Jake McCrary

Quickly starting a powerful Clojure REPL

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I often find myself browsing the Internet and then suddenly I want to have a Clojure REPL at my fingertips. As I’ve become better with emacs and paredit I’ve become dependent on the powerful editing this combo affords. The rest of this post details how I changed my five step process into a two step process. It does not explain basic emacs/slime setup but rather explains how I cut a few steps out of a suboptimal workflow for getting a powerful Clojure REPL up and running in emacs.

My previous workflow was the following:

  1. Open a terminal
  2. Change to the root of Clojure project where I use Leiningen and have swank-clojure as a dependency.
  3. Run the command lein swank
  4. Start emacs
  5. Run M-x slime-connect

This five step process was terrible. From me seeing something interesting to try to having a REPL open took too much time.

Today I changed my process so it on takes two steps. They are:

  1. Start emacs
  2. Run M-x clojure-swank

This is a much better. I’ll admit had a lot of room for improvement so it wasn’t too hard to make it better. Below are the steps I took to cut three steps.

First, using Leiningen 1.4.0, I ran lein install swank-clojure 1.3.0-SNAPSHOT. This installed a script called swank-clojure into $HOME/.lein/bin. When run, this script starts a swank server waiting for connections on port 4005.

Next I wrote a function in elisp that gives emacs the ability to call the newly installed swank-clojure script, wait for the swank server to start, and then connect to it. This function, clojure-swank, can be seen below. It creates a buffer named *clojure-swank*, runs the newly installed script, and captures the output in the freshly created buffer. When the “Connection opened” line appears slime-connect is called, connecting emacs to the freshly started swank server. After this we are at the REPL with all the advantages that emacs and paredit give us.

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(defun clojure-swank ()
  "Launch swank-clojure from users homedir/.lein/bin"
  (interactive)
  (let ((buffer (get-buffer-create "*clojure-swank*")))
    (flet ((display-buffer (buffer-or-name &optional not-this-window frame) nil))
          (bury-buffer buffer)
          (shell-command "~/.lein/bin/swank-clojure &" buffer))
    (set-process-filter (get-buffer-process buffer)
                        (lambda (process output)
                           (with-current-buffer "*clojure-swank*" (insert output))
                           (when (string-match "Connection opened on local port +\\([0-9]+\\)" output)
                             (slime-connect "localhost" (match-string 1 output))
                             (set-process-filter process nil))))
    (message "Starting swank.. ")))

I’ve also written a clojure-kill-swank function for stopping the swank server.

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(defun clojure-kill-swank ()
  "Kill swank process started by lein swank."
  (interactive)
  (let ((process (get-buffer-process "*clojure-swank*")))
    (when process
      (ignore-errors (slime-quit-lisp))
      (let ((timeout 10))
        (while (and (> timeout 0)
                    (eql 'run (process-status process)))
          (sit-for 1)
          (decf timeout)))
      (ignore-errors (kill-buffer "*clojure-swank*")))))

Both of those functions need to be added to a location where they will get defined on emacs start-up. Once this is done the powerful REPL you are used to emacs providing can be at your finger tips in practically no time at all.

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