This is a collection of decorators for use with Clojure
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I spent a year hacking Python recently, and in the process I fell in love with decorators. They are a wonderful tool for handling indirect concerns, as they let you centralize many aspects like logging or authentication in an application. They are also very lispy, involving all sorts of fun closure factories, and are strongly related to higher order functions. Most importantly, though, they allow your code to be simpler (but not easier, at least at first). The real benefit becomes apparent when testing your application.

This is an independent decorator library I've created in order to demonstrate the power of decorators. It is made up of the following parts

  • decorators.core - This is where the core decorator forms are stored
  • decorators.invokable - This is where definvoke is stored. Contributed by Meikel Brandmeyer
  • decorators.same - The same protocol
  • decorators.common - Includes common decorators, such as logging, validating, coercing. Also includes the word-like protocol.
  • decorators.number-protocols - A collection of protocols for converting to a numeric type.

You can find the clojar artifact here:


So what is a decorator, anyway? For the sake of discussion, a decorator is a function that can modify a function. Let's take a look at a small example.

Logging is the type of behavior that is commonly needed, but is unrelated to the task at hand. Let's create a decorator to handle it.

user=> (defn logging-dec [f]
	(fn logged-fn [& args] (apply println f args) (apply f args)))

This logging decorator takes a function in, and returns a logged version of the function. Let's see it in action

user=> (+ 1 2);Normal addition
user=> ((logging-dec +) 1 2)
#<core$_PLUS_ clojure.core$_PLUS_@6c0ec436> 1 2

You can see that the logging decorator added a side effect (printing), but didn't alter the original function. Decorators are very good for managing side effects, because you can separate out the concern.

So, how does this work with this library? Let's start with the decorators.core namespace.

user=> (use 'decorators.core)

The first thing we'll want to look at is the decorate macro. It applies a decorator to a function, and then stores it in the same symbol. Let's see it in action, by writing our own plus function.

user=> (defn my+ [x y] (+ x y))
user=> (my+ 1 2)

Suppose we want to log every call to my+. We would use the decorate macro like so

user=> (decorate my+ logging-dec)
user=> (my+ 1 2)
#<user$my_PLUS_ user$my_PLUS_@30b48b11> 1 2

Now every call to my+ will be logged, and we don't have to think about it. This is useful, and it gets even better when you consider other decorators like validators or coercing decorators. Let's take a look at some of the decorators in decorators.common, to see what other common patterns can be pulled out.

user=> (use 'decorators.common)

We'll start with what I call coercing decorators. They're useful for forcing the data into a common format. This in turn broadens the set of input that is available to a function, making it more general. Let's take a look at a simple example, the args-to-int decorator.

user=> ((args-to-int +) "1" 2 3.0)

As you can see, the args-to-int decorator converts all of the arguments to integers. It is based on the ToInt protocol in decorators.number-protocols. There are corresponding protocols & decorators for longs, doubles, etc. Let's decorate my+ again with the args-to-int decorator

user=> (decorate my+ args-to-int)
user=> (my+ "1" 2.0)
#<user$my_PLUS_ user$my_PLUS_@30b48b11> 1 2

JIT decorators

You'll notice something I did earlier. I decorated the + function with args-to-int, and then called the result in the same line. This pattern is useful when you want to decorate a function that you didn't write. It is also possible to apply multiple decorators as once this way. This lead to the development of the apply-decorator function.It's usage is like this.

user=> (apply-decorator args-to-int + "1" 2 3.0)

I like this higher order function, because I feel like it tells a story in the form. It's obvious where the decorator is, what the original function does, etc. You could just as easily do any of the following:

user=> (apply-decorator args-to-double + "1" 2 3.0)
user=> (apply-decorator (comp logging-dec args-to-int) + "1" 2 3.0) ;Simply compose decorators to get a new one!
#<common$coerce$decorator__333$fn__334 decorators.common$coerce$decorator__333$fn__334@47e9d9b1> 1 2 3.0

In fact, it's possible to convert any decorator to a higher order function. The to-hof function serves just that purpose.

user=> (def args-to-int-hof (to-hof args-to-int))
user=> (args-to-int-hof + "1" 2 3.0)

This hof is useful because we can now apply the decorator separately from the function itself, at anytime. In my opinion, this is a better way to do logging.

HOFs and Decorators

Interestingly enough, it is also possible to turn any higher order function back into a decorator. For example, the mapping fn can be turned into the mapping decorator. This can be accomplished by using the included to-decorator fn.

user=> (def map-dec (to-decorator map))
user=> (defn x2 [x] (* 2 x))
user=> (decorate x2 map-dec)
user=> (x2 [1 2 3])
(2 4 6)

This is a neat trick, but it actually is very useful in point free situations.

user=> (map (map-dec inc) [[1 2 3] [4 5 6] [7 8 9]])
((2 3 4) (5 6 7) (8 9 10))

So, which is more useful? Turning hofs to decorators, or decorators to hofs? They each have their time and place. This could lead to a lot of repetition in your namespaces if you want both. Fortunately, we can have the best of both worlds if we're clever.

  • Decorators always take exactly one argument, the target function.
  • Higher order functions usually take more than one argument, the target function and its arguments.
  • We can use arity dispatch to have BOTH.

I included a decorator for decorating decorators, called dual-decorator (see decorators.common for usage). It wraps the decorators included in decorators.common, so they're ready to be used as either a hof or a decorator. In the example of args-to-int, this means:

user=> (args-to-int + "1" 2 3.0)
user=> ((args-to-int +) "1" 2 3.0)

Both forms work equally well.

Testing decorators

The best way to test a decorator is to decorate identity, or a special function pass (pass is a variadic version of identity). I personally like to use the higher order form. Please see the tests for examples on how to test the decorator fns.


Copyright (C) 2011 Sean Devlin

Distributed under the Eclipse Public License, the same as Clojure.