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Without this, the backend complains that there's no string, but rather
an array of unsigned 8 bits.

Authored-by:  David Rueda
Co-authored-by: João Távora <>

* api.lisp (backend-payload): Pass :force-text to hunchentoot:raw-post-data

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Build Status Snooze

Snooze is an URL router for Common Lisp designed around REST web services.

An URL router lets you open URL routes to your application that are friendlier, easier to remember and better supported by other applications, such as search engines. RESTful routes are near universal in web APIs and look like this.

All Snooze does is establish a tight fit between this type of route and plain old Common Lisp. For example, in Snooze, routes are just functions and HTTP conditions are just Lisp conditions.

Since you stay inside Lisp, if you know how to make a function, you know how to make a route. There are no regular expressions to write or extra route-defining syntax to learn.

Snooze is web-server-backend-agnostic: it can work with any web server.

Here's an example you can try out quickly: a micro-REST service to read and write Lisp docstrings over HTTP:

(defpackage #:readme-demo (:use #:cl #:snooze))
(in-package #:readme-demo)

(defun find-symbol-or-lose (name package)
  (or (find-symbol (string name) (find-package package))
      (http-condition 404 "Sorry, no such symbol")))

(defroute lispdoc (:get :text/* name &key (package :cl) (doctype 'function))
  (or (documentation (find-symbol-or-lose name package) doctype)
      (http-condition 404 "Sorry, ~a doesn't have any ~a doc" name doctype)))

(defroute lispdoc (:post :text/plain name &key (package :cl) (doctype 'function))
  (setf (documentation (find-symbol-or-lose name package) doctype)

;; Let's use clack as a server backend
(clack:clackup (snooze:make-clack-app) :port 9003)

This establishes two routes (GET for reading and POST for writing) on the URI localhost:9003/lispdoc/<symbol>. Here's an illustration of how they respond:

GET /lispdoc/defun                         => 200 OK
GET /lispdoc/funny-syntax?package=snooze   => 404 Not found
GET /lispdoc/in/?valid=args                => 400 Bad Request
GET /lispdoc/defun                         => 406 Not Acceptable 
Accept: application/json

POST /lispdoc/scan?package=cl-ppcre        => 200 OK 
Content-type: text/plain

POST /lispdoc/defun                        => 415 Unsupported Media Type 
Content-type: application/json

The error codes 400, 406 and 415 are error reporting that you get "for free": if the HTTP client strays off these routes, be it for improper syntax or unsupported content types, the correct HTTP condition is signalled.

The rest of this README contains the rationale for building Snooze and a tutorial that builds on the simple application presented above.


Ah, Snooze is kinda BETA. The usual disclaimer of warranty applies.


There are already some Common Lisp systems for HTTP routing, like caveman, cl-rest-server,restas and ningle. Unfortunately, they tend to make you learn some extra route-defining syntax.

On the contrary Snooze maps REST/HTTP concepts to Common Lisp concepts:

HTTP/REST concept Snooze CL concept
REST resource CLOS generic function
Route CLOS method
Verbs (GET, POST, DELETE, etc) CLOS specializer on first argument
Accept: and Content-Type: CLOS specializer on second argument
URI path (/path1/path2/path3)) Required and optional arguments
URL queries (?param=value&p2=v2) Keyword arguments
Status codes (404, 500, etc) CL conditions

This has many advantages, for example

  • since every route is a method, you can trace it like a regular function, find its definition with M-. or even use :around qualifiers;
  • using a regular lambda-list guarantees that URI errors can be spotted early by your compiler;
  • there is no need to write code to "extract" arguments from the URI.
  • Since Snooze knows the lambda-list of a route, it can use it to do the reverse of URI matching: generate URIs that perfectly match that same route.


Consider the code sample presented above. Let's pick up where we left off, and build a bit more of lispdoc, our docstring-manipulating application. We'll see how to:

This tutorial assumes you're using a recent version of quicklisp so start by entering this into your REPL.

(push "path/to/snoozes/parent/dir" quicklisp:*local-project-directories*)
(ql:quickload :snooze)

Make sure you keep an eye on the docstrings of the functions mentioned, they are where the real API reference lives. Find them all, appropriately, in the api.lisp file.

Resources as generic functions

An important detail that was elided from the initial sample is that, in Snooze:

  • a REST resource is implemented a CLOS generic function.
  • The operations (GET, POST, DELETE, etc...) accepted by a resource are implemented as CLOS methods on that generic function

When a HTTP request is received, Snooze arranges for its URI to be translated into a generic function name and its remaining properties (verb, content-type, additional URI bits) to be translated into arguments for that function. Snooze then calls that function with those arguments and CLOS does the rest:

  • if one of the methods of this generic function matches, its body is called and the HTTP client sees a nice response;

  • otherwise a condition is signalled and Snooze takes care that the HTTP client sees the correct error code.

Under the hood, defroute is actually a really thin wrapper on defmethod. You can even use defmethod directly if you prefer:

(defmethod lispdoc
            ((snooze-verbs:http-verb snooze-verbs:post)
             (snooze-types:type snooze-types:text/plain) name
             &key (package :cl) (doctype 'function))
   (setf (documentation (find-symbol-or-lose name package) doctype)

Likewise there is a defresource form that is equivalent to defgeneric. It may be left out since it is implicit in the first defroute call.

This means we could have defined the above application in an equivalent terser form:

(defresource lispdoc (verb content-type name &key)
  (:route (:get :text/* name &key (package :cl) (doctype 'function))
    (or (documentation (find-symbol-or-lose name package) doctype)
        (http-condition 404 "Sorry, ~a doesn't have any ~a doc" name doctype)))
  (:route (:post :text/plain name &key (package :cl) (doctype 'function))
    (setf (documentation (find-symbol-or-lose name package) doctype)


Let's start by serving docstrings in HTML. As seen above, we already have a route which serves plain text:

(defroute lispdoc (:get :text/* name &key (package :cl) (type 'function))
  (or (documentation (find-symbol-or-lose name package) type)
      (http-condition 404 "Sorry no ~a doc for ~a" type name)))

To add a similar route for the content-type text/html, we just notice that text/html is text/*. Also because routes are really only CLOS methods, the easiest way is:

(defroute lispdoc :around (:get :text/html name &key &allow-other-keys)
  (format nil "<h1>Docstring for ~a</h1><p>~a</p>"
          name (call-next-method)))

This will do fine for now. Of course, later we should probably escape the HTML with something like cl-who's escape-string-all. We might also consider removing the :around qualifier and use a helper function shared by two routes.

Let's try our hand at implementing an important part of the API: POST requests with JSON content:

(defroute lispdoc (:post "application/json" name &key (package :cl) (doctype 'function))
  (let* ((json (handler-case
                   ;; you'll need to quickload :cl-json
                 (error (e)
                   (http-condition 400 "Malformed JSON (~a)!" e))))
         (sym (find-symbol-or-lose name package))
         (docstring (cdr (assoc :docstring json))))
    (if (and sym docstring doctype)
        (setf (documentation sym doctype) docstring)
        (http-condition 400 "JSON missing some properties"))))

URI generation

Our application has a growing number of routes that work fine, provided the use knows how to type them. Because this is increasingly complicated as more and more routes are added, it is very often the case that we'll want parts of the our REST application to generate URI's that match its own routes. Probably, the most common case is providing a link to a specific resource in an HTML response.

This is very easy to do in Snooze, as it can automatically generate the URIs for a resource. You first need to get a "genpath" function for your resource. Just do:

(defgenpath lispdoc lispdoc-path)

Or, alternatively, pass :genpath to defresource.

(defresource lispdoc (verb ct symbol) (:genpath lispdoc-path))

The newly generated lispdoc-path has an argument list that perfectly matches your route's arguments:

(lispdoc-path 'defroute :package 'snooze)
  ;; => "/lispdoc/defroute?package=snooze"
(lispdoc-path 'defun)
  ;; => "/lispdoc/defun"
(lispdoc-path '*standard-output* :doctype 'variable)
  ;; => "/lispdoc/%2Astandard-output%2A?doctype=variable"
(lispdoc-path '*standard-output* :FOO 'hey)
  ;; error! unknown &KEY argument: :FOO

Notice the automatic URI-encoding of the * character and how the function errors on invalid keyword arguments that would produce an invalid route.

Path generators are useful, for example, when write HTML links to your resources. In our example, let's use it to guide the user to the correct URL when an easily-fixed 404 happens:

(defun doc-not-found-message (name package doctype)
  (let* ((othertype (if (eq doctype 'function) 'variable 'function))
         (otherdoc (documentation (find-symbol-or-lose name package) othertype)))
    (with-output-to-string (s)
      (format s "There is no ~a doc for ~a." doctype name)
      (when otherdoc
        (format s "<p>But try <a href=~a>here</a></p>"
                (lispdoc-path name :package package :doctype othertype))))))

(defroute lispdoc (:get :text/html name &key (package :cl) (doctype 'function))
  (or (documentation (find-symbol-or-lose name package) doctype)
      (http-condition 404 (doc-not-found-message name package doctype))))

If you now point your browser to:


You should see a nicer 404 error message. Except you don't (!), because, by default, Snooze is very terse with error messages and we haven't told it not to be. So don't worry, the next sections explains how to change that.

Controlling errors

Errors and unexpected situations are part of normal HTTP life. Many websites and REST services not only return an HTTP status code, but also serve information about the conditions that lead to an error, be it in a pretty HTML error page or a JSON object describing the problem.

Snooze tries to make it possible to precisely control what information gets sent to the client. It uses a generic function and two variables:

  • explain-condition (condition resource content-type)
  • *catch-errors*
  • *catch-http-conditions*

Out of the box, there are no methods on explain-condition and the two variables are set to t.

This means that any HTTP condition or a Lisp error in your application will generate a very terse reply in plain-text containing only the status code and the standard reason phrase.

You can amend this selectively by addingexplain-condition methods that explain HTTP conditions politely in, say, HTML:

(defmethod explain-condition ((condition http-condition)
                              (resource (eql #'lispdoc))
                              (ct snooze-types:text/html))
               (with-output-to-string (s)
                 (format s "<h1>Terribly sorry</h1><p>You might have made a mistake, I'm afraid</p>")
                 (format s "<p>~a</p>" condition)))

The above explains only HTTP conditions that are the client's fault, but you can use the same technique to explain any error, like so:

(defmethod explain-condition ((error error) (resource (eql #'lispdoc)) (ct snooze-types:text/html))
               (with-output-to-string (s)
                 (format s "<h1>Oh dear</h1><p>It seems I've messed up somehow</p>")))

Finally, you can play around with *catch-errors* and *catch-http-conditions (see their docstrings). I normally leave *catch-http-conditions* set to t and *catch-errors* set to either :verbose or nil depending on whether I want to do debugging in the browser or in Emacs.

How Snooze converts URI components to arguments

You might have noticed already that the arguments passed to the CLOS generic functions that represent resources are actual Lisp symbols extracted from the URI, whereas other frameworks normally pass them as strings.

What are the advantages of this? Let's drift from the lispdoc example a bit. Consider this fragment of a Beatle-listing app.

(defclass beatle () ((id      :initarg :id)
                     (name    :initarg :name    :accessor name)
                     (guitars :initarg :guitars :accessor number-of-guitars)))

(defparameter *beatles*
           (list (make-instance 'beatle :id 1 :name "John" :guitars 1)
                 (make-instance 'beatle :id 2 :name "Paul" :guitars 2)
                 (make-instance 'beatle :id 3 :name "Ringo" :guitars 0)
                 (make-instance 'beatle :id 4 :name "George" :guitars 10)))

(defroute beatles (:get "text/plain" &key (key 'number-of-guitars) (predicate '>))
  (assert-safe-functions key predicate)
  (format nil "~{~a~^~%~}"
          (mapcar #'name
                  (sort (copy-list *beatles*) predicate :key key))))

(defgenpath beatles beatles-path)

The defgenpath form makes beatles-path be a function of two keyword arguments, :key and :predicate that returns the perfect URI for accessing the beatles route. Among other things you can name regular functions (like < and string-lessp in this example) by their symbols, as you would in pure Lisp.

CL-USER> (beatles-path :key 'number-of-guitars :predicate '<)
CL-USER> (beatles-path :key 'name :predicate 'string-lessp)

Sure enough, feeding these URIs to the HTTP client causes the function beatles to be called with exactly the same symbols that you passed to beatles-path.

Now, if you're thinking that this doesn't fit needs, know that it is merely a default behaviour, and entirely configurable: if you really want to have the URI path foo/bar/baz become the strings "foo", "bar" and "baz" in your application you merely need to add a CLOS method to the each of the generic functions read-for-resource and write-for-resource.

Nevertheless, I recommend you keep the default:

  • The default read-for-resource uses a very locked down version of cl:read-to-string that doesn't intern symbols (for security), allow any kind of reader macros or read anything more complicated than a number, a string or a symbol.

  • The default write-for-resource does the inverse: it writes onto a string of any object so that read-for-resource can reconstruct that object from the string (so long as the object is a secure thing to serialize over URI).

There is perhaps a better way to influence the mapping between URIs and arguments. To that effect, two other functions are discussed in the next section: arguments-to-uri and uri-to-arguments.

Tighter routes

Let's recall the lispdoc app. The routes we have until now are functions of a string. To convert them into actual symbols they need:

  • the find-symbol-or-lose helper;
  • an additional :package keyword arg.

This isn't pretty: it would be nicer if routes were functions of a symbol. After all, in Common Lisp, passing symbols around shouldn't force you to pass their packages separately!

So basically, we want to write our methods like this:

(defroute lispdoc (:get :text/* (sym symbol) &key (doctype 'function))
  (or (documentation sym doctype)
      (http-condition 404 (doc-not-found-message sym doctype))))

Actually, this will work just fine out of the box. Oh wait, now our routes look like this:

(lispdoc-path 'cl-ppcre:scan)
  ;; => "/lispdoc/cl-ppcre%3Ascan"
(lispdoc-path 'ql:quickload)
  ;; => "/lispdoc/quicklisp-client%3Aquickload"

Compare these to the routes at the very top of this document:


You might be dissapointed that the new ones are not as human-readable (the %3A encoding for the : looks would look slightly bizarre to a user reading it in the browser's address bar). But even if you don't care about appearance and find them perfectly acceptable, it is conceivable that we had already published the routes of the older REST API to the world.

So, to keep that API, we need to change the implementation without changing the interface. This is where uri-to-arguments and its reciprocal arguments-to-uri come in handy. These generic functions have default implementations for all resources that can be leveraged for surgical tweaks like the one we need here:

  • uri-to-arguments receives an URI string, and make it compute a values-list of "plain" and keyword arguments that are passed to the route (after the verb and content type). In our case, we first parse the plain symbol name and :package using call-next-method, then compute an actual symbol. We also make sure to not pass :package to our new route, as it doesn't accept it.

  • arguments-to-uri is the function that allows the genpath function to produce matching URIs. It does the reverse, producing an URI string. In this case it takes a symbol in plain-args, After extracting its package and massaging it into an uninterned symbol, we also use call-next-method to simplify things.

(defmethod uri-to-arguments ((resource (eql #'lispdoc)) uri)
  (multiple-value-bind (plain-args keyword-args)
    (let* ((sym-name (string (first plain-args)))
           (package-name (or (cdr (assoc :package keyword-args)) 'cl))
           (sym (find-symbol sym-name package-name)))
      (unless sym
        (http-condition 404 "Sorry, no such symbol"))
      (values (cons sym (cdr plain-args))
              (remove :package keyword-args :key #'car)))))

(defmethod arguments-to-uri ((resource (eql #'lispdoc)) plain-args keyword-args)
  (let ((sym (first plain-args)))
    (call-next-method resource
                      (list sym)
                      (cons `(:package . ,(make-symbol
                                           (package-name (symbol-package sym))))

We can now safely rewrite the remaining routes in much simpler fashion. Here's the rest of the application now (notice also how doc-not-found-message was also simplified)

(defun doc-not-found-message (symbol doctype)
  (let* ((othertype (if (eq doctype 'function) 'variable 'function))
         (otherdoc (documentation symbol othertype)))
    (with-output-to-string (s)
      (format s "There is no ~a doc for ~a." doctype symbol)
      (when otherdoc
        (format s "<p>But try <a href=~a>here</a></p>"
                (lispdoc-path symbol :doctype othertype))))))

(defroute lispdoc (:get :text/* (sym symbol) &key (doctype 'function))
  (or (documentation sym doctype)
      (http-condition 404 "No doc found for ~a" sym)))

(defroute lispdoc (:post :text/plain (sym symbol) &key (doctype 'function))
  (setf (documentation sym doctype)

(defroute lispdoc (:get :text/html (sym symbol) &key (doctype 'function))
  (or (documentation sym doctype)
      (http-condition 404 (doc-not-found-message sym doctype))))

(defroute lispdoc (:post :application/json (sym symbol) &key (doctype 'function))
  (let* ((json (handler-case
                 (error (e)
                   (http-condition 400 "Malformed JSON! (~a)" e))))
         (docstring (cdr (assoc :docstring json))))
    (setf (documentation sym doctype) docstring)))

Other backends

Snooze is web-server agnostic: it's just an URL router. It does come with two utility functions, make-clack-app and make-hunchentoot-app that will plug into two popular web servers and quickly let you jump into the action:

;;; Use hunchentoot directly
(push (snooze:make-hunchentoot-app) hunchentoot:*dispatch-table*)
(hunchentoot:start (make-instance 'hunchentoot:easy-acceptor :port 9003))

;;; Use clack
(clack:clackup (snooze:make-clack-app) :port 9003)

But Snooze doesn't "require" Clack or Hunchentoot in any sense. So if you want to use any other backend, I suggest you take a look at the implementations of make-hunchentoot-app and make-clack-app functions, particularly their use of snooze:handle-request.


To ask questions, report bugs, or just discuss matters open an issue or send me email.


Common Lisp RESTful web development



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