Up and Running with Clojure for the Web

#beginners, #clojure, #tutorial, #webdev
Quickly set up a Clojure webserver with BootBoot up

I have done my best to make this easy to follow even if you’ve never seen a line of Clojure in your life, but of course I can’t talk about every facet. Before diving in, you may want to spend some time with Chapter 3 of Clojure for the Brave and True: Do Things. It’s a good crash course in the syntax - there really isn’t much syntax to learn, and you really don’t need a ton to understand this post or start building endpoints.

The book (rightly) suggests you follow along in a REPL. My favorite quick REPL is planck, but you can do it using the tools in this project by grabbing the Makefile I discuss below, running make deps, and running bin/boot repl. This will take a little while, especially the first time.

Please tell me at ben@deciduously.com if something needs work!

This post will be concerned with setting up a blank project. I highly recommend typing everything yourself if you’d like to follow along, but there is an example repo you can clone instead.


If you have a JDK, bash, GNU make, and curl installed, you’re good to go. If you don’t, your OS/package manger will be able to help you out. That’s really it - I use tar and xz to compress releases, you can use anything you like.

Setting up a build.boot file is very similar to setting a up project.clj if you’ve used Leiningen before. If not, don’t sweat it. It’s easy to tweak and test.


If you’ve only used lein, initial setup is slightly but not very different. First, set up your folder:

mkdir -p example-com/ && cd example-com/ && git init echo "target/\n" > .gitignore echo "v0.0.1" > version.properties

I also add .#\n.nrepl- to filter out emacs/cider things, you should tailor to fit.

You’re welcome to procure boot any way you like, and may want to install it globally eventually, but you can use the following Makefile to provide a make deps command to install boot to the project location. The shim is very small and just loads version you specify, latest by default, for you, and reads the users maven repository. You can download the Makefile here or copy it below:

# Makefile .PHONY: help deps SHELL := /bin/bash export PATH := bin:$(PATH) help: @echo "Usage: make {deps|help}" 1>&2 && false bin/boot: (mkdir -p bin/ && \ curl -fsSLo bin/boot https://github.com/boot-clj/boot-bin/releases/download/latest/boot.sh && \ chmod 755 bin/boot) deps: bin/boot

After installing boot, run boot -u > boot.properties. Use this file to specify versions for the shim to load.

Issue touch build.boot in the root dir of the project and open it with your favorite editor. Start with set-env!:

;; build.boot (set-env! :source-paths #{"src/"} :dependencies '[[org.clojure/clojure "1.9.0"] [hiccup "1.0.5" :scope "test"] [pandeiro/boot-http "0.8.3" :scope "test"]])

Notably the :dependencies vector is quoted to pass to set-env, unlike for defproject, and you use a set for :source-paths. I’ll go over library each as we use them.

Specifying :scope "test" ensures those deps stay out of the jar, which will only need to serve pre-compiled html, css, and javascript!

The license/description information is specified with the pom options in task-options:

(task-options! pom {:project 'example-com :description "Static website generator and server" :url "http://www.example.com" :license {"MIT" "https://mit-license.org"} :developers {"you" "dev@example.com"}}) (require '[pandeiro.boot-http :refer [serve]])

Set whatever pom options you’d like. The only necessary ones are :project and :version, which you can get from version.properties by adding (second (str/split (slurp "version.properties") #"=")) after the (require) form. #"" is a reader macro that compiles to a java.util.regex.Pattern, and slurp opens a reader on the file specified, returning a string with the contents.

We also pull in the web namespace we’re going to write and the serve task from boot-http.

Now you can add a development task:

(deftask dev "Run live development server" [] (comp (serve :handler 'example-com.web/dev-handler :reload true :port 3000) (wait)))

And that’s that! Four forms. Configuring boot starts off quite simple. You compose your own build pipelines with comp - these are very readable and act as you expect. This one only has the serve task included for now but it’s easy to just add another line.

Now, finally, let’s make a Clojure file. Execute mkdir -p src/example_com/ && touch src/example_com/web.clj, noting the underscore in the directory in place of the dash in the project name. Then declare the namespace:

;; web.clj (ns example-com.web (:require [hiccup.core :refer [html]]))

We just pull in the html function to compile Clojure vectors to html strings from hiccup.

Then add a very basic Ring handler:

(defn dev-handler [req] {:status 200 :headers {"Content-Type" "text/html"} :body (html [:h1 "Hello, world!"])})

I’m deliberately reserving core for the server.jar main function - you can name the namespace whatever you like.

Here’s the expected output of tree:

. ├── bin │ └── boot ├── boot.properties ├── build.boot ├── Makefile ├── src │ └── example_com │ └── web.clj └── version.properties 3 directories, 7 files

That’s it! Run boot dev -h to make sure you aren’t getting any errors, and then boot dev will run a server on localhost:3000. Be patient on first run as it gathers dependencies to your local maven repo.

Once it finishes, it will output Started Jetty on http://localhost:3000. Point your browser to there and you should see:

Hello, world!

If not, double check all your syntax - you can compare against this tagged commit. The easiest mistake to make is switching that dash for an underscore in the project source folder.

Congratulations! You built a webserver. Make an edit to the Clojure file and reload your browser, and verify that the changes are recompiled and served on the fly. Use C-c to stop the server and go make a cup of tea - you deserve it. This is a great time to commit your work: git commit -m "Initial commit".