May 7, 2023

Docker Compose for Clojure Development

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Docker Compose provides a declarative configuration for orchestrating services locally, providing a simple way to spin up services to try them out or orchestrate a whole system from numerous dependent services.

Compose can build images for Clojure projects and conditionally run based on the health check of other supporting services, e.g. Postgres Database.

Now that Compose is part of docker, more features such as build on change are being added.

Practicalli Engineering Playbook covers Docker Compose in more detail

Compose is part of Docker

Compose is now integrated into Docker which simplifies the configuration a little, although existing configuration and commands should still work for a time.

compose.yaml is the new configuration file for Docker Compose, replacing docker-compose.yaml.

The docker-compose version number is no longer required at the top of the configuration file, as docker is using the built-in version of Compose. Otherwise the syntax is the same, although new features like watch under x-develp will be added to the new Compose specification.

docker compose is the new command to use compose, replacing the docker-compose command (which should still work for a time).

To start a service using the compose.yaml configuration

docker compose up

Shutdown the services with

docker compose down

Build Clojure Service

The simplest approach to building a service is to include a build: configuration specifying the location of a multi-stage Dockerfile, which has a builder stage to create an uberjar that is run in the run-time image.

The build: option for the Clojure service with the path to the multi-stage Dockerfile for the project (typically in the same root directory of the project, although a remote Git repository can also be used)

# --- Docker Compose Configuration --- #
# - Docker Compose V2
# -
# Build the Clojure Service from source code
# and run on port 8080

name: "practicalli"
  # --- Clojure Service --- #
    platform: linux/amd64
    # Build using Dockerfile - relative path or Git repository
      context: ./ # Use Dockerfile in project root
    ports: # host:container
      - 8080:8080
  • name: (optional) is used to set the container prefix of the service name, via the environment: variable COMPOSE_PROJECT_NAME, helping to identify the container by name when running. The above container would be practicalli-gameboard-service. This option is more valuable as the number of services grows
  • services: contains one or more service definitions with a unique name, e.g. gameboard-service
  • gameboard-service: is a unique name for a service configuration
  • platform: defines the operating system and hardware architecture that should be used for the service
  • build: context: defines the location of the Dockerfile to use, either a local file or a Git repository URL
  • ports: defines the host:container mapping for the service port. 8080:8000 value would map the service running within the container on 8000 to the host (e.g. engineers' computer) on port 8080.

Docker Compose build process - Clojure project with

Use a multi-stage Dockerfile to provide greater opportunity to create image overlays for the build stage which can be cached, e.g. downloading project dependencies, speeding up the build process on consecutive runs.

Compose services

Add more unique service configurations under services:, e.g. postgres-database. All the services that support the local testing and integration of the Clojure project can be added to the compose.yaml file (database, cache, mock APIs, coupled services, etc.).

The Clojure service defines a dependency on a Postgres Database. The dependency has a condition so the Clojure service is only started once the Postgres service is healthy

    platform: linux/amd64
    build: ./
    ports: # host:container
      - 8080:8080
        condition: service_healthy

    image: postgres:15.2-alpine
      test: [ "CMD", "pg_isready" ]
      timeout: 45s
      interval: 10s
      retries: 10
      - 5432:5432
  • depends_on: include one or more services that the service depends on, optionally adding a start condition:
  • depends_on: <service-name> condition: a condition that should be true in order for the service image to start, typically checking service_healthy of another service in the configuration
  • heathcheck: define a command and options to determine if the specific service running is healthy, with the test: command specific to the type of service.

Build and run the services using the --build flag with docker compose

docker compose up --build

The Clojure project is built in parallel with running the Postgres database.

On the initial run the Clojure project may take longer to run that starting the Postgres database, in which case the Clojure uberjar will run straight away.

On consecutive runs, at least part of the Clojure build process should be cached and images for all the services will have been downloaded and cached. The Clojure uberjar may wait for the Postgres database to start up.

Each service can define a health check that can be used as a conditional startup trigger and ensure all services start in a meaningful order.

Docker Compose startup - Clojure build and Postgres database - attache to database

Build on Change

Docker provides watch as an experimental feature which can rebuild the Clojure service when a file change is detected.

The watch approach seems most useful for Clojure projects when troubleshooting issues that occur during system integration testing.

When additional tools need to run outside of Clojure code, e.g. SaSS build, data loading / ETL, then watch can compliment the Clojure REPL workflow by providing incremental change management for non-clojur aspects of the project.

Add an x-develop configuration with watch under the Clojure service configuration. Define the action for each path to create a simple but comprehensive way to update the service

    platform: linux/amd64
    build: ./
    ports: # host:container
      - 8080:8080
        condition: service_healthy
        - path: ./deps.edn
          action: rebuild
        - path: ./src
          action: rebuild

Start the services and the file watch mode

docker compose up --detach && docker compose alpha watch

Save changes to files and a new image for the Clojure service will be built and deployed when ready.

Having an optimised build process in the Dockerfile or compose.yaml configuration is especially important to make build on change fast and therefore effective to use.


With Compose integrated to Docker the configuration is simplified and provides a consistent point to evolve the compose specification.

Composing services provides a simple way of trying out different tools and services in concert with Clojure projects or by themselves.

Practicalli Engineering Playbook covers Docker Compose in more detail

Thank you

practicalli GitHub profile I @practical_li

Tags: docker