Vinod Kurup

Hospitalist/programmer in search of the meaning of life

First Steps With Clojure

As mentioned yesterday, I’m teaching myself clojure. I started by trying to install it.

vinod@ike$ aptitude install clojure

Ubuntu has packaged version 1.0.0 of clojure. I always default to the OS-installed version of programs, just for ease of maintenance. The current stable version of clojure is 1.1 and it appears that 1.2 is in beta. I have no idea what has been changed in 1.1 or 1.2, but I’m going to try to get along using 1.0.0 and update only if I need to for a specific reason.

I then read through the tutorial for non-lisp programmers, which succinctly describes the basics of the language.^1 Everything in lisp is either an atom or a list. Atoms include numbers, booleans, strings, symbols, keywords and the nil value. Lists (delimited by parentheses ()) are the basic data structure, but include representations such as vectors (delimited by square brackets []) and maps (delimited by curly brackets {}). Clojure programs are themselves simply lists, which leads to the power of lisp-like languages because code and data are interchangeable.

You use def to create variables and defn to create functions. The language includes loops and conditional statements, just like any other useful language. Only false and nil are false in clojure; zero (0), and the empty string (“”) are true, unlike a lot of languages.

The interesting part is the integration with Java. To instantiate a java object, simply call new:

user=> (new java.util.Date)
#<Date Sun Jul 18 16:20:54 EDT 2010>

To call object methods or get instance/class variables, use the dot “.” method.

user=> (. (new java.util.Date) (toString))
"Sun Jul 18 16:24:09 EDT 2010"

user=> (. Integer MAX_VALUE)

The article contains this interesting quote:

Sequences are in a sense, the core of idiomatic Clojure programming. Understand sequences and the forms that work with them, and you will have cleared one of the biggest hurdles in writing significant Clojure programs.

So, add that to my to-do list. Where to go next? A StackOverflow thread has pointed to me to a few options. I’ll probably read one of these next: