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Leiningen is for automating Clojure projects without setting your hair on fire.

It offers various project-related tasks and can:

  • create new projects
  • fetch dependencies for your project
  • run tests
  • run a fully-configured REPL
  • compile Java sources (if any)
  • run the project (if the project isn't a library)
  • generate a maven-style "pom" file for the project for interop
  • compile and package projects for deployment
  • publish libraries to repositories such as Clojars
  • run custom automation tasks written in Clojure (leiningen plug-ins)

If you come from the Java world, Leiningen could be thought of as "Maven meets Ant without the pain". For Ruby and Python folks, Leiningen combines RubyGems/Bundler/Rake and pip/Fabric in a single tool.

What This Tutorial Covers

This tutorial will briefly cover project structure, dependency management, running tests, the REPL, and topics related to deployment.

For those of you new to the JVM who have never touched Ant or Maven in anger: don't panic. Leiningen is designed with you in mind. This tutorial will help you get started and explain Leiningen's take on project automation and JVM-land dependency management.

Getting Help

Also keep in mind that Leiningen ships with fairly comprehensive help; lein help gives a list of tasks while lein help $TASK provides details. Further documentation such as the readme, sample configuration, and even this tutorial are also provided.

Leiningen Projects

Leiningen works with projects. A project is a directory containing a group of Clojure (and possibly Java) source files, along with a bit of metadata about them. The metadata is stored in a file named project.clj in the project's root directory, which is how you tell Leiningen about things like

  • Project name
  • Project description
  • What libraries the project depends on
  • What Clojure version to use
  • Where to find source files
  • What's the main namespace of the app

and more.

Most Leiningen tasks only make sense in the context of a project. Some (for example, repl or help) can also from any directory.

Next let's take a look at how projects are created.

Creating a Project

We'll assume you've got Leiningen installed as per the README. Generating a new project is easy:

$ lein new app my-stuff

Generating a project called my-stuff based on the 'app' template.

$ cd my-stuff
$ find .

In this example we're using the app template, which is intended for an application project rather than a library. Omitting the app argument will use the default template, which is suitable for libraries.

Directory Layout

Here we've got your project's README, a src/ directory containing the code, a test/ directory, and a project.clj file which describes your project to Leiningen. The src/my_stuff/core.clj file corresponds to the my-stuff.core namespace.

Filename-to-Namespace Mapping Convention

Note that we use my-stuff.core instead of just my-stuff since single-segment namespaces are discouraged in Clojure. Also note that namespaces with dashes in the name will have the corresponding file named with underscores instead since the JVM has trouble loading files with dashes in the name. The intricacies of namespaces are a common source of confusion for newcomers, and while they are mostly outside the scope of this tutorial you can read up on them elsewhere.


Your project.clj file will start off looking something like this:

(defproject my-stuff "0.1.0-SNAPSHOT"
  :description "FIXME: write description"
  :url ""
  :license {:name "Eclipse Public License"
            :url ""}
  :dependencies [[org.clojure/clojure "1.4.0"]]
  :main my-stuff.core)

If you don't fill in the :description with a short sentence, your project will be harder to find in search results, so start there. Be sure to fix the :url as well. At some point you'll need to flesh out the file too, but for now let's skip ahead to setting :dependencies. Note that Clojure is just another dependency here. Unlike most languages, it's easy to swap out any version of Clojure.



Clojure is a hosted language and Clojure libraries are distributed the same way as in other JVM languages: as jar files.

Jar files are basically just .zip files with a little extra JVM-specific metadata. They usually contain .class files (JVM bytecode) and .clj source files, but they can also contain other things like config files, JavaScript files or text files with static data.

Published JVM libraries have identifiers (artifact group, artifact id) and versions.

Artifact IDs, Groups, and Versions

You can search Clojars using its web interface or via lein search $TERM. On the page for clj-http it shows this:

[clj-http "0.5.5"]

There are two different ways of specifying a dependency on the latest stable version of the clj-http library, one in Leiningen format shown above and one in Maven format. We'll skip the Maven one for now, though you'll need to learn to read it for Java libraries from Central. You can copy the Leiningen version directly into the :dependencies vector in project.clj.

Within the vector, "clj-http" is referred to as the "artifact id". "0.5.5" is the version. Some libraries will also have "group ids", which are displayed like this:

[com.cedarsoft.utils.legacy/hibernate "1.3.4"]

The group-id is the part before the slash. Especially for Java libraries, it's often a reversed domain name. Clojure libraries often use the same group-id and artifact-id (as with clj-http), in which case you can omit the group-id. If there is a library that's part of a larger group (such as ring-jetty-adapter being part of the ring project), the group-id is often the same across all the sub-projects.

Snapshot Versions

Sometimes versions will end in "-SNAPSHOT". This means that it is not an official release but a development build. Relying on snapshot dependencies is discouraged but is sometimes necessary if you need bug fixes, etc. that have not made their way into a release yet. However, snapshot versions are not guaranteed to stick around, so it's important that non-development releases never depend upon snapshot versions that you don't control. Adding a snapshot dependency to your project will cause Leiningen to actively go seek out the latest version of the dependency daily (whereas normal release versions are cached in the local repository) so if you have a lot of snapshots it will slow things down.

Note that some libraries make their group-id and artifact-id correspond with the namespace they provide inside the jar, but this is just a convention. There is no guarantee they will match up at all, so consult the library's documentation before writing your :require and :import clauses.


Dependencies are stored in artifact repositories. If you are familiar with Perl's CPAN, Python's Cheeseshop (aka PyPi), Ruby's, or Node.js's NPM, it's the same thing. Leiningen reuses existing JVM repository infrastructure. There are several popular open source repositories. Leiningen by default will use two of them: and Maven Central.

Clojars is the Clojure community's centralized maven repository, while Central is for the wider JVM community.

You can add third-party repositories by setting the :repositories key in project.clj. See the sample.project.clj.

Checkout Dependencies

Sometimes it is necessary to develop two projects in parallel but it is very inconvenient to run lein install and restart your repl all the time to get your changes picked up. Leiningen provides a solution called checkout dependencies (or just checkouts). To use it, create a directory called checkouts in the project root, like so:

|-- project.clj
|-- checkouts
|-- src
|   `-- my_stuff
|       `-- core.clj
`-- test
    `-- my_stuff
        `-- core_test.clj

Then, under the checkouts directory, create symlinks to projects you need.

|-- project.clj
|-- checkouts
|   `-- superlib2 [link to ~/code/oss/superlib2]
|   `-- superlib3 [link to ~/code/megacorp/superlib3]
|-- src
|   `-- my_stuff
|       `-- core.clj
`-- test
    `-- my_stuff
        `-- core_test.clj

Libraries located under the checkouts directory take precedence over libraries pulled from repositories, but this is not a replacement for listing the project in your main project's :dependencies; it simply supplements that for convenience. If you have a project in checkouts without putting it in :dependencies then its source will be visible but its dependencies will not be found. If you change the dependencies of a checkout project you will still have to run lein install and restart your repl; it's just that source changes will be picked up immediately.

Checkouts are an opt-in feature; not everyone who is working on the project will have the same set of checkouts, so your project should work without checkouts before you push or merge.

Running Code

Enough setup; let's see some code running. Start with a REPL (read-eval-print loop):

$ lein repl
nREPL server started on port 40612
Welcome to REPL-y!
Clojure 1.4.0
    Exit: Control+D or (exit) or (quit)
Commands: (user/help)
    Docs: (doc function-name-here)
          (find-doc "part-of-name-here")
  Source: (source function-name-here)
          (user/sourcery function-name-here)
 Javadoc: (javadoc java-object-or-class-here)
Examples from [clojuredocs or cdoc]
          (user/clojuredocs name-here)
          (user/clojuredocs "ns-here" "name-here")


The REPL is an interactive prompt where you can enter arbitrary code to run in the context of your project. Since we've added clj-http to :dependencies, we are able to load it here along with code from the my-stuff.core namespace in your project's own src/ directory:

user=> (require 'my-stuff.core)
user=> (my-stuff.core/-main)
Hello, World!
user=> (require '[clj-http.client :as http])
user=> (def response (http/get ""))
user=> (keys response)
(:trace-redirects :status :headers :body)

The call to -main shows both println output ("Hello, World!") and the return value (nil) together.

Built-in documentation is available via doc, while clojuredocs offers more thorough examples from the ClojureDocs site:

user=> (doc reduce)
([f coll] [f val coll])
  f should be a function of 2 arguments. If val is not supplied,
  returns the result of applying f to the first 2 items in coll, then
  applying f to that result and the 3rd item, etc. If coll contains no
  items, f must accept no arguments as well, and reduce returns the
  result of calling f with no arguments.  If coll has only 1 item, it
  is returned and f is not called.  If val is supplied, returns the
  result of applying f to val and the first item in coll, then
  applying f to that result and the 2nd item, etc. If coll contains no
  items, returns val and f is not called.

user=> (user/clojuredocs pprint)
Loading clojuredocs-client...
========== vvv Examples ================
  user=> (def *map* (zipmap
                      [:a :b :c :d :e]
                        (zipmap [:a :b :c :d :e]
                          (take 5 (range))))))
  user=> *map*
  {:e {:e 4, :d 3, :c 2, :b 1, :a 0}, :d {:e 4, :d 3, :c 2, :b 1, [...]}}

  user=> (clojure.pprint/pprint *map*)
  {:e {:e 4, :d 3, :c 2, :b 1, :a 0},
   :d {:e 4, :d 3, :c 2, :b 1, :a 0},
   :c {:e 4, :d 3, :c 2, :b 1, :a 0},
   :b {:e 4, :d 3, :c 2, :b 1, :a 0},
   :a {:e 4, :d 3, :c 2, :b 1, :a 0}}
========== ^^^ Examples ================
1 example found for clojure.pprint/pprint

You can even examine the source of functions:

user=> (source my-stuff.core/-main)
(defn -main
  "I don't do a whole lot."
  [& args]
  (println "Hello, World!"))

user=> ; use control+d to exit

If you already have code in a -main function ready to go and don't need to enter code interactively, the run task is simpler:

$ lein run
Hello, World!

Providing a -m argument will tell Leiningen to look for the -main function in another namespace. Setting a default :main in project.clj lets you omit -m.

For long-running lein run processes, you may wish to save memory with the higher-order trampoline task, which allows the Leiningen JVM process to exit before launching your project's JVM.

$ lein trampoline run -m my-stuff.server 5000


We haven't written any tests yet, but we can run the failing tests included from the project template:

$ lein test

lein test my.test.stuff

FAIL in (a-test) (stuff.clj:7)
FIXME, I fail.
expected: (= 0 1)
  actual: (not (= 0 1))

Ran 1 tests containing 1 assertions.
1 failures, 0 errors.

Once we fill it in the test suite will become more useful. Sometimes if you've got a large test suite you'll want to run just one or two namespaces at a time; lein test my.test.stuff will do that. You also might want to break up your tests using test selectors; see lein help test for more details.

Running lein test from the command-line is suitable for regression testing, but the slow startup time of the JVM makes it a poor fit for testing styles that require tighter feedback loops. In these cases, either keep a repl open for running the appropriate call to clojure.test/run-tests or look into editor integration such as clojure-test-mode.

Keep in mind that while keeping a running process around is convenient, it's easy for that process to get into a state that doesn't reflect the files on disk—functions that are loaded and then deleted from the file will remain in memory, making it easy to miss problems arising from missing functions (often referred to as "getting slimed"). Because of this it's advised to do a lein test run with a fresh instance periodically in any case, perhaps before you commit.

What to do with it

Generally speaking, there are three different goals that are typical of Leiningen projects:

  • An application you can distribute to end-users
  • A server-side application
  • A library for other Clojure projects to consume

For the first, you typically build an uberjar. For libraries, you will want to have them published to a repository like Clojars or a private repository. For server-side applications it varies as described below. Generating a project with lein new app myapp will start you out with a few extra defaults suitable for non-library projects, or you can browse the available templates on Clojars for things like specific web technologies or other project types.


The simplest thing to do is to distribute an uberjar. This is a single standalone executable jar file most suitable for giving to nontechnical users. For this to work you'll need to specify a namespace as your :main in project.clj and ensure it's also AOT compiled by adding it to :aot. By this point our project.clj file should look like this:

(defproject my-stuff "0.1.0-SNAPSHOT"
  :description "FIXME: write description"
  :url ""
  :license {:name "Eclipse Public License"
            :url ""}
  :dependencies [[org.clojure/clojure "1.3.0"]
                 [org.apache.lucene/lucene-core "3.0.2"]
                 [clj-http "0.4.1"]]
  :profiles {:dev {:dependencies [[ring/ring-devel "1.2.0"]]}}
  :test-selectors {:default (complement :integration)
                  :integration :integration
                  :all (fn [_] true)}
  :main my.stuff
  :aot [my.stuff])

The namespace you specify will need to contain a -main function that will get called when your standalone jar is run. This namespace should have a (:gen-class) declaration in the ns form at the top. The -main function will get passed the command-line arguments. Let's try something simple in src/my/stuff.clj:

(ns my.stuff

(defn -main [& args]
  (println "Welcome to my project! These are your args:" args))

Now we're ready to generate your uberjar:

$ lein uberjar
Compiling my.stuff
Compilation succeeded.
Created /home/phil/src/leiningen/my-stuff/target/my-stuff-0.1.0-SNAPSHOT.jar
Including my-stuff-0.1.0-SNAPSHOT.jar
Including clj-http-0.4.1.jar
Including clojure-1.3.0.jar
Including lucene-core-3.0.2.jar
Created /home/phil/src/leiningen/my-stuff/target/my-stuff-0.1.0-SNAPSHOT-standalone.jar

This creates a single jar file that contains the contents of all your dependencies. Users can run it with a simple java invocation, or on some systems just by double-clicking the jar file.

$ java -jar my-stuff-0.1.0-standalone.jar Hello world.
Welcome to my project! These are your args: (Hello world.)

You can run a regular (non-uber) jar with the java command-line tool, but that requires constructing the classpath yourself, so it's not a good solution for end-users.

Of course if your users already have Leiningen installed, you can instruct them to use lein run as described above.

Framework (Uber)jars

Many Java frameworks expect deployment of a jar file or derived archive sub-format containing a subset of the application's necessary dependencies. The framework expects to provide the missing dependencies itself at run-time. Dependencies which are provided by a framework in this fashion may be specified in the :provided profile. Such dependencies will be available during compilation, testing, etc., but won't be included by default by the uberjar task or plugin tasks intended to produce stable deployment artifacts.

For example, Hadoop job jars may be just regular (uber)jar files containing all dependencies except the Hadoop libraries themselves:

(project example.hadoop "0.1.0"
  :profiles {:provided
              [[org.apache.hadoop/hadoop-core "0.20.2-dev"]]}}
  :main example.hadoop)
$ lein uberjar
Compiling example.hadoop
Created /home/xmpl/src/example.hadoop/example.hadoop-0.1.0.jar
Including example.hadoop-0.1.0.jar
Including clojure-1.4.0.jar
Created /home/xmpl/src/example.hadoop/example.hadoop-0.1.0-standalone.jar
$ hadoop jar example.hadoop-0.1.0-standalone.jar
12/08/24 08:28:30 INFO util.Util: resolving application jar from found main method on: example.hadoop
12/08/24 08:28:30 INFO flow.MultiMapReducePlanner: using application jar: /home/xmpl/src/example.hadoop/./example.hadoop-0.1.0-standalone.jar

Plugins are required to generate framework deployment jar derivatives (such as WAR files) which include additional metadata, but the :provided profile provides a general mechanism for handling the framework dependencies.

Server-side Projects

There are many ways to get your project deployed as a server-side application. Aside from the obvious uberjar approach, simple programs can be packaged up as tarballs with accompanied shell scripts using the lein-tar plugin and then deployed using pallet, chef, or other mechanisms. Web applications may be deployed as uberjars using embedded Jetty with ring-jetty-adapter or as .war (web application archive) files created by the lein-ring plugin. For things beyond uberjars, server-side deployments are so varied that they are better-handled using plugins rather than tasks that are built-in to Leiningen itself.

If you do end up involving Leiningen in production via something like lein trampoline run, it's very important to ensure you take steps to freeze all the dependencies before deploying, otherwise it could be easy to end up with unrepeatable deployments. Consider including ~/.m2/repository in your unit of deployment along with your project code. It's recommended to use Leiningen to create a deployable artifact in a continuous integration setting. For example, you could have a Jenkins CI server run your project's full test suite, and if it passes, upload a tarball to S3. Then deployment is just a matter of pulling down and extracting the known-good tarball on your production servers.

Also remember that the user, dev, and default profiles are included by default, which is not suitable for production. Using lein trampoline with-profile production run -m myapp.main is recommended. By default the production profile is empty, but if your deployment includes the ~/.m2/repository directory from the CI run that generated the tarball, then you should add its path as :local-repo along with :offline? true to the :production profile. Staying offline prevents the deployed project from diverging at all from the version that was tested in the CI environment.

Publishing Libraries

If your project is a library and you would like others to be able to use it as a dependency in their projects, you will need to get it into a public repository. While it's possible to maintain your own private repository or get it into Central, the easiest way is to publish it at Clojars. Once you have created an account there, publishing is easy:

$ lein deploy clojars
Created ~/src/my-stuff/target/my-stuff-0.1.0-SNAPSHOT.jar
Wrote ~/src/my-stuff/pom.xml
No credentials found for clojars
See `lein help deploying` for how to configure credentials.
Username: me
Retrieving my-stuff/my-stuff/0.1.0-SNAPSHOT/maven-metadata.xml (1k)
Sending my-stuff/my-stuff/0.1.0-SNAPSHOT/my-stuff-0.1.0-20120531.032047-14.jar (5k)
Sending my-stuff/my-stuff/0.1.0-SNAPSHOT/my-stuff-0.1.0-20120531.032047-14.pom (3k)
Retrieving my-stuff/my-stuff/maven-metadata.xml (1k)
Sending my-stuff/my-stuff/0.1.0-SNAPSHOT/maven-metadata.xml (1k)
Sending my-stuff/my-stuff/maven-metadata.xml (1k)

Once that succeeds it will be available as a package on which other projects may depend. For instructions on storing your credentials so they don't have to be re-entered every time, see lein help deploying. When deploying a release that's not a snapshot, Leiningen will attempt to sign it using GPG to prove your authorship of the release. See the deploy guide. for details of how to set that up. The deploy guide includes instructions for deploying to other repositories as well.

That's It!

Now go start coding your next project!

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