The History of Chlorine

Before I even started with Clojure, I was analyzing LightTable – the idea of that editor was to support better integrations between the code you’re writing and the code that’s running. It was a really good experience, but the main problem I had is that it was in the very beginning, with few plug-ins and bad documentation. I tried to make the parinfer plug-in work in the editor, but it had lots of bugs and then I simply changed back to Atom. At the time, proto-repl was the best package to work with Clojure, and I made some small changes to it (so I could add some callbacks to when a new connection to nREPL was made, and other small issues) to improve my workflow.

Fast forwarding a little bit, I started my first Clojure job at Nubank. Most people were using InteliJ, but I felt that by using Atom I had a different approach on problem solving, specially those hard parts where the fast feedback of “run in the REPL and see the results in your editor, then browse over the keys” could give better insights about what’s happening. I tried to implement some features that proto-repl didn’t have at the time (and Chlorine still does not have some) like “automatically add nREPL port”, and “watch expressions” (almost the same as watch variables in a debugger). These ended up in a package called clojure-plus, that still exist today.

I also began to experiment with ClojureScript (at the time, only Figwheel was available – Figwheel-main didn’t even exist!) and found that existing tools didn’t provide the same power that I had with Clojure. It also didn’t have autocomplete, goto var definition, and so on. To ease a little bit these problems, I ended up adding on clojure-plus some CLJS support – when you tried to evaluate a .cljs file, it would try to connect to ClojureScript, reserve a REPL, then evaluate the code over there.
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nREPL on… Chlorine?

When I started the Chlorine project, I just thought it would be great if I could target all Clojure-like REPLs that already exist but didn’t have tooling support. At the time, this would include Lumo and Plank, mostly. Also, Shadow-CLJS and Figwheel have some “clunky run-some-code-and-transform-in-cljs” way of working that simply didn’t click with me.

Now, almost a year later, Chlorine supports Clojure, ClojureScript (Shadow-CLJS, Lumo, Plank, or even over clj), ClojureCLR, Arcadia, Babashka, Clojerl (Clojure on Erlang) and Joker (Clojure on Go, also a linter). But the reality is that working with a pure Socket REPL is really hard – a socket REPL works exactly like a regular one, printing namespaces after each code, and so on. Also, there are some strange decisions on some REPLs, mostly likely ClojureScript (that is the second most used Clojure flavor), so things are not always easy. To put things in perspective, currently Chlorine uses 3 ways to evaluate code: It uses unrepl, that only works on Clojure, or uses internal APIs of shadow-cljs (that obviously only works for shadow-cljs), and for other implementations it uses a kind of a hack – it evaluates the code, inside a trycatch, and it returns a vector where the first element is a symbol in a specific format that Chlorine will understand and then link that with the response. This “hacky way” is currently being used for every other implementation except Clojure and Shadow-CLJS. Things work (autocomplete works too), but it is not pretty and sometimes have strange results.

As a matter of fact, I was already thinking about removing UNREPL (it’s really hard to implement new features on it, and some good ideas only work in theory – for example, the ability to evaluate long strings / collections and render only a part at a time aren’t that good with lots of edge-cases) and, to do it, I though about a better, non-hacky way to evaluate things on some Socket-REPLs (that, again, would only work on some REPLs – ClojureScript REPLs will probably never support “upgradable REPLs” because of the way they work) – the only thing that I had to understand is how to implement this “upgraded REPL”…

Then, recently, Babashka added an initial support for nREPL, with an insane low amount of lines. So, I’ve tried to implement a way to evaluate code over nREPL… and it was really simple to do it, using a npm library that already did it. But implementing like this meant that the user would need to know if the host/port to connect is a Socket REPL, or a nREPL (and the user does not know – lots of tools like lein and shadow-cljs show an nREPL port to be connected).
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My Atom editor configuration for working with Clojure/Script, revisited

Sometime ago, I did a post on how I work with Atom to develop Clojure and ClojureScript projects. It is in Portuguese, so I’m gonna re-visit the subject and also update with my current workflow.

There are two packages that I have to install to work with Clojure: lisp-paredit and chlorine. Without lisp-paredit, when I start a newline, the indentation gets all sorts of problematic. I use it on “strict mode” and use the tools to slurp/barf forward only. As for chlorine, it is needed to have autocomplete, evaluation, show documentation, goto var definition and so on. Last, I use also parinfer so I can remove whole lines of text and parinfer will infer the correct closing of parenthesis for me (most of the time at least).

Now, how exactly do I work with Clojure? When you use lein or boot, you’ll get a nREPL port. This is not the port you use with Chlorine, so I need a bit more of work. I can’t just start a REPL with lein repl or clj, I need to inform the tool to open a socket-repl server. The JVM option needed is: '-Dclojure.server.myrepl={:port,5555,:accept,clojure.core.server/repl}'. So, the commands below are what I use with lein or clj:

JAVA_OPTS='-Dclojure.server.myrepl={:port,5555,:accept,clojure.core.server/repl}' lein repl

or

clj -J'-Dclojure.server.myrepl={:port,5555,:accept,clojure.core.server/repl}'

This will open a REPL at port 5555 (or I can change the port if necessary). Then, it’s time to fire up the Atom’s command palette and select “Connect Clojure Socket REPL”, put 5555 on the port, and connect. Then, I’ll use “Refresh Namespaces” or “Load file” command to load my latest version of code into the REPL, and start working.
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Complex testing – the saga

While I’m developing Chlorine, sometimes I need to test multiple specific implementations of lots of really complicated stuff like REPL state, connection, async stuff (as the project is ClojureScript on Node.JS, all I/O treatment is via callbacks) and the complicated nature of rendering multiple different object types on Atom editor. I had multiple regression errors, then I’ve created some “acceptance” tests (these open up a real Atom editor and evaluate commands on it). The problem with these tests should be obvious: they are slow, and I mean REALLY SLOW, and they need a real Atom editor, lots of setups, and because Atom is not really predictable on its actions (sometimes you connect REPL and it changes the focus on the editor) there are lots of unnecessary interactions on the editor just to have less false-negatives.

Now, as I told before, I’m developing Chlorine together with REPL-Tooling, a library that should contain all tooling for any editor capable of running Javascript to run a port or Chlorine. There’s still too much on Chlorine that relies on internal Atom APIs (for example, detection of the beginning and end of forms is one, detection of namespace’s forms is other) but time is passing and more and more is being moved to REPL-Tooling, and as soon as the detection of forms is on REPL-Tooling (and is stable) there should be possible to port most Clojure parts to REPL-Tooling, and then I can think on how to refactor the ClojureScript part, test it, and then Chlorine will be a very easy project to port. Also, as a proof-of-concept there’s Clematis for NeoVIM (it’s still on the very beginning and nothing much happened after I wrote about it here), and also an “electron fake editor” that I’m using as test.

Wait, What?
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Chlorine, Clematis, REPL Tooling

Recently I began to migrate some of the code on Chlorine to REPL Tooling, so things may become more testable. I already found multiple bugs in this approach and began an integration test methodology using Electron (I say that there are three kinds of developers in the field of automated tests – the ones that don’t test, the ones that do, and test freaks. I’m probably the later).

In the beginning, the idea would be to rewrite the renderer of results and exceptions so that I could fix lots of bugs that they have. So far, it’s progressing slowly, but I already can render datomic results in a meaningful way (the last renderer was interpreting as Java objects, which they indeed are) and fix some bugs with tags and other issues.

Now, one of the things that I wanted in the new renderer is the ability to copy/paste results in a meaningful way – as I’m using UNREPL, there are lots of tags that need to be reinterpreted, like #unrepl/browseable for datafy. These need to be “translated” to something useful for rendering on screen, with links to navigate inner details, but for copy-paste they should have a textual representation that makes sense (probably the hard part).

The results of all these experiments are quite interesting – when you evaluate something and th result is a Java object, there’s a link ... that can be used to navigate inside the object: it’ll show getters, the current class, methods that the object supports, so things like “goto definition for Java object” or “Javadocs” aren’t really necessary.

Then, one of my friends asked for a Vim option. Just for fun, I started Clematis, a port of Chlorine to NeoVim. And it seems they things are progressing faster than I thought!
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Chlorine is thriving!

When I started this project, I was experimenting with shadow-cljs to see if I would be able to make an Atom package that would auto reload, run tests on ClojureScript, and se how far could I push ClojureScript in an Atom package.

Now, some months later, I’m seeing the package being used by a bunch of people, and I even discovered some bugs in UNREPL! Now, on this post, I’ll discuss a little bit more in detail the design decisions and my vision on the future of the project.

Chlorine is a clojure and ClojureScript atom package. It connects to a socket repl (opened via lein, boot, clj, shadow-cljs, lumo, or even REBL) and then upgrades the repl to be programmatically oriented with unrepl. Unrepl only works on Clojure, so for ClojureScript we use other techniques. Also, socket repl is a stream protocol, so to emulate a “request-response”, we need to coordinate things so Atom (and other editors) can react to commands and know exactly what’s the correct response for each command sent.

Design decisions

The choice for UNREPL was mostly because there is almost no documentation about prepl so far. Also, Socket REPL is literally everywhere: on Clojure , on ClojureCLR, on Lumo and Plank. Also, I wanted a better way to use ClojureScript, and I still have nightmares trying to use it over nREPL… and with Socket REPL things work fine.

Also, when I started the project Clojure 1.10 was just alpha software, and UNREPL offers us insanely good support for lazy lists, big strings, and other things that I wanted to use out of the box. One of the problems I’m still facing is coordination of evaluate/response, but this will probably be solved after a bunch of other fixes I’ll try.
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My fading frustration with ClojureScript

I’ve talked about at another post on how ClojureScript frustrates me, mostly because I was doing some Node.JS work and Figwheel simply wasn’t working correctly. Now, it’s time to revisit these points:

A little update: I talked a little with Thomas Heller, Shadow-CLJS creator, and he pointed me some issues with this article, so I’ll update it acordingly

Tooling

Figwheel and Lein are not the best tools to work with ClojureScript. Since I discovered shadow-cljs, things are working way better than before: I can reload ClojureScript code from any target, and I’m even experimenting with Hubot (and it works really fine too). The only thing I’m missing is my profiles.clj file, but I can live with that (and I can always use Shadow with Lein if I need profiles.clj).

Also, I’m working on a new package for Atom (and in the future, for another editors too) called Chlorine. One of the ideas is to offer better ClojureScript support (we have Autocomplete now!), using Socket REPL for solutions (even self-hosted REPLs like Lumo and Plank) and even wrap UNREPL protocol in Clojure. So far, is still in the very beginning but things are looking promising!

The stack

Forget Figwheel at all: Shadow-CLJS is probably the best tooling for ClojureScript ever. It auto-reloads ClojureScript code for the browser, for node.js, for node modules, and it integrates with almost everything that you want. It controls release optimizations, have sensible defaults, and even have post-compile hooks (so you can hook Clojure code to do something after some compilation phases). Also, it integrates with node-modules (no more maven-wrappers for JS libraries!) and have some warnings when you use some kind of ClojureScript code that would break :advanced compilation. And, let’s not forget that you can control the refresh reload phase, it adds a userful :include-macros in ns form (that will include all macros from the namespace being required), and controls exports in a sane manner. But first let’s begin with the feature that I found most useful: :before-load-async.
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Atom packages with ClojureScript – upgraded

Last time I talked about plug-ins in atom with ClojureScript, I was using Weasel. Since then, I tried figwheel but it never worked as good as I wanted.

Then, I’ve decided to try shadow-cljs. Also, with shadow, we can build a node library instead of a “generic node application”, and this helped a lot in my current tests. So, right now, I’m going to show how I am developing the next version of Clojure Plus plug-in, and what to expect in the future.

Also, I must add that this is so far the best experience ever on creating Atom packages, so I’ll probably stick with ClojureScript for every future package too (I just need a way to make atom’s spec tests work better with ClojureScript – I’m thinking about using a helper library or something).

Preparation

First, you’ll use atom to create a package. It doesn’t matter if you produce a CoffeeScript or Javascript version, because we’ll delete all source files.

On package.json, we’ll modify the entrypoint: on the key "main":..., we’ll write "main": "./lib/main".
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Atom Packages with ClojureScript

One of the best things in Clojure (and ClojureScript) is that you can design your code connected in a live environment – so, your auto-complete abilities reflect exactly what’s running right now. Then, you can evaluate code with real data, to catch bugs or just test things. Then comes Atom, an editor that, in my opinion, is one of the easiest editors to create plugins (packages), using technologies we already know – mostly, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. To program with Clojure, you can use proto-repl – an awesome package that, combined with ink, allows us to run clojure code and display right on the editor, Light Table style.

But then I became greedy and wanted more. I created clojure-plus, a package that extends proto-repl to be able to work with multiple projects, specially when these projects are not configured to be “refresh-friendly” or something. Most of the things I have in clojure-plus are simple helpers that I found missing in proto-repl, at least in the beginning.

But, after that, I began to work professionally with Clojure. And then, most of the projects had some kind of “strangeness”, mostly because everyone was using InteliJ with Cursive – a lot of people I knew didn’t even run the code, with exception of midje tests. So, I changed my package to work around these “strangeness”, and after a while, I saw that I was creating a big mess of code. Then, came ClojureScript support, and things became even more complicated… so, came the idea to port my package to ClojureScript, and after trying several things (Figwheel, Ajom, and other packages) I discovered that they could not solve my problems. The only one that worked, with restrictions, was Weasel, but then with some hacks things worked fine. So, here are the steps to make things work:
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