Using Clojure + GraalVM for shell scripting

3 min, 538 words

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Part of a shell script written in Clojure


Objective: develop a shell script to ease the writing of XML files.

Let’s say that the output to be generated is:

     <label id="info" />   
     <text>Now playing</text>   
     <button onTap="mute" />   

I’d like to write it as:

[:grid [:row [:label {:id :info}]   
             [:text "Now playing"]]   
       [:row [:button :onTap "mute"]]]

By the way, this syntax is a subset of EDN and called hiccup, used by frameworks such as re-frame.

This way, in my dotfiles, I can store, versionate and compose my configs as hiccup files and not as XML ones.

This is no simple task for Bash and would feel natural to use Clojure(Script).

Using Clojurescript

Until some months ago, I would write this script using lumo, a cross-platform, standalone ClojureScript environment.

It runs on Node.js and the V8 JavaScript engine. Also, the scripts are relatively fast: a “hello world” takes ~1s to run without caching on my machine; with caching enabled, ~0.3s.

You can find example scripts and helpers for lumo here.

Using Clojure

With the advent of Clojure CLI I stopped using lumo and I’m simply using the clj command now.

Migrating from lumo to clj is trivial and gives us more features, such as better support for macros and multithreading.

I’m using tools.deps for dependency graph expansion and using lein-tools-deps for leiningen compatibility.

The downside is the startup time: a simple “hello world” takes around ~2.5s and my XML→hiccup script, which depends on some libraries, needs more than 3s to finish.

This is fine for one-time only scripts but if I call a clj script in a Bash for-loop I’ll probably want to grab some coffee while it runs.

Speeding up with GraalVM

GraalVM is a universal virtual machine for running applications written in JavaScript, Ruby, JVM-based languages and more.

By using AOT compilation we can compile our clj scripts to native code, which doesn’t rely on the JVM. The benefit? Let’s compare startup times:

λ echo '[:table]' | time clj -m xml 
<table /> 
clj -m xml 9.88s user 0.68s system 293% cpu 3.593 total 

λ echo '[:table]' | time native-binary 
<table /> 
native-binary 0.01s user 0.01s system 79% cpu 0.019 total

That’s 200x faster!

In addition, I can simply copy/paste this binary to any other machine with the same architecture + OS and it will work regardless of JVM or Node.js being installed or not.

Example scripts and helpers for clj and GraalVM can be found here.

For other people’s experiences, click here or there.

This post first appeared on Medium.
Note: opinions expressed here are solely my own and do not necessarily express the views or experiences of my employer or past employers.