dgraph — a dependency graph library for Clojure
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dgraph is a dependency graph library for Clojure.

This code is inspired by Kenny Tilton's Cells project (http://common-lisp.net/project/cells/).

dgraph aims to offer a (mostly) pure functional data structure whose nodes behave like cells in a spreadsheet, i.e., they form a dependency graph. This data structure has two kinds of nodes: stored and computed. Stored nodes contain constant values, whereas computed nodes behave more like functions. In typical use, computed nodes calculate and cache their values lazily, when needed. Changing the value of a stored node does not destructively modify the graph; instead, it returns a new graph with the node's value changed and the node's dependent (child) computed values invalidated.

This data structure has many uses. In particular, it helps eliminate repeated clutter in UI code where the state of a display element may depend on the state of several other elements. Consider, for example, an action button which needs to be activated if and only if several other input elements are filled in and validate correctly. Normally, each of these elements' callbacks would have to enable the action button separately, while also checking the state of the other fields. Although this mess may be abstracted out into a function, each callback would still have to be sure to call that function. On the other hand, if the state of each input element and the action button become nodes on a dependency graph, then the button can just activate itself when the other nodes all achieve valid state.

Sample Code

(require ['dgraph :as 'dg])

(let [graph1 (dg/make-dgraph :a 1
                             :b 2
                             :c (dg/lazy #(+ (% :a) (% :b))))
      graph2 (graph1 :a 10 :d 15)]
  [(graph1 :a) (graph1 :b) (graph1 :c)
   (graph2 :a) (graph2 :b) (graph2 :c) (graph2 :d)])

This returns [1 2 3 10 2 12 15]. It first creates a dependency graph (graph1) with two stored nodes, :a and :b, and a lazily computed node :c which depends on :a and :b (meaning :c is a child of :a and :b). The value of :c is computed only when first retrieved, and cached thereafter. It then extends graph1 into graph2 by assigning a new value to :a and adding a new stored node, :d. Note that graph1 remains unmodified. graph1 and graph2 share as much structure as possible, just like Clojure's built-in persistent data structures.

This example is available in examples/examples/dgraph/simple.clj. examples/examples/dgraph/swing.clj shows how dependency graphs can be handy in GUI programming, applied to Swing.

Getting Started

dgraph has no dependencies except Clojure itself. dgraph works with Clojure 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, and 1.2.1. Clojure versions 1.1 or later are recommended, however, as bound-fn is required for computed nodes which execute code on more than one thread (see the Documentation and Limitations sections below). Clojure 1.1 or later is also required for the dgraph test suite.

Option 1: Ant

  1. Clone the dgraph Git repository.
  2. Run ant package.
  3. Copy the resulting dgraph jar to wherever you normally keep Clojure dependencies. Make sure to add the jar to your project's classpath.

Option 2: Leiningen

Add a dependency on [dgraph "1.2.1"] to your project.clj file. Leiningen will pull the dgraph dependency from Clojars.

Option 3: Maven

Add a dependency to your pom.xml file. Maven will pull the dgraph dependency from Clojars.



dgraph has two major kinds of nodes: stored and computed. Computed nodes may be lazy, eager, or patient. Computed nodes are marked in the definition of a dependency graph with invocations to dg/lazy, dg/eager, or dg/patient. These three functions take one argument: a function of the dependency graph. The definition of node :c in the example above, therefore, can be written more verbosely as:

  (fn [dependency-graph]
    (+ (dependency-graph :a)
       (dependency-graph :b))))

The different computed nodes have the following semantics:

  • Lazy nodes evaluate only when retrieved; once computed, they cache their values and use the cache on subsequent retrieval. An invalidated lazy node evaluates only when subsequently retrieved.
  • Eager nodes evaluate their values immediately upon creation and immediately after invalidation. They also cache their values.
  • Patient nodes are a hybrid between lazy and eager. Like lazy nodes, they do not evaluate until first retrieved. However, like eager nodes, they immediately evaluate after invalidation. They also cache their values.

Eager and patient nodes are most useful when their computed functions have side effects. Their side effects automatically trigger when a parent node changes or invalidates.

dgraph uses a dynamic variable internally to trace node dependencies. Therefore, computed nodes with dependencies accessed in a spawned thread must use bound-fn or bound-fn* to make sure child threads have access to the dynamic variables defined in invocations of dg/lazy, dg/patient, or dg/eager.

In addition to setting and retrieving node values using the graph object as a function (recommended for normal use), dg/getn and dg/setn are provided for convenience when storing the graph in an atom or ref:

(let [graph1 (atom (dg/make-dgraph :a 1 :b 2))
      graph2 (ref (dg/make-dgraph :a 1 :b 2))]
  (swap! graph1 dg/setn :a 10)
  (dosync (alter graph2 dg/setn :a 10))
  [(@graph1 :a) (@graph2 :a)])

For manipulating maps stored in dependency graphs, dg/assoc-in-node and dg/update-in-node convenience functions correspond to the assoc-in and update-in functions built into Clojure. Please see examples/examples/dgraph/simple.clj for sample usage.


  • dgraph does not attempt to detect cyclical dependencies between computed nodes, so watch out for infinite loops.
  • dgraph does not currently allow adding or modifying computed nodes. This is not restricted in the code, but may have unexpected behavior on node invalidation.
  • See the note above concerning the use of bound-fn and threads spawned inside computed nodes.


dgraph is distributed under the MIT license.