Robert Stuttaford Clojure Enthusiast

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App and dev services with Trapperkeeper

At Cognician, we've started building our next generation of administrative tooling. We chose the following stack:

We like this stack particularly because it's 100% Clojure, from browser through web server and event processing to database. One toolset, one syntax, one paradigm, all with immutable persistent data structures. Nice.

To produce the Javascript that runs in the browser, we need to compile our ClojureScript and also the common code shared by both client and server. For these, we use shadow-build and cljx respectively.

We don't use lein-cljsbuild for two basic reasons:

  1. We build many different Javascript projects, some from the same Git repo. This is very slow to do with cljsbuild.
  2. Cljsbuild doesn't support Google Closure's modules capability; where we have a single codebase producing multiple output files. We need this so that we can put all the common libraries we use into one 'core' file and then each app file has only its implementation code.

Instead, we use shadow-build, which is ridiculously fast, and allows us to produce a core library file and several app files from a single codebase.

Given all of that, today I'll show you how we've put this system together, with working code!

I'll show you how we compose four Trapperkeeper services into two systems - two for production and two for development:

Here's the code so you can follow along:

App services

These run in both development and production contexts. Only the app services run when you issue lein tk at the command line, which makes use of the bootstrap.cfg file to determine how to satisfy dependencies at startup. You can learn more in the Trapperkeeper bootstrapping documentation. In fact, I heartily recommend reading all their documentation!

Datomic service

Code: src/tkad/services/datomic.clj

This service manages our Datomic database connection, and ensures that we have a database, and that all the schema we have defined is present.

It depends on the ConfigService (provided by Trapperkeeper) to discover all the configured Datomic database uris.

We ensure that schema is loaded by using the handy Conformity library, which will only affect the database if there are actually changes to make.

Once initialised, this service provides access to Datomic database connections and to database values.

Pedestal service

Code: src/tkad/services/pedestal.clj

This service manages the lifecycle of the Pedestal web server. Here we configure all the interceptors, notably injecting config and Datomic connections and current database values into each Pedestal request context.

This allows us to simply read from the provided database value in most web requests, and ensures that - by default - our database queries use a common time basis.

Of course, we have the connection as well, which means we can easily create new database values, submit transactions, and so on.

Dev services

These services only ever run on a developer machine. When started, both of these services watch the file-system for changes and recompile their output as needed. As this automated reloading is in place once the services are started, there's rarely a need to reset them.

The other thing is that these services are not in the main /src source tree; instead they are in /dev which is only added to the source path for the dev Leiningen profile. This prevents any of this code from loading into memory in production, where all this output would already have been compiled.

Cljx service

Code: dev/services/cljx.clj

Pretty simple - compiles all .cljx files to both .clj and .cljs files as they change. We make use of Juxt's dirwatch library to watch the file-system recursively, and only invoke cljx/cljx-compile when we know a .cljx file changed.

Shadow service

Code: dev/services/shadow.clj

This one is interesting. Shadow-build is quite low-level to use (which is great), so we added a thin layer over the top to support our own use-case.

First of all, we assume that Facebook's React will always be used, so it's hardcoded as a preamble to all output, and its externs are used for advanced compilation.

Then, we have created two output modes (both of which produce Javascript source maps):



Finally, we configure this service with data at the :shadow key in project.clj:

Each module defined in :modules will exclude any code that is already present in :core-libs. It is up to us to ensure that both the core and the app Javascript is loaded on the page, as can be seen in the only web view we have set up here:


It's important to recognise that even with advanced optimisations, these two Javascript files can interoperate!

Composing services as systems

Ok! So now that we understand what these services do, we can finally see how to compose them into two systems. It's actually rather simple - it's all explained in the comments:


So, to actually start all of this up, you'd follow these steps:

git clone
cd tk-app-dev
lein repl

And once the REPL is up, start the dev system:


And start the app system:


After all the dust settles, you should be able to visit http://localhost:8080 and see the Hello! You're in debug mode! message rendered by the Om app.

Now, when you change any .clj or .cljx file, you'd use (user/reset) to reload your changes and reset the app system (which restarts the web server and ensures that any new schema is present in your database)!

And, when you change any .cljx or .cljs file, your ClojureScript code will be automatically recompiled - usually quickly enough for it to be ready by the time you refresh your browser.


Caveat: an escape hatch for cljx

Sometimes you might end up with a code-path from dev/user that depends on forms present in the .clj output of the code in .cljx files, which, when missing, prevents the REPL from starting up.

In case you do, you can simply use this command to compile the cljx via Leiningen:

lein with-profile cljx cljx

That'll invoke cljx in its own Leiningen profile which doesn't load the dev/ code at all.

Emacs shortcuts

No Clojure how-to is complete without a snippet of Emacs lisp to add to your dotfiles. Here are two simple keybinds for resetting the app and dev systems respectively. The second one uses shift+r instead of just r.

(defun cider-repl-reset ()
  (with-current-buffer (cider-current-repl-buffer)
    (goto-char (point-max))
    (insert "(user/reset)")

(global-set-key (kbd "C-c r") 'cider-repl-reset)

(defun cider-repl-dev-reset ()
  (with-current-buffer (cider-current-repl-buffer)
    (goto-char (point-max))
    (insert "(user/dev-reset)")

(global-set-key (kbd "C-c R") 'cider-repl-dev-reset)

And that's it for today!

I hope you found this post useful. I don't have comments on here yet, but please feel free to reach out on Twitter!