The Solo Hacker's Guide To Clojure

4 February 2020

This is the starting point for a series of articles I'm currently writing. My target audience is people who want to use Clojure for side projects or new startups—i.e. I'm trying to help fellow solo hackers learn to bring new ideas to the MVP stage quickly. This involves different tradeoffs from learning Clojure with the intent to join an established team.


This will also be an opinionated guide which teaches how I personally do web development. Rather than give an overview of X, Y and Z, I'll say "use X" and include a footnote that compares X to other options. I want you to feel the leverage that can come from Clojure as soon as possible, without having to wade through the jungle first.

This guide is breadth-first. There are many components in the Clojure ecosystem, and my goal is to show you how to put them together, not necessarily to teach you how the individual components work (there's usually already good documentation for that). I'll sometimes give links to relevant resources, but I'd also advise you to search out other resources on your own as you have questions. At least you'll have an idea of which questions to ask. :slightly_smiling_face:

Along with this guide, I'll be developing a web application called Mystery Cows, a cow-themed version of the board game Clue. Most articles will have you follow this pattern:

  • Checkout a particular branch from the Mystery Cows repository. Run the code so you can see what the end result will look like.

  • Study and tinker with the code. Learn how it works on your own if you can.

  • With guidance from the article, add features to your own project that involve the things being taught.

(In fact, I'm hoping that the example code I write is more useful than the articles themselves.)

So you'll need to pick a web app to build yourself. If you need ideas, I think board games are great since they're easy to think of, they're interesting/they involve complex logic (not just CRUD), it's easy to be a genuine user yourself, you end up with something that's easy to show off, and you can go on to extend them with an AI if you like.


As I write, I'll need feedback from people learning Clojure so I can prioritize what to revise. I also appreciate suggestions from experienced Clojurists. I've created #solo-hackers-guide on Clojurians Slack for this purpose. Email is good too.


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  • 18 Feb 2020: Add Authentication. Revise Landing Pages: edit Bootstrap source directly instead of using Bootstrap Magic.

  • 11 Feb 2020: Add Landing Pages. Revise First Steps, including replacing trident.staticweb with Rum. Add Syllabus, Feedback and Changelog sections to this page. Also s/Crux/Datomic/ in the TODOs.

  • 4 Feb 2020: Add this page.

  • 23 Oct 2019: Add First Steps.

The course

1. Language fundamentals
  • First Steps
  • TODO: write my own "Why Clojure?" article
2. Frontend development

TODO write articles & examples for the following:

  • Set up ClojureScript with Shadow CLJS. Create a basic welcome page with Rum. Add CRUD operations, still using Firestore for persistence.

  • Learn to make complex UIs with Rum, including routing and navigation.

  • Learn about normalization, derived values and effect isolation (i.e. state management) so you don't go insane later (insanity can be harmful to your velocity). Rejoice that you don't have to use a DI framework like I did while working at an Angular shop.

3. Backend development

TODO write articles & examples for the following:

  • Write Firebase Functions using ClojureScript. Learn when it makes sense to use Functions + Firestore and when it makes sense to move to a Clojure backend instead.

  • Set up a Clojure backend with DigitalOcean and Datomic. Probably Terraform as well, plus Nginx and Letsencrypt. Deploy with rsync (maybe Github Actions?). Set up logging and alerting (optionally, come back to this step later).

  • Set up communication between your frontend and backend. Add Ring middleware for authenticating Firebase tokens. Move your CRUD from Firestore to Datomic, using a rules system so you don't get a proliferation of endpoints. Use Firebase Storage (or maybe DigitalOcean Spaces?) for BLOB storage, with foreign keys stored in Datomic (and utility fns for making it look like everything's in Datomic).

  • Learn about system management with Integrant (or maybe just roll your own).

  • Use your editor-repl integration for testing and administration. Learn my own opinionated approach to testing, meant to give you reasonably high confidence in your code without having to spend much time writing tests.

  • Consume 3rd party APIs, including things like Oauth, caching and self-throttling. Set up cron jobs. Provide a pagination API for your frontend. Any other stuff I can think of that might be useful.

4. Miscellanea

TODO write articles & examples for the following:

  • "Library-driven development." Set up your own collection of utility libraries so you can easily abstract away code that isn't specific to your project. Besides letting you share code between projects and with other people, I think doing so makes it easier to hold the application code in your head.

  • Tooling. Set up an editor (probably Atom or VS Code, with a mention of Cursive) with plugins etc. Learn how to use it for Clojure development. Learn about tools.deps, Lein and Boot. (I'll include links to relevant sections in this article throughout the course).

  • Tooling for the enlightened: learn Vim and set it up for Clojure. For the really enlightened: use Dvorak instead of Qwerty (ok, just kidding, sorta).

  • Mobile app primer: create a basic app with CLJS + React Native.

There's more where that came from if you follow me on Findka.