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Shin is a very immature Clojure subset that compiles to JavaScript thanks to Ruby and V8.

It's heavily inspired by:

How to play with it

Before we get into details, here's how you can get shin up and running to play around with it.

  • Make sure you have a recent Ruby (2.1 is recommended) & rubygems
  • Clone shin in a directory
  • Make another directory alongside it, say shin-playground
  • Create shin-playground/Gemfile and populate it with:
source ""

gem "shin", :path => "../shin"
  • Run bundle install in shin-playground
  • You can now run bundle exec shin to run shin.

Ultimately, there'll be releases of shin and installing will be as easy as gem install shin but since, so far, things are moving quite quickly, it's just easier to have people playing with master.

Basic command line usage

Eval one-liners:

$ bundle exec shin -e "(println (reduce + (map #(* % 2) (take 10 (range)))))"

(Note: the return value is ignored, so use print / println to get your results back.)

Compile a project with libraries

$ bundle exec shin -o public/js -L app/js -I app -I vendor/reagent-shin/src app/my-cool-app/app.cljs

Will output all needed .js files in public/js.

-I is the search path for .cljs files, -L is the search path for .js files. Tested in the browser with Require.js.


ClojureScript is great, but, for the time being, the tooling is a bit heavy-handed, slow at times, and definitely tied to the JVM.

Why write Shin in Ruby? Ruby, while problematic in many regards and anything but "small", is a language most of the Memoways team is comfortable with. It has a rich library ecosystem that allows one to tackle most problems quickly.

Plus, MRI start-up times are much smaller than usual JVM start-up times. (At this time, no attempt has been made to run Shin under Rubinius, JRuby, or any other Ruby implementation.)

Design philosophy

Shin generates relatively naive JavaScript code. At the time of this writing, no attempt is made a optimizing anything. Rather, the compiler is designed to generate correct and readable code, quickly.

Bird's eye view

  • compiler.rb - drives the whole thing
  • parser.rb - text to Shin::AST representation
  • ns_parser.rb - recognizes ns form, populates requires and generate anonynmous ns name if lack of ns form.
  • macro_expander.rb - expands macros
  • translator.rb - translates Shin::AST to Shin::JST, which is Mozilla Parser API in disguise.
  • generator.rb - generates actual JavaScript from the JST, via escodegen.


Tried out treetop but not a good tool for proper error reporting, as S-exps are basically one big tree, and PEG grammars would just see that as one big invalid input - we want to acknowledge that, up to that point deep into the tree, everything was fine, and then something went wrong.

Actual parser inspired by sxp-ruby, some I/O routines lifted from there (see UNLICENSE - it's public domain).

S-exp patterns

Use case: sniff patterns like (defn name [args] body) in the code, mostly used by translator.

Types: :sym, :kw, :num, :str, :map, :list, :vec, :set, verbatim identifiers, verbatim strings, verbatim numbers, sequences without content (matches any) or with inner patterns.

Regexp-like operators:

  • ? - 0 or 1
  • * - 0 or more (greedy)
  • + - 1 or more (greedy)

When * or + used, matcher block will receive an Array of nodes. When ? used, may receive null if doesn't match.

For examples, see spec/infra/matcher_spec.rb.


Basically walks the AST and produces a JST. For now, some forms that could be implemented as macros are recognized by the translator, for example defn.

For example, literals are transformed to calls to vector, list, hash-map, symbol, keyword, etc. Function definitions are transformed into JavaScript functions, auto-returning the last value.

if, let, and do forms emit relatively naive but efficient code where possible.

For if, when the value is thrown away (statement mode), JavaScript's if/else will be used. Otherwise, the ternary operator (cond ? iftrue : iffalse) will be used.

let establishes a new scope, and renames bound symbols inside of it, uses of which are then resolved to aliases, much like Traceur does with ES6's let.

do can be compiled either to a simple block, or to a closure, if the result is used as an expression (it doesn't make a closure if it's just in return position, in that case, return propagation is used).

defs are local variable declarations + stored into the module's exports object (see Modules section).

Usage of the @ operator are translated to deref calls. Usage of ~ and ~@ are translated to --unquote calls (used internally for macro expansion).

Some checks are only done at translation time - for example, the number of keys in a map literal, or in a let bindings vector.

As a rule, the translator generates pretty errors, like the following:

$ be shin -o public/js -L src/js -I src src/my/app.cljs

Invalid let form: odd number of binding forms at src/my/app.cljs:15:6 (RuntimeError)

(let [initial-tree (render) a]

The output of the translator is what the compiler calls JST, which is just really mozilla parser API stored in Ruby data structures.


Uses escodegen for convenience, to generate JavaScript from the JST.

Why use escodegen?

  • Proven codebase
  • Standard JavaScript AST format (Mozilla Parser API)
  • Plays well with JavaScript source-maps (even tho not using that yet)

(So, yes, it calls into V8 to generate JS code.)

See generator.rb, it's pretty trivial. jst.rb is a thin layer of Ruby structures above the Moz Parser API.

The only thing we can't represent is RegExp literals, see RegExp section.

Not much to say about the generator - most of the work is done in the translator anyway.

Could replace escodegen with a pure Ruby solution for performance at some point, maybe use sourcemap.rb or a more up-to-date fork thereof?



cljs chose Google Closure, shin consumes & generates AMD modules.

For those, who don't know, AMD modules look like:

(function (root, factory) {
  if (typeof define === 'function' && define.amd) {
    define(['exports', 'foo', 'bar'], factory);
  } else {
    throw "No AMD loader in sight.";
})(root, function (exports, foo, bar) {
  // Execution reaches here whenever `foo` and `bar` are
  // loaded, or we have circular dependencies. Be careful.
  exports.dostuff = function() {
    return new foo.SomeType(bar.somefunction());

  // Anything stuffed in `exports` will be available
  // to others. In fact, that's how foo and bar exposes
  // stuff to us in the first place!

To run specs & expand macros, shin compiler has an AMD loader built-in, half-ruby half-JS. See js_context.rb.


Every .clj(s) file read by Shin must start with a single namespace definition, here's an example:

(ns org.example.somemodule
  (:require [some.lib :as sl :refer :all])
            [another.lib :refer [foo bar baz]]
            [js/react :as R])

Use the js/ prefix to specify that you're requiring a JS module, not a Shin module. The compiler will look into libpath and attempt to copy it to the output directory, and warn if it can't find it. It'll also be listed as a dependency in the AMD module definition.

Supported loaders

Shin's output should be usable with RequireJS in a browser. But if you want to try and see if it works with Almond, that's cool too!

Directory structure

As for directory structure, any package can either be a folder or a dot in the pathname, so if you require org.example.somelib.a, it will look for:

  • $SOURCEPATH/org/example/somelib/a.cljs
  • $SOURCEPATH/org/example/somelib.a.cljs
  • $SOURCEPATH/org/example.somelib.a.cljs
  • $SOURCEPATH/org.example.somelib.a.cljs

I'm 83% sure that's not what cljs does, but it seemed relatively sane - go full folder if you want to, or keep your structure as flat as you want, doesn't matter to shin.

Non-AMD (Node.js)

There's half-baked support for generating NodeJS-style require directives but it hasn't been tested whatsoever.


Shin ships with some pure JS files:

  • hamt.js is hamt+, for data structures
  • escodegen.js is escodegen, only there for compiler use

And of course, cljs/core.cljs and cljs/core.clj (for macros), which are required (with :refer :all) into all modules by default.

(:refer-clojure is not implemented yet, so no exclusion is possible. See Issue #20)

core lib Completion

At this point, a sizable portion of cljs.core has been ported over, but an even more sizable portion remains untouched. Hopefully the balance will tip eventually, but with 611 vars in clojure.core at the time of this writing, my money's on Rich.

The full clojure.string package has been adapted from ClojureScript and is covered by specs.


RSpec 3.x, ran on travis-ci.

Two types of specs:

Infrastructure specs

For now, mostly testing the S-exp pattern matching system.

Custom matcher, ast_match (see spec/matchers.rb), basic structure is expect(sexp_source).to ast_match(sexp_pattern).

Language specs

Custom matcher have_output (see spec/matchers.rb), basic structure is expect(code).to have_output(output). Shin code calls out to print, all calls joined by a space character.


RSpec.describe "Language", "if" do
  it "doesn't evaluate if-false, when false" do
      (if true () (print "Don't print me!"))
    }).to have_output("")

With macros:

RSpec.describe "Language", "macros" do
  it "separates compile-time & run-time correctly" do
      :source => %Q{ (let [a (foobar)] (print (typeof a))) }
      :macros => %Q{ (defmacro foobar [] `(print "That'll be at runtime, thanks")) }
    ).to have_output("function")

Yes, it'd be cleaner if one didn't have to write print in every spec, but you'd be surprised what you can't test with such rudimentary infrastructure.


Since Clojure is very liberal in what identifiers are, and JavaScript isn't, Shin mangles identifiers.

For example, contains? is mangled to contains$q. $ itself is escaped as $$. As most of Shin, it's so naive it's cute, but hey, it works really well.

See mangler.rb to see the most current translation table. If you ever modify that, keep shin.js in sync.


Basic idea: macros are executable code, so let's compile & execute them. That's macro_expander.rb's job.

The following description is out of date since the fast-macros branch

When macro expansion is required:

  • Compile macro def to JS, as if it was a function
  • Compile dummy module that does (yield (pr-str (macro-invocation)))
  • pr-str will serialize our code to textual S-expr representation
  • yield will give it back to the Ruby side (compiler)
  • We then parse it back so we have a Shin::AST repr of the result
  • Then we replace the invocation by its expansion
  • Tadaa.

That means we actually invoke V8 during compilation, if macros are involved. Also, the order in which stuff is done is still kind of shady, especially considering cljs.core is required (with :refer :all) everywhere by default. If macros break don't hit me!

gensym manual calling is supported, however the compiler believes in big numbers and will not attempt to check that they, in fact, do not collide with each other (so far).

Automatic gensym is in, which means you can write stuff like that:

(defmacro nonsense [a b c]
  `(let [d# (str ~a ~b)]
     (print d# ~c d#)))

And it'll be transformed (at parse time) to something like that:

(defmacro nonsense [a b c]
  (let [d2121 (gensym "d")]
    `(let [~d2121 (str ~a ~b)]
      (print ~d2121 ~c ~d2121))))


Full Clojure destructuring is supported, with vectors and maps, in let forms, function definitions and macro definitions, nested as deep as you want.

It's one of the reason Clojure is so cool, read about it:

Data structures

Using hamt+ by Matt Bierner. Doesn't use mori because, c'mon, where's the fun in that?

Everything is immutable, persistent. Manipulation is slower than native JS structures, but comparing should be faster. Watch what Szymon says if you don't know about Clojure-style persistent data structures.


Straight up hamt+ tries, wrapped in a callable object (see shin.js for the trick) so it behaves like a Clojure map.

Takes advantages of hamt+'s mutate so that huge literals are faster to construct than assoc'ing one by one. Could use the same trick to make a fast JSON loader, for instance.


Not even a real type, right now just a PersistentArrayMap with values set to true. Needs a whole lot of love.


Straight up naive, basically a PersistentArrayMap with integer keys, but hamt+ doesn't guarantee key ordering and probably does sub-optimal hashing, so we should come up with something better, probably a fork of hamt+ based on ancient-oak's work on arrays/vectors.


Similar to ClojureScript


Similar to ClojureScript


None yet, see Issue #2.

Keyword, Symbol

Callable (to allow (:mykey map) or ('mysym map), usable in calls to name, e.g. (= "foobar" (name :foobar)) is true, same goes for symbols.


Mostly ClojureScript-equivalent with re-find, re-matches and re-matcher.

Weird API but whatevs, clj gonna be clj.

RegExp literal, #"[A-Z]IAMA a RegExp AMA", translates to RegExp constructor call rather than JS RegExp because that's the only part of the Mozilla Parser API that does not serialize to JSON. 💩


atom, add-watch, remove-watch and the deref operator @ work pretty much as advertised. Implementation is deceptively simple though, don't way you weren't warned.

Special forms

We've got:

  • if
  • let
  • fn
  • do
  • quote
  • def, defn, defmacro
  • closures, e.g. #()
  • loop/recur

There is no try (yet).

JS interop

Primitives from ClojureScript, e.g.

(let [o (Thing. "foo")] ; 'o' is now bound to a new Thing instance
  (.setName o "fido") ; create a new 'MyObject' with arguments a, b, c
  (prn "Dog name: " (.-name o)) ; access field 'name' from fido

Also: aget, aset, clj->js, and js->clj.

Lifts JS literals from ki, e.g.

(let [o {$ "a" 1 "b" 2} ; o is {a: 1, b: 2} in JS
      a [$ 1 2 3]])     ; a is [1, 2, 3] in JS

Types / OO

Internal data structures are JS OO, but deftype, defprotocol, satisfies?, reify, etc. aren't implemented yet.

@webbedspace has an interesting idea for records, thanks to @jcoglan for yelling about stuff.



Run shin -h and it'll tell you all about it. Subject to changes.


Very subject to changes, haven't found the right mix of convenient interface, flexible pipeline, concise code yet. Time will tell.

But basically, use compiler.rb or roll your own pipeline by running Parser, NsParser, MacroExpander, Translator, Generator, and outputting yourself.


Thanks to Luca Antiga for the inspiration and for ki, and to Nicolas Goy, Meine Goy, Fabrice Truillot de Chambrier, Ulrich Fischer, Dimiter Petrov, Jens Nockert, Romain Ruetschi, Arnaud Bénard, for all the support.

And of course, to the whole ClojureScript team for leading the way with this whole "Clojure to JavaScript" thing!


Shin is released under the MIT license. See LICENSE.txt for the complete text.

Hamt+ is also MIT-licensed, see its own repo: hamt+.

Significant parts of standard library is adapted / copied from ClojureScript, which is distributed under the Eclipse Public License 1.0. Here's it's copyright license, just in case:

Copyright (c) Rich Hickey. All rights reserved. The use and
distribution terms for this software are covered by the Eclipse
Public License 1.0 (
which can be found in the file epl-v10.html at the root of this
distribution. By using this software in any fashion, you are
agreeing to be bound by the terms of this license. You must
not remove this notice, or any other, from this software.


⚠️ (def shin (dissoc clojurescript :jvm :google_closure)) (deprecated)




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