this list that’s actually cross platform. You do have to keep a few small things in mind, but it’s very doable to have a single code base work for both desktop and in the browser, which is pretty cool.

The only downside is that for game development Quil is pretty limited. Its sweet spot lies more in generative art and interactive graphics. You get a bunch of drawing primitives, and some functions for mouse and keyboard input, but beyond that you’re on your own. No sprites, physics, collision detection, scenes, layers, sound, tweening, or event system. It’s still a lot of fun to play around with, but if you only have a weekend then maybe tone down your ambitions.


Platforms: desktop, Android
Based on: libGDX
Maturity: 👩
Documentation: 😊

Play-clj is Zach Oakes game framework for Clojure. There’s a big warning on the README that he’s focusing his efforts now on Play-cljs, which I’ll cover further down. Zach is the author of Nightcode, a beginner friendly editor/IDE for Clojure. He’s also created a Nightcode spin-off called Nightmod, specifically for game development using Play-clj. It calls itself “a tool for making live-moddable games”. The idea is clear: bring REPL-like interactive development to game dev.

Despite the warning Play-clj seems pretty solid. It’s the only offering in this list that explicitly mentions mobile as a target. Play-clj games use a Entity-Component System which is pretty standard in game development nowadays. It’s based on libGDX which is a feature rich game dev framework, and as such provides many features you’d expect, like sprites or physics simulation.

There’s also comprehensive documentation, not just API docs but also (bless the author) and actual step-by-step tutorial. It doesn’t seem like much to ask but it’s a rare offering in the documentation wasteland you’ll encounter further down.

Oh and Zach (I can say Zach, right?) spoke about Play-clj at Clojure/conj! Check out the talk: Making Games at Runtime With Clojure.


Platforms: desktop
Based on: Unity
Maturity: 👦
Documentation: 🤔

Arcadia is definitely the odd in one out in this list, but it’s such a cool and promising project that it wouldn’t stand not to mention it. Most readers of this blog will know that there is a JVM and a Javascript based version of Clojure, but there’s a lesser known implementation called ClojureCLR, targeting Microsoft’s Common Language Runtime, the virtual machine that powers .NET.

This is what enabled Arcadia to integrate Clojure with Unity, a bona fide A-level professional game development environment. This also means the workflow is a bit other than usual. Unity comes with its own coding environment, and to get started with Arcadia you clone the Arcadia source into your Unity project, although this might change as the project matures.

Unity is a commercial offering, it is not free software/open source, but there’s a free plan for hobby use.

Documentation is still limited, but there are a handful of wiki pages that do seem to contain all you need to get rolling.

Arcadia is development by Tim Gardner and Ramsey Nasser from Kitchen Table Coders, the same group that David Nolen is part of.

Browser based

Now we come to the web part, games that are playable directly in your browser. Note that we already mentioned Quil at the top. Since it’s cross platform it really belongs in both categories.

To evaluate these libraries it’s good to first have a look at what powers them under the hood. Whatever superpowers they have will be inherited directly from whatever javascript library is driving them.

Some of these only provide a thin wrapper for Clojurescript, meaning they don’t bring anything new to the table, but merely provide a more idiomatic syntax, avoiding lots of interop calls. Others try to add value of their own.


Platforms: browser
Based on: p5.js Maturity: 👶
Documentation: 🤔

P5.js is a reimagination of Processing.js, the library Quil is based on. It wants to “make coding accessible for artists, designers, educators, and beginners”. That’s a great goal, but just like with Quil this means that handy features specifically for game development are a bit thin on the ground.

Play-cljs seems to mostly be a thin wrapper around p5.js, although it’s possible the author plans to build more gaming features in. Note that despite the one letter difference, play-clj and play-cljs are completely different animals, with completely different feature sets and APIs.

Zach tends to do a pretty good job at documenting things, although there’s no step-by-step tutorial in this case. You do get a bunch of example games, and generated API docs, which for such a minimal library really might be enough.


Platforms: browser
Based on: Pixi.js
Maturity: 👶
Documentation: 😠

Chocolatier seems pretty impressive, it’s based on Pixi.js which prizes itself at being “the fastest, most flexible 2D WebGL renderer”. It has few hundred Github stars, and it seems a lot of thought has gone into its design. The author even did a conj talk about Functional Game Design, and the README talks a lot about its “modified entity component system”, but I’m really missing a gentler introduction on how to actually use the thing.

There’s a big example in the README that’s more or less provided without comment. There’s a documentation folder, with a single file, containing a single line: “TODO: write great documentation”.

It’s really unfortunate, I feel like if I had a day or two to sink my teeth into this, preferrably well rested and with few distractions, I could get to a point where I could have a lot of fun with it. Sigh… oh well, I guess as a creator of accessible technical content it’s good to know there’s still plenty of work to be done.


Platforms: browser
Based on: Phaser
Maturity: 👶
Documentation: 🤔

Phzr is just a thin wrapper around Phaser, one of the more popular Javascript game engines. Documentation is limited, and instead you’re simply referred to the Phaser docs. This of course is the benefit of thin wrappers, as long as the underlying library is well documented you’re all golden. So I think this actually would make a pretty good choice, although the question is if you really need a wrapper then.

re-frame + SVG

Platforms: browser
Based on: Reagent/React
Maturity: 👦
Documentation: 🤔

Not a game library as such, but still something I would consider a valid option. Browser support for SVG has improved rapidly in recent years, and React hasn’t missed the boat either. The result is that you get drawing primitives right in your DOM, which can then be styled and animated, and which generate DOM events that you can respond to.

In that sense it’s no less basic than Quil or play-cljs. You could use and React wrapper like Reagent, Om, Quiescent, or Rum, but my favorite by far is re-frame, and I believe its event system is uniquely suited for use with games.

And re-frame has some pretty decent docs. It’s a bit of a weird style, and the README is a bit of work to get through, but it does explain well how it works, and there are wiki pages explaining all the core concepts. Some even say the re-frame docs are like the hidden documentation for Reagent, the library re-frame is built on. Some Reagent concepts are only properly explained here.

You might have to be a bit more performance-conscious than with other options, but make good use of React/Reagent’s optimizations to avoid unnecessary rendering, and keep in mind that some things are cheaper to animate than others.

Finally if I would go this route I would combine it with the excellent 2D/3D geometry toolkit for Clojure/Clojurescript. The same goes for Quil or Play-cljs.

Javascript engines

Platforms: browser
Maturity: 👵
Documentation: 😃

Finally a very compelling option is to simply forget about Clojurescript specific libraries, and instead pick any of the popular Javascript game engines. There are literally dozens of high quality libraries out there. Forget about being idiomatic, just interop the shit out of it!

The benefits are obvious: you get a battle tested foundation backed by a large community, and actual documentation. Just use it as is, and wrap as you go where it makes sense.

More blog posts

Well Behaved Command Line Tools

Yesterday Vlaaad wrote a pretty cool blog post titled Alternative to tools.cli in 10 lines of code. It’s a great read and a very cool hack. It uses read-string to parse command line arguments, resolves symbols, and invokes the first symbol/function, passing in the rest of the parsed arguments. In other words: it’s the most straightforward way to translate a command line invocation into a Clojure function call.

The benefits are illustrated well in the post. It removes all possible friction. Want to add a new subcommand? Just add a function. Adding CLI arguments and options equals adding arguments and options to said function.

It’s actually not too different from what people do in shell scripts sometimes.

Logging in Clojure: Making Sense of the Mess

You may also like Dates in Clojure: Making Sense of the Mess

Logging seems like a simple enough concept. It’s basically println with a couple of extra smarts. And yet it can be oh so confounding. Even when you literally do not care a sigle bit about logging you may still be sent down a rabbit hole because of warnings of things that are or aren’t on the classpath. What even is a classpath?

Lambda Island Open Source Update May 2020

Felipe and I have been busy again, read all about what we’ve been up to in this month’s Lambda Island Open Source update.

We currently have two major projects we are working to get out: Regal and Kaocha-cljs2. They are both still a work in progress, but we’ve again made some good progress this month. Regal is not officially out yet but is at the stage where people can safely start incorporating it into their projects. Kaocha-cljs2 is a big undertaking, but we’re splitting this work into smaller self-contained pieces, and two of those saw their first release this month: Chui and Funnel.


Lambda Island Open Source Update April 2020

With people across the globe isolating themselves it feels sometimes like time is standing still, but looking back it’s been a busy month again for the folks here at Lambda Island. Besides all the maintenance releases we shipped some new features for lambdaisland.uri, our JS logging library Glögi, and a new micro-library, edn-lines. We also have some exciting work in progress, including a brand new browser-based test runner for ClojureScript, written with shadow-cljs in mind.


A big shout goes out to two of our clients, Nextjournal and Pitch. They have made a lot of this work possible either by funding projects directly, or by dogfooding our tools and libraries and giving us an opportunity to improve them. Thank you both for investing in this great ecosystem.

Coffee Grinders, part 2

Back in December I wrote about a coding pattern that I’ve been using more and more often in my work, which I dubbed “Coffee Grinders”. My thoughts around this were still gelling at the time, and so the result was a meandering semi-philosophical post that didn’t really get to the point, and that didn’t seem to resonate that much with people.

Some of the responses I got were “just use functions” or “sounds like a finite-state machine”, which makes it clear that I was not in fact making myself clear.

Having continued to encounter and apply this pattern I’d like to present a more concise, semi-formal definition of coffee grinders.

Advent 2019 part 24, The Last Post

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

Day 24, I made it! I did skip a day because I was sick and decided it was more important to rest up, but I’m pretty happy with how far I got.

Let’s see how the others fared who took on the challenge. John Stevenson at Practicalli got four posts out spread out across the advent period, similar to lighting an extra candle every sunday of the advent. Good job!

Advent 2019 part 23, Full size SVG with Reagent

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

I’ve been a big fan of SVG since the early 2000’s. To me it’s one of the great victories of web standards. Mind you, browser support has taken a long time to catch up. Back then you had to embed your SVG file with an <object> tag, and support for the many cool features and modules was limited and inconsistent.

These days of course you can drop an <svg> tag straight into your HTML. What a joy! And since the SVG can now go straight into the DOM, you can draw your SVG with React/Reagent. Now there’s a killer combo.

Advent 2019 part 21, Project level Emacs config with .dir-locals.el

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

An extremely useful Emacs feature which I learned about much too late is the .dir-locals.el. It allows you to define variables which will then be set whenever you open a file in the directory where .dir-locals.el is located (or any subdirectory thereof).

Here’s an example of a .dir-locals.el file of a project I was poking at today.

Advent 2019 part 20, Life Hacks aka Emacs Ginger Tea

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

Here’s a great life hack, to peal ginger don’t use a knife, use a spoon. I’m not kidding. Just scrape off the peal with the tip of the spoon, it’s almost too easy.

Here’s a Clojure + Emacs life hack:

Advent 2019 part 19, Advent of Random Hacks

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

Something I’m pretty good at is coming up with random hacks. The thing where you’re like “hey how about we plug this thing into that thing” and everyone says “why would you do that that’s a terrible idea” and I’m like (mario voice) “let’s a go”.

And sometimes the result is not entirely useless. Like this little oneliner I came up with yesterday, using Babashka to “convert” a project.clj into a deps.edn.

Advent 2019 part 17, trace! and untrace!

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

Here’s a little REPL helper that you may like.

(defn trace! [v]
  (let [m    (meta v)
        n    (symbol (str (ns-name (:ns m))) (str (:name m)))
        orig (:trace/orig m @v)]
    (alter-var-root v (constantly (fn [& args]
                                    (prn (cons n args))
                                    (apply orig args))))
    (alter-meta! v assoc :trace/orig orig)))

(defn untrace! [v]
  (when-let [orig (:trace/orig (meta v))]
    (alter-var-root v (constantly orig))
    (alter-meta! v dissoc :trace/orig)))

Advent 2019 part 16, Coffee Grinders

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

Over the last year or so I’ve found myself using some variations on a certain pattern when modelling processes in Clojure. It’s kind of like a event loop, but adapted to the functional, immutable nature of Clojure. For lack of a better name I’m calling these coffee grinders. (The analogy doesn’t even really work but the kid needs to have a name.)

Since I saw Avdi Grimm’s OOPS Keynote at Keep Ruby Weird last year I’ve been thinking a lot about the transaction vs process dichotomy. Avdi talks about the “Transactional Fallacy” from around 15:25. From his slides:

Advent 2019 part 15, jcmd and jstack

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

Two shell commands anyone using JVM languages should be familiar with are jcmd and jstack. They are probably already available on your system, as they come bundled with the JDK. Try it out, run jcmd in a terminal.

This is what the result might look like

Advent 2019 part 13, Datomic Test Factories

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

When I started consulting for Nextjournal I helped them out a lot with tooling and testing. Their data model is fairly complex, which made it hard to do setup in tests. I created a factory based approach for them, which has served the team well ever since.

First some preliminaries. At Nextjournal we’re big fans of Datomic, and so naturally we have a Datomic connection as part of the Integrant system map.

Advent 2019 part 12, Pairing in the Cloud with Tmux

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

I’m a strong believer in pair programming. It can be intense and exhausting, and its a skill you need to learn and get good at, but it’s extremely valuable. It improves knowledge sharing, prevents mistakes, and helps people to stay on track to make sure they are building the right thing, which is arguably one of the hardest aspects of our job.

But Gaiwan is a remote-first company. We are spread out across Germany, Brazil, Italy, and work with clients as far away as Singapore and Hong Kong, so we need good ways to pair remotely. For this we need a tool that is

Advent 2019 part 11, Integrant in Practice

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

I’ve been a fan of Integrant pretty much ever since it came out. For me there is still nothing that can rival it.

The recently released clip by the folks from Juxt does deserve an honorable mention. It has an interesting alternative approach which some may prefer, but it does not resonate with me. I prefer my system configuration to be just data, rather than code wrapped in data.

Advent 2019 part 10, Hillcharts with Firebase and Shadow-cljs

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

Recently I led a workshop for a client to help them improve their development process, and we talked a lot about Shape Up, a book released by Basecamp earlier this year that talks about their process. You can read it for free on-line, and I can very much recommend doing so. It’s not a long read and there are a ton of good ideas in there.

One of these ideas has also become a feature in Basecamp, namely hill charts. These provide a great way to communicate what stage a piece of work is in. Are you still going uphill, figuring things out and discovering new work, or are you going downhill, where it’s mostly clear what things will look like, and you’re just executing what you discovered?

Advent 2019 part 9, Dynamic Vars in ClojureScript

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

Clojure has this great feature called Dynamic Vars, it lets you create variables which can be dynamically bound, rather than lexically. Lexical (from Ancient Greek λέξις (léxis) word) in this case means “according to how it is written”. let bindings for instance are lexical.

(defn hello [x]
  (str "hello " x))

(defn greetings []
  (str "greetings" foo)) ;; *error*

(let [foo 123]
  (hello foo)

Advent 2019 part 8, Everything is (not) a pipe

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

I’ve always been a big UNIX fan. I can hold my own in a shell script, and I really like the philosophy of simple tools working on a uniform IO abstraction. Uniform abstractions are a huge enabler in heterogenous systems. Just think of Uniform Resource Locators and Identifier (URLs/URIs), one of the cornerstones of the web as we know it.

Unfortunately since coming to Clojure I feel like I’ve lost of some of that power. I’m usually developing against a Clojure process running inside (or at least connected to) my trusty editor, and the terminal plays second fiddle. How do I pipe things into or out of that?

Advent 2019 part 7, Do that doto

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

doto is a bit of an oddball in the Clojure repertoire, because Clojure is a functional language that emphasizes pure functions and immutabilty, and doto only makes sense when dealing with side effects.

To recap, doto takes a value and a number of function or method call forms. It executes each form, passing the value in as the first argument. At the end of the ride it returns the original value.

Advent 2019 part 6, A small idiom

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

As an avid tea drinker I’ve been poring (pouring?) over this catalog of teas.

(def teas [{:name "Dongding"
            :type :oolong}
           {:name "Longjing"
            :type :green}
           {:name "Baozhong"
            :type :oolong}
           {:name "Taiwan no. 18"
            :type :black}
           {:name "Dayuling"
            :type :oolong}
           {:name "Biluochun"
            :type :green}])

Advent 2019 part 5, Clojure in the shell

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

I already showed you netcat, and how it combines perfectly with socket REPLs. But what if all you have is an nREPL connection? Then you use rep

$ rep '('
:reloading ()

Advent 2019 part 4, A useful idiom

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

Here’s a little Clojure idiom that never fails to bring me joy.

(into {} (map (juxt key val)) m)

Advent 2019 part 3, `every-pred` and `some-fn`

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

Ah clojure.core, it’s like an all you can eat hot-pot. Just when you think you’ve scooped up all it has to offer, you discover another small but delicious delicacy floating in the spicy broth.

In exactly the same way I recently became aware of two functions that until now had only existed on the periphery of my awareness. I’ve since enjoyed using them on several occasions, and keep finding uses for them.

Advent 2019 part 2, Piping hot network sockets with Netcat

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

Part of what I want to do in this series is simply point at some of the useful tools and libraries I discovered in the past year. I’ve adopted a few tools for doing network stuff on the command line which I’ll show you in another post. First though we’ll look at a classic: netcat!

I’ve been using netcat for years, it’s such a great tool. It simply sets up a TCP connection and connects it to STDIN/STDOUT. Pretty straightforward. I’ve been using it more and more though because of Clojure’s socket REPL.

Advent 2019 part 1, Clojure Vocab: to Reify

This post is part of Advent of Parens 2019, my attempt to publish one blog post a day during the 24 days of the advent.

An interesting aspect of the Clojure community, for better or for worse, is that it forms a kind of linguistic bubble. We use certain words that aren’t particularly common in daily speech, like “accretion”, or use innocuous little words to refer to something very specific. Even a simple word like “simple” is no longer that simple.

We can thank Rich Hickey for this. He seems to care a great deal about language, and is very careful in picking the words he uses in his code, documentation, and in his talks.

Advent of Parens 2019

Ah, the advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. That period of glühwein and office year-end parties.

The last couple of years I’ve taken part in the Advent of Code, a series of programming puzzles posted daily. They’re generally fun to do and wrapped in a nice narrative. They also as the days progress start taking up way too much of my time, so this year I won’t be partaking in Advent of Code, instead I’m trying something new.

From the first to the 24th of December I challenge myself to write a single small blog post every day. If my friend Sarah Mirk can do a daily zine for a whole year, surely I can muster a few daily paragraphs for four weeks.

Fork This Conference

Last weekend Heart of Clojure took place in Leuven, Belgium. As one of the core organizers it was extremely gratifying to see this event come to life. We started with a vision of a particular type of event we wanted to create, and I feel like we delivered on all fronts.

For an impression of what it was like you can check out Malwine’s comic summary, or Manuel’s blog post.

It seems people had a good time, and a lot of people are already asking about the next edition. However we don’t intend to make this a yearly recurring conference. We might be back in two years, maybe with another Heart of Clojure, maybe with something else. We need to think about that.

Advice to My Younger Self

When I was 16 I was visited by a man who said he had come from the future. He had traveled twenty years back to 1999 to sit down with me and have a chat.

We talked for an hour or so, and in the end he gave me a few pieces of advice. I have lived by these and they have served me well, and now I dispense this advice to you.

Become allergic to The Churn

ClojureScript logging with goog.log

This post explores goog.log, and builds an idiomatic ClojureScript wrapper, with support for cljs-devtools, cross-platform logging (by being API-compatible with Pedestal Log), and logging in production.

This deep dive into GCL’s logging functionality was inspired by work done with Nextjournal, whose support greatly helped in putting this library together.

Clojure’s standard library isn’t as “batteries included” as, say, Python. This is because Clojure and ClojureScript are hosted languages. They rely on a host platform to provide the lower level runtime functionality, which also allows them to tap into the host language’s standard library and ecosystem. That’s your batteries right there.

The Art of Tree Shaping with Clojure Zippers

This is a talk I did for the “Den of Clojure” meetup in Denver, Colorado. Enjoy!

Captions (subtitles) are available, and you can find the transcript below, as well as slides over here.

For comments and discussion please refer to this post on r/Clojure.

Test Wars: A New Hope

Yesterday was the first day for me on a new job, thanks to Clojurists Together I will be able to dedicate the coming three months to improving Kaocha, a next generation test runner for Clojure.

A number of projects applied for grants this quarter, some much more established than Kaocha. Clojurists Together has been asking people through their surveys if it would be cool to also fund “speculative” projects, and it seems people agreed.

I am extremely grateful for this opportunity. I hope to demonstrate in the coming months that Kaocha holds a lot of potential, and to deliver some of that potential in the form of a tool people love to use.

Two Years of Lambda Island, A Healthy Pace and Things to Come

It’s been just over two years since Lambda Island first launched, and just like last year I’d like to give you all an update about what’s been happening, where we are, and where things are going.

To recap: the first year was rough. I’d been self-employed for nearly a decade, but I’d always done stable contracting work, which provided a steady stream of income, and made it easy for me to unplug at the end of the day.

Lambda Island was, as the Dutch expression goes, “a different pair of sleeves”. I really underestimated what switching to a one-man product business in a niche market would mean, and within months I was struggling with symptoms of burnout, so most of year one was characterised by trying to keep things going and stay afloat financially, while looking after myself and trying to get back to a good place, physically and mentally.

D3 and ClojureScript

This is a guest post by Joanne Cheng (twitter), a freelance software engineer and visualization consultant based in Denver, Colorado. She has taught workshops and spoken at conferences about visualizing data with D3. Turns out ClojureScript and D3 are a great fit, in this post she’ll show you how to create your own visualization using the power of D3 and the elegance of ClojureScript.

I use D3.js for drawing custom data visualizations. I love using the library, but I wanted to try one of the several compile to JavaScript options, and I decided to look into ClojureScript. It ended up working out well for me, so I’m going to show you how I created a D3.js visualization using ClojureScript!

What we’re visualizing

Reloading Woes

Setting the Stage

When doing client work I put a lot of emphasis on tooling and workflow. By coaching people on their workflow, and by making sure the tooling is there to support it, a team can become many times more effective and productive.

An important part of that is having a good story for code reloading. Real world projects tend to have many dependencies and a large amount of code, making them slow to boot up, so we want to avoid having to restart the process.

The Bare Minimum, or Making Mayonnaise with Clojure

Making Mayonnaise

Imagine you have a grandfather who’s great at making mayonnaise. He’s been making mayonnaise since before the war, and the result is truly excellent. What’s more, he does this with a good old fashioned whisk. He’s kept his right arm in shape throughout decades just by beating those eggs and oil and vinegar.

Now he’s bought himself a handheld electric mixer after hearing his friend rave about hers, but after a few tries he gives up and goes back to his whisk. He says he just can’t get the same result. This seems slightly odd, so the next time you go over you ask him to show you how he uses the mixer.

Clojure Gotchas: "contains?" and Associative Collections

When learning a programming language we rarely read the reference documentation front to back. Instead someone might follow some tutorials, and look at sample code, until they’re confident enough to start a little project for practice.

From that point on the learning process is largely “just in time”, looking up exactly the things you need to perform the task at hand. As this goes on you might start to recognize some patterns, some internal logic that allows you to “intuit” how one part of the language works, based on experience with another part.

Developing this “intuition” — understanding this internal logic — is key to using a language effectively, but occasionally our intuition will be off. Some things are simply not obvious, unless someone has explained them to us. In this post I will look at something that frequently trips people up, and attempt to explain the underlying reasoning.

Dates in Clojure: Making Sense of the Mess

Update 2018-11-27: while most of this article is still relevant, I no longer recommend using JodaTime as the main date/time representation for new projects. Even existing projects that aren’t too invested in JodaTime/clj-time should consider migrating to java.time and across the board.

Update 2 2019-05-29: Also check out the talk Cross Platform DateTime Awesomeness by Henry Widd, given at Clojure/north 2019

You can always count on human culture to make programming messy. To find out if a person is a programmer just have them say “encodings” or “timezones” and watch their face.

Clojure Gotchas: Surrogate Pairs

tl;dr: both Java and JavaScript have trouble dealing with unicode characters from Supplementary Planes, like emoji 😱💣.

Today I started working on the next feature of lambdaisland/uri, URI normalization. I worked test-first, you’ll get to see how that went in the next Lambda Island episode.

One of the design goals for this library is to have 100% parity between Clojure and ClojureScript. Learn once, use anywhere. The code is all written in .cljc files, so it can be treated as either Clojure or ClojureScript. Only where necessary am I using a small amount of reader conditionals.

Simple and Happy; is Clojure dying, and what has Ruby got to do with it?

The past week or so a lot of discussion and introspection has been happening in the Clojure community. Eric Normand responded to my one year Lambda Island post with some reflections on the size and growth of the community.

And then Zack Maril lamented on Twitter: “I’m calling it, clojure’s dying more than it is growing”. This sparked a mega-thread, which was still raging four days later. A parallel discussion thread formed on Reddit. Someone asked if their were any Clojure failure stories. They were pointed at this talk from RubyConf 2016, which seemed to hit a lot of people right in the feels, and sparked a subthread with a life of its own.

Meanwhile Ray, one of the hosts of the defn podcast reacted to the original tweet: “I’m calling it: Clojure is alive and well with excellent defaults for productive and sustainable software development.” This sparked another big thread.

Loading Clojure Libraries Directly From Github

Did you ever fix a bug in an open source library, and then had to wait until the maintainer released an updated version?

It’s happened to me many times, the latest one being Toucan. I had run into a limitation, and found out that there was already an open ticket. It wasn’t a big change so I decided to dive in and address it. Just a little yak shave so I could get on with my life.

Now this pull request needs to be reviewed, and merged, and eventually be released to Clojars, but ain’t nobody got time for that stuff. No sir-ee.

Lambda Island Turns One, The Story of a Rocky Ride

One year ago to date I launched Lambda Island, a service that offers high quality video tutorials on web development with Clojure and ClojureScript. It’s been quite a ride. In this post I want to look back at the past year, provide some insight into how this experience has been for me, and give you a glimpse of what the future has in store.

This story really starts in December 2015. After three years of doing contract work for Ticketsolve I decided it was time for a change. I have been self-employed for many years, but I knew that sooner or later I wanted to try my hand at selling a product, rather than selling my time.

In January and February I took some time for soul-searching, and recharging. I went to speak at RubyConf Australia, and got to hang out with some old friends around Australia and New Zealand. Once back in Berlin I got busy creating Lambda Island.

Writing Node.js scripts with ClojureScript

In the two most recent  Lambda Island episodes I covered in-depth how to create command line utilities based on Lumo, how to combine them with third party libraries, and how to deploy them to

However there’s a different way to create tools with ClojureScript and distribute them through NPM, without relying on Lumo. In this blog post I want to quickly demostrate how to do just that.

To recap, Lumo is a ClojureScript environment based on Node.js, using bootstrapped (self-hosted) ClojureScript. This means the ClojureScript compiler, which is written in Clojure and runs on the JVM, is used to compile itself to JavaScript. This way the JVM is no longer needed, all you need is a JavaScript runtime to compile and run ClojureScript code, which in this case is provided by Node.js. On top of that Lumo uses nexe, so Lumo can be distributed as a single compact and fast executable binary.

Announcing lambdaisland/uri 1.0.0

I just released lambdaisland/uri, a pure Clojure/ClojureScript URI library. It is available on Github and Clojars.

This is a small piece of the code base that powers It’s inspired by Ruby’s Addressable::URI, the most solid URI implementation I’ve seen to date, although it only offers a small part of the functionality that library offers.

It’s written in pure Clojure/ClojureScript, with only minimal use of .cljc reader conditionals to smooth over differences in regular expression syntax, and differences in core protocols. It does not rely on any URI functionality offered by the host, such as, so it’s usable across all current and future Clojure implementations (Clojure, ClojureScript, ClojureCLR).

re-frame Subscriptions Got Even Better

Up until recently, to use re-frame subscriptions in Reagent views, you had to use a form-2 component.

A form-2 component is a function that returns another function, which does the actual rendering of the component to hiccup. In contrast, a form-1 component renders the hiccup directly.

;; form-1
(defn todo-item [todo]
   [todo-checkbox (:id todo) (:completed todo)]
   [:label {:unselectable "on"} title]
   [:button.destroy {:on-click #(dispatch [:todos/remove (:id todo)])}]])

;; form-2
(defn todo-item [todo]
  (fn [todo]
     [todo-checkbox (:id todo) (:completed todo)]
     [:label {:unselectable "on"} title]
     [:button.destroy {:on-click #(dispatch [:todos/remove (:id todo)])}]]))

Union Types with Clojure.Spec

Elm and other statically typed languages have a great feature called Union Types (also called Sum Types or Algebraic Data Types).

Here’s an example taken from Elm. Suppose your system used to represent users as integers, maybe just an auto-incrementing primary key, but then switched to UUIDs represented as strings.

To correctly model this situation, you need a way to create a type that can be either an integer or a string, that’s what union types give you.