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Leiningen Plugins

Leiningen tasks are simply functions named $TASK in a leiningen.$TASK namespace. So writing a Leiningen plugin is just a matter of creating a project that contains such a function.

Using the plugin is a matter of declaring it in the :plugins entry of the project map. If a plugin is a matter of user convenience rather than a requirement for running the project, users should place the plugin declaration in the :user profile in ~/.lein/profiles.clj instead of directly in the project.clj file.

Writing a Plugin

Start by generating a new project with lein new plugin lein-myplugin, and edit the myplugin defn in the leiningen.myplugin namespace. You'll notice the project.clj file has :eval-in-leiningen true, which causes all tasks to operate inside the leiningen process rather than starting a subprocess to isolate the project's code. Plugins need not declare a dependency on Clojure itself; in fact all of Leiningen's own dependencies will be available. However, it doesn't hurt to be specific since Leiningen's other dependencies may change in future versions.

See the lein-pprint directory in the Leiningen source for a sample of a very simple plugin.

During plugin development, having to re-run lein install in your plugin project and then switch to a test project can be very cumbersome. You can avoid this annoyance by creating a .lein-classpath file in your test project containing the path to the src directory of your plugin.

Task Arguments

The first argument to your task function should be the current project. It will be a map which is based on the project.clj file, but it also has :name, :group, :version, and :root keys added in, among other things. To see what project maps look like, try using the lein-pprint plugin; you can invoke the pprint task to examine any project.

If you want your task to take parameters from the command-line invocation, you can make the function take more than one argument. In order to underscore the fact that tasks are just Clojure functions, arguments which act as flags are usually accepted as :keywords rather than traditional --dashed syntax. Note that all arguments are passed in as strings; it's up to your function to call read-string on the arguments if you want keywords, symbols, integers, etc. Keep this in mind when calling other tasks as functions too.

Most tasks may only be run in the context of another project. If your task can be run outside a project directory, add ^:no-project-needed metadata to your task defn to indicate so. Your task should still accept a project as its first argument, but it will be allowed to be nil if it's run outside a project directory. If you are inside a project, Leiningen should change to the root of that project before launching the JVM, but some other tools using the leiningen-core library may not behave the same way, so for greatest portability check the :root key of the project map and work from there.


The lein help task uses docstrings. A namespace-level docstring will be used as the short summary if present; if not then it will take the first line of your function's docstring. Try to keep the summary under 68 characters for formatting purposes. The full docstring can of course be much longer but should still be wrapped at 80 columns. The function's arglists will also be shown, so pick argument names that are clear and descriptive. If you set :help-arglists in the function's metadata, it will be used instead for those cases where alternate arities exist that aren't intended to be exposed to the user. Be sure to explain all these arguments in the docstring. Note that all your arguments will be strings, so it's up to you to call read-string on them if you want keywords, numbers, or symbols.

Often more complicated tasks get divided up into subtasks. Placing :subtasks metadata on a task defn which contains a vector of subtask vars will allow lein help $TASK_CONTAINING_SUBTASKS to list them.

Code Evaluation

Plugin functions run inside Leiningen's process, so they have access to all the existing Leiningen functions. The public API of Leiningen should be considered all public functions inside the leiningen.core.* namespaces not labeled with ^:internal metadata as well as each individual task functions. Other non-task functions in task namespaces should be considered internal and may change inside point releases.

Many tasks need to execute code inside the context of the project itself. The leiningen.core.eval/eval-in-project function is used for this purpose. It accepts a project argument as well as a form to evaluate, and the final (optional) argument is another form called init that is evaluated up-front before the main form. This may be used to require a namespace earlier in order to avoid the Gilardi Scenario.

Inside the eval-in-project call the project's own classpath will be active and Leiningen's own internals and plugins will not be available. However, it's easy to update the project map that's passed to eval-in-project to add in the dependencies you need. For example, this is done in the lein-swank plugin like so:

(defn swank
  "Launch swank server for Emacs to connect. Optionally takes PORT and HOST."
  ([project port host & opts]
     (eval-in-project (update-in project [:dependencies]
                                 conj ['swank-clojure "1.4.0"])
                      (swank-form project port host opts))))

TODO: switch to profiles for this

The code in the swank-clojure dependency is needed inside the project, so it's conjed into the :dependencies.

Before eval-in-project is invoked, Leiningen must "prep" a project, usually by ensuring that all Java code and all necessary Clojure code has been AOT compiled to bytecode. This is done by running all the tasks in the :prep-tasks key of the project, which defaults to ["javac" "compile"]. If your plugin requires another kind of prepping, (for instance, compiling protocol buffers) you can instruct users to add another entry to :prep-tasks. Note that this task will be invoked for every eval-in-project, so take care that it runs quickly if nothing has changed since the last run.


You can modify the behaviour of built-in tasks to a degree using hooks. Hook functionality is provided by the Robert Hooke library. This is an implied dependency; as long as Leiningen 1.2 or higher is used it will be available.

Inspired by clojure.test's fixtures functionality, hooks are functions which wrap other functions (often tasks) and may alter their behaviour by binding other vars, altering the return value, only running the function conditionally, etc. The add-hook function takes a var of the task it's meant to apply to and a function to perform the wrapping:

(ns lein-integration.plugin
  (:require [robert.hooke]

(defn add-test-var-println [f & args]
  `(binding [~'clojure.test/assert-expr
             (fn [msg# form#]
               (println "Asserting" form#)
               ((.getRawRoot #'clojure.test/assert-expr) msg# form#))]
     ~(apply f args)))

;; Place the body of the activate function at the top-level for
;; compatibility with Leiningen 1.x
(defn hooks []
  (robert.hooke/add-hook #'leiningen.test/form-for-testing-namespaces

Hooks compose, so be aware that your hook may be running inside another hook. See the documentation for Hooke for more details.

If you want your hooks to be loaded automatically with your plugin, activate them in a function called plugin-name.plugin/hooks. So in the example above the plugin is called lein-integration, and the function lein-integration.plugin/hooks is automatically called to activate hooks when the lein-integration plugin is loaded.

Hooks can also be loaded manually by setting the :hooks key in project.clj to a seq of vars to call to activate your hooks. For backward compatibility, you can also specify namespaces instead of vars in :hooks, and the activate function in that namespace will be called. Note: automatic hooks are activated before manually specified hooks.

Project Middleware

Project middleware is just a function that is called on a project map returning a new project map. Middleware gives a plugin the power to do almost anything. For example, a plugin could use middleware to reimplement Leiningen's profiles functionality.

The following middleware injects the contents of project map into your project's resources folder so it can be read from the project code:

(ns lein-inject.plugin)

(defn middleware [project]
  (update-in project [:injections] concat
             `[(spit "resources/project.clj" ~(prn-str project))]))

Like hooks, middleware will be applied automatically for plugins if you put it in plugin-name.plugin/middleware. You can also load middleware manually by setting the :middleware key in project.clj to a seq of vars to call to transform your project map. Note that automatic middleware is applied before manually specified middleware.

Also note that the currently active middleware depends on which profiles are active. This means we need to reapply the middleware functions to the project map whenever the active profiles change. We accomplish this by storing the fresh project map and starting from that whenever we call merge-profiles, unmerge-profiles or set-profiles.

Requiring Plugins

To use a plugin in your project, just add a :plugins key to your project.clj with the same format as :dependencies. In addition to the options allowed by :dependencies, :plugins also allows you to disable auto-loading of hooks or middleware.

(defproject foo "0.1.0"
  :plugins [[lein-pprint "1.1.1"]
            [lein-foo "0.0.1" :hooks false]
            [lein-bar "0.0.1" :middleware false]])

Clojure Version

Leiningen 2.0.0 uses Clojure 1.4.0. If you need to use a different version of Clojure from within a Leiningen plugin, you can use eval-in-project with a dummy project argument:

(eval-in-project {:dependencies '[[org.clojure/clojure "1.5.0-alpha"]]}
                 '(println "hello from" *clojure-version*))

In Leiningen 1.x, plugins had access to monolithic Clojure Contrib. This is no longer true in 2.x.

Upgrading Existing Plugins

Earlier versions of Leiningen had a few differences in the way plugins worked, but upgrading shouldn't be too difficult.

The biggest difference between 1.x and 2.x is that :dev-dependencies have been done away with. There are no longer any dependencies that exist both in Leiningen's process and the project's process; Leiningen only sees :plugins and the project only sees :dependencies, though both these maps can be affected by the currently-active profiles.

If your project doesn't need to use eval-in-project at all, it should be relatively easy to port; it's just a matter of updating any references to Leiningen functions which may have moved. All leiningen.utils.* namespaces have gone away, and leiningen.core has become leiningen.core.main. For a more thorough overview see the published documentation on leiningen-core.

Plugins that do use eval-in-project should just be aware that the plugin's own dependencies and source will not be available to the project. If your plugin currently has code that needs to run in both contexts it must be split into multiple projects, one for :plugins and one for :dependencies. See the example of lein-swank above to see how to inject :dependencies in eval-in-project calls.

If your plugin may run outside the context of the project entirely, you should still leave room in the arguments list for a project map; just expect that it will be nil if there's no project present. Use ^:no-project-needed metadata to indicate this is acceptable.

In Leiningen 1.x, having a task function return a numeric value was a way to signal the process's exit code. In Leiningen 2.x, tasks should call the leiningen.core.main/abort function when a fatal error is encountered. If the leiningen.core.main/*exit-process?* var is bound to true, then this will trigger an exit, but in some contexts (like with-profiles) it will simply trigger an exception and go on to the next task.

1.x Compatibility

Once you've identified the changes necessary to achieve compatibility with 2.x, you can decide whether you'd like to support 1.x and 2.x in the same codebase. In some cases it may be easier to simply keep them in separate branches, but sometimes it's better to support both. Luckily the strategy of using :plugins and adding in :dependencies just for calls to eval-in-project works fine in Leiningen 1.7.

If you use functions that moved in 2.x, you can try requiring and resolving at runtime rather than compile time and falling back to the 1.x versions of the function if it's not found. Again the lein-swank plugin provides an example of a compatibility shim:

(defn eval-in-project
  "Support eval-in-project in both Leiningen 1.x and 2.x."
  [project form init]
  (let [[eip two?] (or (try (require 'leiningen.core.eval)
                            [(resolve 'leiningen.core.eval/eval-in-project)
                            (catch _))
                       (try (require 'leiningen.compile)
                            [(resolve 'leiningen.compile/eval-in-project)]
                            (catch _)))]
    (if two?
      (eip project form init)
      (eip project form nil nil init))))

Of course if the function has changed arities or has disappeared entirely this may not be feasible, but it should suffice in most cases.

Most widely-used functions which have changed in 2.x can be used from the leinjacker project, which provides a compatibility shim supporting both 1.x and 2.x.

Another key change is that :source-path, :resources-path, :java-source-path, and :test-path have changed to :sources-paths, :resource-paths, :java-source-paths, and :test-paths, and they should be vectors now instead of single strings. The old :dev-resources key is now just another entry to the :resource-paths vector that's only present when the :dev profile is active.

Allowing the task to run outside a project directory is tricky to do in a backwards-compatible way since 1.x is overly-clever and actually inspects your argument list to figure out if it should pass in a project argument, while 2.x simply always passes it in and just allows it to be nil if it's not present. You can try checking the first argument to see if it's a project map, but if you have more than two arities this can get very tricky; it may just be better to maintain separate branches of your codebase in this situation.


You can also publish templates for generating project skeletons that work with lein new. See the documentation for the new task for details on how to build templates.

Have Fun

Please add your plugin to the list on the wiki once it's ready.

Hopefully the plugin mechanism is simple and flexible enough to let you bend Leiningen to your will.