September 5, 2014

Compojure apps, in the style of Sinatra

Sinatra, the Ruby microframework. What were you thinking?

Clojure has an approachability problem. In part, this is due to the relatively unusual syntax, but that can’t get all the credit. When it comes to building server-side web applications, a major sticking point is the “lack of frameworks” problem, and more to the point, the common Clojurian’s response:

“Clojure users prefer to assemble their own stack from small, composable libraries.”

Problem is, only people who have already experienced the dizzying effects of Clojurephiles’ brand of kool-aid are swayed by the adjective “composable”. To someone used to other ecosystems (i.e. Sinatra, this just sounds like “we don’t have one, you have to do everything yourself.”

Of course, people have tried to address this, most notably with Luminus, which is a fine collection of software. But I’d like to propose a different answer:

“We have this great framework, like Sinatra. It’s called Compojure

I know what you’re thinking: “But Adam, Compojure is just a routing library.” You’re not wrong about that, but to a great extent, Sinatra is not much more than a routing library either.

What else does Sinatra do? Some some template rendering (via external libraries that must also be installed), and a bunch of response diddling that Clojure gets for free with Ring. That’s it.

Don’t get me wrong, Sinatra is a great library. But besides that, the Ruby community knows how to sell; something Clojurists and -istas have never really excelled at. And one of Sinatra’s strongest pitches is the highly compelling getting started documentation. So, as a loyal Clojuresian, I’ve ported Sinatra’s whirlwind tour to Compojure.

Here’s what we won’t do:

  • Dwell on how Clojure web apps start with Ring. Ring is awesome, but do you ever see ruby libraries open with Rack?
  • Make a big deal about “small, composable” anything. We’ll have to bring up the library thing, but let’s not pretend that everything gets more wonderful when you meticulously enumerate your dependencies yourself.
  • What does Clojure have over Ruby that’s we can explain without impenetrable terminology about purity and homoiconicity? Speed. Concurrency. These are things that “normal” programmers care about. Let’s take that angle for now, there’s plenty of time to learn about the finer points of referential transparency later.

So here’s an incomplete, incorrect, unimposing tour of web development in Clojure town, for people who have overcome their fear of parentheses but not of pedantry. Come along with me, and experience the whirlwind introduction that the joy of developing apps in Clojure deserves:

(For a version eliding this longwinded explanation, check out the copy on Learn X in Y Minutes)

Getting Started with Compojure

Compojure is a DSL for quickly creating performant web applications in Clojure with minimal effort:

(ns myapp.core
  (:require [compojure.core :refer :all]
            [org.httpkit.server :refer [run-server]])) ; httpkit is a server

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/" [] "Hello World"))

(defn -main []
  (run-server myapp {:port 5000}))

Step 1: Create a project with Leiningen:

lein new myapp

Step 2: Put the above code in src/myapp/core.clj

Step 3: Add some dependencies to project.clj:

[compojure "1.1.8"]
[http-kit "2.1.16"]

Step 4: Run:

lein run -m myapp.core

View at: http://localhost:5000/

Compojure apps will run on any ring-compatible server, but we recommend http-kit for its performance and massive concurrency.


In compojure, each route is an HTTP method paired with a URL-matching pattern, an argument list, and a body.

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/" [] "Show something")
  (POST "/" [] "Create something")
  (PUT "/" [] "Replace something")
  (PATCH "/" [] "Modify Something")
  (DELETE "/" [] "Annihilate something")
  (OPTIONS "/" [] "Appease something")
  (HEAD "/" [] "Preview something"))

Compojure route definitions are just functions which accept request maps and return response maps:

(myapp {:uri "/" :request-method :post})
; => {:status 200
;     :headers {"Content-Type" "text/html; charset=utf-8}
;     :body "Create Something"}

The body may be a function, which must accept the request as a parameter:

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/" [] (fn [req] "Do something with req")))

Or, you can just use the request directly:

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/" req "Do something with req"))

Route patterns may include named parameters:

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/hello/:name" [name] (str "Hello " name)))

You can adjust what each parameter matches by supplying a regex:

(defroutes myapp
  (GET ["/file/:name.:ext" :name #".*", :ext #".*"] [name ext]
    (str "File: " name ext)))


Clojure uses Ring for routing. Handlers are just functions that accept a request map and return a response map (Compojure will turn strings into 200 responses for you).

You can easily write middleware that wraps all or part of your application to modify requests or responses:

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/" req (str "Hello World v" (:app-version req))))

(defn wrap-version [handler]
  (fn [request]
    (handler (assoc request :app-version "1.0.1"))))

(defn -main []
  (run-server (wrap-version myapp) {:port 5000}))

Ring-Defaults provides some handy middlewares for sites and apis, so add it to your dependencies:

[ring/ring-defaults "0.1.1"]

Then, you can import it in your ns:

(ns myapp.core
  (:require [compojure.core :refer :all]
            [ring.middleware.defaults :refer :all]
            [org.httpkit.server :refer [run-server]]))

And use wrap-defaults to add the site-defaults middleware to your app:

(defn -main []
  (run-server (wrap-defaults myapp site-defaults) {:port 5000}))

Now, your handlers may utilize query parameters:

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/posts" req
    (let [title (get (:params req) "title")
          author (get (:params req) "title")]
      (str "Title: " title ", Author: " author))))

Or, for POST and PUT requests, form parameters

(defroutes myapp
  (POST "/posts" req
    (let [title (get (:params req) "title")
          author (get (:params req) "title")]
      (str "Title: " title ", Author: " author))))

Return values

The return value of a route block determines at least the response body passed on to the HTTP client, or at least the next middleware in the ring stack. Most commonly, this is a string, as in the above examples. But, you may also return a response map:

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/" []
    {:status 200 :body "Hello World"})
  (GET "/is-403" []
    {:status 403 :body ""})
  (GET "/is-json" []
    {:status 200 :headers {"Content-Type" "application/json"} :body "{}"}))

Static Files

To serve up static files, use compojure.route.resources. Resources will be served from your project’s resources/ folder.

(require '[compojure.route :as route])

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/")
  (route/resources "/")) ; Serve static resources at the root path

(myapp {:uri "/js/script.js" :request-method :get})
; => Contents of resources/public/js/script.js

Views / Templates

To use templating with Compojure, you’ll need a template library. Here are a few:


Stencil is a Mustache template library:

(require '[stencil.core :refer [render-string]])

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/hello/:name" [name]
    (render-string "Hello {{name}}" {:name name})))

You can easily read in templates from your resources directory. Here’s a helper function

(require '

(defn read-template [filename]
  (slurp ( filename)))

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/hello/:name" [name]
    (render-string (read-template "templates/hello.html") {:name name})))


Selmer is a Django and Jinja2-inspired templating language:

(require '[selmer.parser :refer [render-file]])

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/hello/:name" [name]
    (render-file "templates/hello.html" {:name name})))


Hiccup is a library for representing HTML as Clojure code

(require '[hiccup.core :as hiccup])

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/hello/:name" [name]
          [:h1 {:class "title"}
            (str "Hello " name)]]])))


Markdown-clj is a Markdown implementation.

(require '[markdown.core :refer [md-to-html-string]])

(defroutes myapp
  (GET "/hello/:name" [name]
    (md-to-html-string "## Hello, world")))

Hey voila! There’s some pretty useful info in that 150 lines of code and examples. I’m sure more could be added (database interactions?), but it’s a fine start. Again, find the un-rantified version over at

Further Reading

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