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Understanding Clojure errorsλ︎

When a run time error occurs in Clojure, a stack trace is generated which includes information from the Clojure code and the underlying Java platform.

A stack trace can seem daunting as it provide so much information. There are common errors that are useful to learn to help quickly understand the root cause.

Clojure editors such as CIDER help navigation and information hiding. Tools like AvisoNovate/pretty reformat stack traces to make them easier to understand.

Structure of a stack traceλ︎

The Clojure compiler will catch an error exception, unwrap, and re-throw exceptions up the call chain from where they originally occur. This provides a history of all the expressions called that lead to the exception.

Exception in thread... should be at the top of the stack trace, followed by the call stack in descending chronological time

Understanding Exceptionλ︎

An exception should provide a general context for the error and the assumed path to the error.

  • IllegalArgumentException
  • ClassCastException
  • ArityException
  • ClassNotFound

Example Exceptions include:

  • Don't know how to create ISeq from: clojure.lang.Keyword - a keyword was used when a sequence (list, vector) was expected
  • Don't know how to create IFn from: clojure.lang.Integer - an expression was evaluated that started with a value (specifically an Integer) rather than a symbol that points to a function definition.

Answer is often the first lineλ︎

A stack trace is printed in descending time order, with the most recent call at the top of the stack.

Between the Exception and the top of the call stack, most errors are quickly interpreted without the need to read the whole stack trace.

Using the wrong kind of valueλ︎

IllegalArgumentException is generated when using the wrong kind of value, e.g. using a value instead of a function name (symbol)

Evaluating (1 2 3) will try and call 1 as a function as it is first in the list. As 1 is a value (integer) and not a function, so 1 does not implement the function interface, IFn.

De-reference Valuesλ︎

Casting a value to a Future that has not been realised java.util.concurrent.Future

Diagnosing Classpath issuesλ︎

clojure -Spath > project-classpath.txt will write the output the project classpath to the project-classpath.txt file. The command will first download project dependencies that are not currently satisfied

The output is a single line of text, with each path in the class path separated by a colon character, :

SPC f f to open the file in Spacemacs

Separate the classpath output into individual lines with this vim command (: enters the command mode in the Emacs mini-buffer). This makes the file easier to read and run diff comparisons upon.


Diff - compare differences between files

SPC D f f and selecting two files will open ediff and show a comparison. Navigate the changes using j and k. a to copy a change from the left buffer to the right buffer, b to copy right to left.

Reading and understanding Clojure errorsλ︎

Define a function that explicitly throws an exception using the throw function

(defn explicit-exception [value]
  (throw (ex-info (str "Invalid value: " value)
                  {:value value})))

(explicit-exception "kaboom")
Execution error (ExceptionInfo) at user/explicit-exception (REPL:2).
Invalid value: kaboom

Deconstructing the error message

  • Execution error: - in which Clojure phase the error occurred
  • ExceptionInfo: - name of the class of the exception. ex-info internally creates an instance of clojure.lang.ExceptionInfo
  • user/explicit-exception - name of the function where exception was thrown
  • REPL:2 - path and line of the file where exception was thrown. REPL means there is no file, the definition was created at the REPL prompt, on line 2
  • Invalid value: kaboom: - error message thrown (the message passed to ex-info in this example)

Generate an exception by calling the function with the incorrect number of arguments


Execution error (ArityException) at user/eval137 (REPL:1).
Wrong number of args (0) passed to: user/explicit-exception

Deconstructing the error message

  • Execution error - the implicit execution error is the same as before
  • ArityException - class of the exception, i.e. clojure.lang.ArityException
  • user/eval137 - every form evaluated in the REPL internally creates a function, generating a name in the form eval1234 and immediately executes the expression.
  • REPL:1 - error path is the first line of the REPL prompt
  • Wrong number of args (0) passed to: user/explicit-exception - message generated from the exception

Use an anonymous function to wrap the call to the expression, to provide an explicit name when evaluated

((fn named-for-context []

Execution error (ArityException) at user/eval139$named-for-context (REPL:2).
Wrong number of args (0) passed to: user/explicit-exception

The error message function now includes a specific name making the error message more useful as it is more obvious in the code as to where the error occurred.

View the stack traceλ︎

*e is a dynamic var that always points to the last error in a running REPL process.

Evaluate *e in the REPL to see the stack trace in detail, as an EDN hash-map

user => e*
#error {
 :cause "Wrong number of args (0) passed to: user/explicit-exception"
 [{:type clojure.lang.ArityException
   :message "Wrong number of args (0) passed to: user/explicit-exception"
   :at [clojure.lang.AFn throwArity "" 429]}]
 [[clojure.lang.AFn throwArity "" 429]
  [clojure.lang.AFn invoke "" 28]
  [user$eval139$named-for-context__140 invoke "NO_SOURCE_FILE" 2]

Adding named-for-context to the execution, anything before this context should not be relevant. Now let's try a harder one:

Stack trace for Lazy functionsλ︎

(map explicit-exception [1])

Error printing return value (ExceptionInfo) at user/explicit-exception (NO_SOURCE_FILE:2).
Invalid value: 1

Error printing return value at the start of the error shows it's not a Execution error anymore. The code was executed and returned a value.

clojure.core/map returns a lazy-seq and when the printer tries to print the result an exception is thrown.

Use the *e dynamic var to see the full stack trace

#error {
 :cause "Invalid value: 1"
 :data {:x 1}
 [{:type clojure.lang.ExceptionInfo
   :message nil
   :data #:clojure.error{:phase :print-eval-result}
   :at [clojure.main$repl$read_eval_print__9112 invoke "main.clj" 442]}
  {:type clojure.lang.ExceptionInfo
   :message "Invalid value: 1"
   :data {:value 1}
   :at [user$explicit_exception invokeStatic "NO_SOURCE_FILE" 2]}]
 [[user$explicit_exception invokeStatic "NO_SOURCE_FILE" 2]
  [user$explicit_exception invoke "NO_SOURCE_FILE" 1]              ;; 6
  [clojure.core$map$fn__5885 invoke "core.clj" 2757]               ;; 5
  [clojure.lang.LazySeq sval "" 42]
  [clojure.lang.LazySeq seq "" 51]                     ;; 4
  [clojure.lang.RT seq "" 535]
  [clojure.core$seq__5420 invokeStatic "core.clj" 139]
  [clojure.core$print_sequential invokeStatic "core_print.clj" 53]
  [clojure.core$fn__7331 invokeStatic "core_print.clj" 174]
  [clojure.core$fn__7331 invoke "core_print.clj" 174]
  [clojure.lang.MultiFn invoke "" 234]                 ;; 3
  [clojure.core$pr_on invokeStatic "core.clj" 3662]
  [clojure.core$pr invokeStatic "core.clj" 3665]
  [clojure.core$pr invoke "core.clj" 3665]
  [clojure.lang.AFn applyToHelper "" 154]
  [clojure.lang.RestFn applyTo "" 132]
  [clojure.core$apply invokeStatic "core.clj" 667]
  [clojure.core$prn invokeStatic "core.clj" 3702]
  [clojure.core$prn doInvoke "core.clj" 3702]                      ;; 2
  [clojure.lang.RestFn invoke "" 408]
  [clojure.main$repl$read_eval_print__9112 invoke "main.clj" 442]  ;; 1
  [clojure.main$repl$fn__9121 invoke "main.clj" 458]
  [clojure.main$repl invokeStatic "main.clj" 458]
  [clojure.main$repl_opt invokeStatic "main.clj" 522]
  [clojure.main$main invokeStatic "main.clj" 667]
  [clojure.main$main doInvoke "main.clj" 616]
  [clojure.lang.RestFn invoke "" 397]
  [clojure.lang.AFn applyToHelper "" 152]
  [clojure.lang.RestFn applyTo "" 132]
  [clojure.lang.Var applyTo "" 705]
  [clojure.main main "" 40]]}

Deconstructing the stack trace

  1. Where clojure.main REPL starts the print parse
  2. clojure.main uses clojure.core/prn
  3. clojure.core/prn uses clojure.core/print-method. Note: a multimethod adds complexity to stacktraces
  4. print method invoked the method to evaluare the lazy sequence
  5. the lazy sequence was created inside a call to clojure.core/map
  6. The lazy sequence is called by explicit-exception

clojure.core/munge is the function that converts namespaces with hyphens, i.e. explicit-exception into the name used on the Java class path, i.e. explicit_exception

clojure.repl/pst to get a nice looking stacktrace print


Clojure Error message catalogue contains example errors gathered by the Clojure community.

Implementing interfaces

Name Interface Example
IFn Function anonymous function or symbol that points to a function definition
ISeq Sequence list, result from sequence function e.g. map, filter, etc.
IPersistentCollection Persistent Collection list, vector, hash-map or set
Error Description
Don't know how to create ISeq from: Expecting a sequence (list, vector) rather than the value
Don't know how to create IFn from: Expecting a symbol name that points to a function definition