Skip to content

Literate Programmingλ︎

Literate programming is a document written in a natural language, interspersed with snippets of code that can be executed and results visualised as text or graphics. It is an interactive document that can update sections of itself from the code that runs inside.

In Spacemacs and Clojure development, it means you could write a document explaining your project or library and include code that can execute and give results in the document itself.

To encourage contributors to open source project or on-boarding a developer onto a team, a literate programming document that explains how all the important aspects work, including real code examples that they can experiment with, would remove barriers in becoming familiar with a project.

Literate programming with Spacemacsλ︎

Emacs has Org-mode with can do amazing things with documents, simply open a file with a .org filename extension.

Org-mode includes Babel, which can take code and run it in an Emacs buffer of the correct major-mode for the programming language and automatically return the result back to the org-mode file.

Configure Literate Programming with Clojureλ︎

Add org and clojure layers in Spacemacs configuration file

Create a Clojure projectλ︎

Literate programming can be used with any working Clojure project, using either a deps.edn configuration or a Leiningen project.clj file.

Create a project using either Clojure CLI tools or Leiningen. Dependencies, apart from Clojure, itself are not required.

clojure -T:project/new :template app :name practicalli/literate
lein new app literate

Simple example project

Clone practicalli/literate-programming-in-clojure project for a simple example project that works.

Run a Clojure REPLλ︎

Open the deps.edn, project.clj, or any source code file from the project.

, m s and select cider-jack-in-clj to start a REPL.

Create an org file with Clojure code blocksλ︎

Create an org file, eg. in the root of the Clojure project.

Write the text of the document and use , b d to add a code block, selecting clojure as the language.

Add :results value after clojure in the code block BEGIN line.

In the code block write your clojure code, e.g. (+ 1 2 3)

Ctrl+C+Ctrl+c to evaluate the code block at the cursor point. The result is pasted underneath the code block.

Clojure Literate programming examplesλ︎

Starting with a very basic Clojure expression to test evaluation is working correctly. Using :results silent will not add the result to the .org file.

#+begin_src clojure :results silent
  (+ 1 4)

Ctrl+C+Ctrl+c with the cursor placed in the code block

This should evaluate the Clojure form and echo the results: "5" in the mini-buffer.

Now insert the results into the org buffer immediately after the Clojure code block

#+begin_src clojure :results value
  [ 1 2 3 4]

Ctrl+C+Ctrl+c with the cursor placed in the code block

The following results block will be inserted immediately following the code block

[ 1 2 3 4]

Multiple expressions can be defined. First define a Clojure data structure (hash-map) and then use a keyword as a function to retrieve a specific value from the hash-map.

#+begin_src clojure :results value
  (def small-map {:a 2 :b 4 :c 8})
  (:b small-map)

: 4

Make a Graph of the results

Using the Clojure Incanter library to create a line plot graph using the Incanter xy-plot function.

The Incanter library should first be added to the Clojure project as a dependency.

Add Incanter to the :deps key of the deps.edn file

{:paths ["src" "resources"]
 :deps {org.clojure/clojure {:mvn/version "1.10.3"}
        incanter/incanter   {:mvn/version "1.9.3"}}}

Add Incanter to the :dependencies key of the project.clj file

(defproject clojure-literate-programming "0.1.0"
  :description "Literate Programming with Incanter"
  :license {:name "Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International"
            :url ""}
  :dependencies [[org.clojure/clojure "1.10.3"]
                 [incanter "1.9.3"]])

Use the Incanter library to create an x-y line plot. The view function displays the line plot. The plot is also saved to both PDF and PNG format image files.

#+begin_src clojure
  (use '(incanter core charts pdf))
  ;;; Create the x and y data:
  (def x-data [0.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0])
  (def y-data [2.3 9.0 2.6 3.1 8.1 4.5])
  (def xy-line (xy-plot x-data y-data))
  (view xy-line)
  (save-pdf xy-line "incanter-xy-line.pdf")
  (save xy-line "incanter-xy-line.png")

Insert the image into the exported PDF document:

#+CAPTION: A basic x-y line plot
#+NAME: fig:xy-line

Files are saved to the root of the Clojure project.

Export to LaTeX or HTMLλ︎

Ctrl+C+Ctrl+e l l to export to LaTeX.

Ctrl+C+Ctrl+e h h to export to HTML.

The exported HTML code will hyperlink the PDF file. To embed the image in the HTML, switch to the PNG image file.

The exported LaTeX (.tex) file will embed either the PDF or PNG file. Graphical quality will be superior with the PDF file.

Session Evaluationλ︎

Use the :session option to run all Clojure code in the same REPL process

Without :session each individual code block will execute by starting a Clojure REPL process. Due to the start-up time of a Java virtual machine, this can make execution of many blocks slow.

Sessions changed in Org 9

The :session option may not be required in Org version 9. Testing is required.

Specify a namespaceλ︎

Each code block will execute in the default user namespace, unless changed via CIDER nREPL connection.

A namespace can be specified in a code block using the Clojure ns function.

#+begin_src clojure :results pp
(ns practicalli.greet)
(def hello "Hello Practicalli, this is the greet namespace")

: #'practically.greet/hello

Following code blocks in the .org file will continue to use the specified namespace.

#+begin_src clojure :results value :ns kk2

: #'practicalli.greet/hello


Incanter examples