Deps and CLI


Clojure "endeavors to be a general-purpose language suitable in those areas where Java is suitable" (from Rationale). To effectively target the JVM platform, Clojure needs to provide ready access to Java libraries, ideally in a way suited for dynamic development. In practice, this means meeting the JVM platform in two places:

  • the classpath used when invoking JVM processes (and/or URLClassLoaders)

  • transitive dependency download and resolution from providers like Maven

Clojure build tools have traditionally taken the approach of wrapping the Maven ecosystem to gain access to Java libraries. However, they have also forced this approach on Clojure code as well, requiring a focus on artifacts that must be built and deployed (which Clojure does not require). This approach has created friction for Clojure developers, making it hard to e.g. work with libs not yet publishing artifacts, work on speculative changes w/o artifacts or across multiple libs, or give control to a 3rd party to manage shared dependencies.

Clojure provides:

  • tools.deps.alpha - a library providing a functional API for resolving dependency graphs and building classpaths that can utilize both Maven and other providers of code or artifacts

  • Command line tools (clojure and clj) that enable users to make use of this capability at the terminal to declare dependencies, assemble classpaths, and launch Clojure programs

  • System-specific installers for downloading the tools, improving the "Getting Started" experience

Building classpaths with tools.deps.alpha

The JVM classpath consists of a series of roots, either directory paths or the path to a jar file. Classes (and Clojure files) map via package or namespace to a path relative to a classpath root. For example, the java.lang.String class can be found at path java/lang/String.class and the clojure.set Clojure namespace may be found at paths clojure/set.class (for AOT), clojure/set.clj, or clojure/set.cljc. When the JVM needs to load one of these files it searches each root for the relative path and loads it when found.

We divide the process of building a classpath into two primary operations: resolve-deps and make-classpath. Below is a high-level view of this process:

Dep Tools


(resolve-deps deps args-map)

resolve-deps takes an initial map of required dependencies and a map of args that modify the resolution process. It builds a full graph of transitive dependencies, resolves any version differences, and flattens that graph to a full list of dependencies required in the classpath.

The deps are a map of library to coordinate. The library is (in Maven terms) the groupId and artifactId, which are sufficient to locate the desired project. The coordinate is used to describe a particular version that is being requested from a particular provider (like Maven).

For example, this deps map specifies a (Maven-based) dependency:

{org.clojure/core.cache {:mvn/version "0.6.5"}}

resolve-deps expands these dependencies to include all transitive dependencies, cut cycles, resolve version differences, download required artifacts from the provider, and produce a lib map of the flattened set of all needed dependencies and where to find their artifacts:

{org.clojure/core.cache        {:mvn/version "0.6.5",
                                :deps/manifest :mvn,
                                :paths [".../core.cache-0.6.5.jar"]}
 org.clojure/data.priority-map {:mvn/version "0.0.7",
                                :deps/manifest :mvn,
                                :dependents [org.clojure/core.cache],
                                :paths [".../data.priority-map-0.0.7.jar"]}
 ... }

The lib map lists all libraries, their selected coordinates, the :paths on disk, and a list of dependents that caused it to be included. Here you can see that data.priority-map was included as a dependency of core.cache.

The second args-map is a map of optional modifications to the standard expansion to account for common use cases: adding extra dependencies, overriding deps, and default deps. These can be used separately or together, or not at all:

{:extra-deps { ... }
 :override-deps { ... }
 :default-deps { ... }}

:extra-deps is the most common modification - it allows you to optionally add extra dependencies to the base dependency set. The value is a map of library to coordinate:

{:extra-deps {criterium/criterium {:mvn/version "0.4.4"}}}

:override-deps overrides the coordinate version chosen by the version resolution to force a particular version instead. This also takes a map of library to coordinate:

{:override-deps {org.clojure/clojure {:mvn/version "1.9.0"}}}

:default-deps provides a set of default coordinate versions to use if no coordinate is specified. The default deps can be used across a set of shared projects to act as a dependency management system:

{:default-deps {org.clojure/core.cache {:mvn/version "0.6.4"}}}


(make-classpath lib-map paths args-map)

The make-classpath step takes the lib map (the result of resolve-deps), the internal source paths of the project ["src"], an args-map of optional modifications, and produces a classpath string for use in the JVM.

The args-map includes support for modifications to be applied while making the classpath: adding extra paths, and overriding the location of libraries specified in the lib map. These modifications can be used separately or together or not at all in a map like this:

{:extra-paths [ ... ]
 :classpath-overrides { ... }}

:extra-paths is used to include source paths in addition to your standard source paths, for example to include directories of test source:

{:extra-paths ["test" "resources"]}

:classpath-overrides specify a location to pull a dependency that overrides the path found during dependency resolution, for example to replace a dependency with a local debug version. Many of these use cases are ones where you would be tempted to prepend the classpath to "override" something else.

 {org.clojure/clojure "/my/clojure/target"}}

Command line tools


The tools rely on several directories and optionally on several environment variables.

  • Installation directory

    • Created during installation

    • Contents:

      • bin/clojure - main tool

      • bin/clj - wrapper for interactive repl use (uses rlwrap)

      • deps.edn - install level deps.edn file, with some default deps (Clojure, etc) and provider config

      • example-deps.edn - commented example that gets copied to <config_dir>/deps.edn

      • libexec/clojure-tools-X.Y.Z.jar - uberjar invoked by clojure to construct classpaths

  • Config directory

    • Holds a deps.edn file that persists across tool upgrades and affects all projects

    • Locations used in this order:

      • If $CLJ_CONFIG is set, then use $CLJ_CONFIG (explicit override)

      • If $XDG_CONFIG_HOME is set, then use $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/clojure (Freedesktop conventions)

      • Else use $HOME/.clojure (most common)

    • Contents:

      • deps.edn - user deps file, defines default Clojure version and provider defaults

  • Cache directory

    • Lazily created when clojure is invoked without a local deps.edn file. Locations used in this order:

      • If $CLJ_CACHE is set, then use $CLJ_CACHE (explicit override)

      • If $XDG_CACHE_HOME is set, then use $XDG_CACHE_HOME/clojure (Freedesktop conventions)

      • Else use config_dir/.cpcache (most common)

  • Project directory

    • The current directory

    • Contents:

      • deps.edn - optional project deps

      • .cpcache - project cache directory, same as the user-level cache directory, created if there is a deps.edn


The configuration file format (in "deps.edn" files) is an edn map with top-level keys for :deps, :paths, and :aliases, plus provider-specific keys for configuring dependency sources.

After installation, deps.edn configuration files can be found in (up to) three locations:

  • installation directory - created only at install time

  • config directory (often ~/.clojure) - modified to change cross-project (or no-project) defaults

  • the local directory - per-project settings

The deps.edn files in each of these locations (if they exist) are merged to form one combined dependency configuration. The merge is done in the order above install/config/local, last one wins. The operation is essentially merge-with merge, except for the :paths key, where only the last one found is used (they are not combined).

You can use the -Sverbose option to see all of the actual directory locations.


Dependencies are declared in deps.edn with a top level key :deps - a map from library to coordinate. Libraries are symbols of the form <groupID>/<artifactId> or simply <id> if the group and artifact ID are the same.

Coordinates can take several forms depending on the coordinate type:

  • Maven coordinate: {:mvn/version "1.2.3"}

    • Other optional keys: :classifier, :extension, :exclusions

  • Local project coordinate: {:local/root "/path/to/project"}

    • Optional key :deps/manifest

      • Specifies the project manifest type

      • Default is to auto-detect the project type (such as :deps, :lein, :pom)

      • Currently only :deps is supported

  • Local jar: {:local/root "/path/to/file.jar"}

  • Others may be added

 {org.clojure/tools.reader {:mvn/version "1.1.1"}
  ;; ... add more here


Paths are declared in a top level key :paths and is a vector of string paths (typically relative to the project root). These source paths will be included on the classpath.

While dependency sets are merged across all of the configuration files, only the last paths found in one of the config files is used, prior ones are ignored.

{:paths ["src"]}


Aliases are defined in the :aliases section of the config file and are used to select sets of modifications to the resolve-deps or make-classpath steps. Aliases for resolve-deps modifications are selected with -R (which takes a concatenated list of alias keywords). Aliases for make-classpath modifications are selected with -C (also a concatenated list of alias keywords). The modifications from all aliases will be combined by merging in the order specified (last one wins).

So given a deps.edn like:

{:paths ["src"]
 :deps {}
 {:1.7 {:override-deps {org.clojure/clojure {:mvn/version "1.7.0"}}}
  :bench {:extra-deps {criterium/criterium {:mvn/version "0.4.4"}}}
  :test {:extra-paths ["test"]}}}

You can activate all three aliases to create a classpath that switches to an older Clojure version, adds the benchmarking library, and includes the test directory in the classpath to see how it changes the classpath:

clj -R:1.7:bench -C:test -Spath


Coordinates are interpreted by providers, which know how to determine dependencies for a library and download artifacts. tools.deps.alpha is designed to support an extensible set of providers that can expand over time. For now, two providers are available: mvn and local.

The provider used is determined by examining the attributes of the coordinate and using the first attribute qualifier that’s found (ignoring the reserved qualifier "deps"). For example, a Maven coordinate contains a :mvn/version attribute and a local coordinate contains a :local/root attribute.

Providers may also have provider configuration attributes stored at the root of the configuration map under the same qualifier. The mvn provider will look for :mvn/repos. The installation deps.edn configures the default repos:

 {"central" {:url ""}
  "clojars" {:url ""}}}

The tools also provide support for connecting to private S3 Maven repositories (thanks to the s3-wagon-private and aws-wagon projects).

Add a :mvn/repos that includes the s3 repository root:

 {my.library {:mvn/version "0.1.2"}}
 {"my-private-repo" {:url "s3://my-bucket/maven/releases"}}}

Specify your AWS S3 credentials using one of these mechanisms:

  1. Set the environment variables AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID and AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY.

  2. Create a default profile in the AWS credentials file ~/.aws/credentials (older ~/.aws/config also supported).

  3. Create a named profile in the AWS credentials file and set the environment variable AWS_PROFILE with its name.

  4. Amazon ECS container and instance profile credentials should also work, but have not been tested.

For more information, most of the advice in this AWS document describes how credentials are located. Note however that the Java system properties options will NOT work with the command line tools (but would work if using the tools.deps.alpha library directly).



  • clojure [dep-opt*] [init-opt*] [main-opt] [arg*]

  • clj [dep-opt*] [init-opt*] [main-opt] [arg*]

The clojure tool is a runner for Clojure. clj is a wrapper for interactive repl use. These tools ultimately construct and invoke a command-line of the form:

java [java-opt*] -cp classpath clojure.main [init-opt*] [main-opt] [arg*]

The dep-opts are used to build the java-opts and classpath:

-Jopt      Pass opt through in java_opts, ex: -J-Xmx512m
-Ralias... Concatenated resolve-deps aliases, ex: -R:bench:1.9
-Calias... Concatenated make-classpath aliases, ex: -C:dev
-Spath     Compute classpath and echo to stdout only
-Srepro    Use only the local deps.edn (ignore other config files)
-Sforce    Force recomputation of the classpath (don't use the cache)
-Spom      Generate (or update an existing) pom.xml with deps and paths
-Sverbose  Print important path info to console


-i, --init path     Load a file or resource
-e, --eval string   Eval exprs in string; print non-nil values


-m, --main ns-name  Call the -main function from namespace w/args
-r, --repl          Run a repl
path                Run a script from a file or resource
-                   Run a script from standard input
-h, -?, --help      Print this help message and exit

Classpath construction

The following process is used to construct the classpath for invoking clojure.main:

  • Compute the deps map

    • Read the deps.edn configuration file in the following locations:

      • Install directory (unless -Srepro)

      • Config directory (if it exists and unless -Srepro)

      • Current directory (if it exists)

    • Combine the deps.edn maps in that order with merge-with merge (except for :paths where last wins)

  • Compute the resolve-deps args

    • If -R specifies one or more aliases, find each alias in the deps map :aliases

    • merge-with merge the alias maps - the result is the resolve-args map

  • Invoke resolve-deps with deps map and resolve-args map

  • Compute the classpath-overrides map

    • If -C specifies one or more aliases, find each alias in the deps map :aliases

    • merge the classpath-override alias maps

  • Invoke make-classpath with the libs map returned by resolve-deps, the paths, and the classpath-args map

Classpath caching

Classpath files are cached in the current directory under .cpcache/. File are of two forms:

  • .cpcache/<hash>.libs - a ::lib-map in the specs, the output of running resolve-deps

  • .cpcache/<hash>.cp - a classpath string, the output of make-classpath

where the <hash> is based on the config file paths, the resolve-aliases, and the classpath aliases.

The cached classpath file is used when:

  • It exists

  • It is newer than all deps.edn files


For tools installation, see the instructions in the Getting Started guide.



An independently-developed chunk of code residing in a directory hierarchy under a root. We will narrow to those libraries that can be globally named, e.g. my.namespace/my-lib.


A snapshot of a library, captured at a point in time, possibly subjected to some build process, labeled with a version, containing some manifest documenting its dependencies, and packaged in e.g. a jar.


A particular version of a library chosen for use, with information sufficient to obtain and use the library.


An expression, at the project/library level, that the declaring library needs the declared library in order to provide some of its functions. Must at least specify library name, might also specify version and other attrs. Actual (functional) dependencies are more fine-grained.

Dependency types:

  • maven artifacts

  • unversioned libraries - a file location identifying a jar or directory root

  • git coordinates (later)

Classpath (and roots/paths)

An ordered list of local 'places' (filesystem directories and/or jars) that will form root paths for searches of requires/imports at runtime, supplied as an argument to Java which controls the semantics. We discourage order-dependence in the classpath, which implies something is duplicated (and thus likely broken).


Given a set of root dependencies, a full walk of the transitive dependencies.


Given a collection of root dependencies and additional modifications, creates a fully-expanded dependency tree, then produces a mapping from each library mentioned to a single version to be used that would satisfy all dependents, as well as the local path. We will also include those dependents for each entry. Conflicts arise only if libraries depend on different major versions of a library.

Classpath creation

Creates a classpath from a resolved lib-map and optional extra local lib paths. Current plan for lib-map does not provide for control over resulting order.


A human numbering system whose interpretation is determined by convention. Usually x.y.z. Must protect against 'semver' interpretation, which allows libraries to break users while keeping the name the same. Ascending by convention - higher numbers are 'later', vague compatibility with lower/earlier.

Version difference

This occurs when the dependency expansion contains the same library with more than one "version" specified but where there is a relative ordering (either by number or by SHA etc). Version differences can be resolved by choosing the "later" or "newest" version when that relationship can be established.

Version conflict

A version conflict occurs when the dependency expansion contains the same library with more than one "version" such that the best choice cannot be automatically chosen:

  • semver version breakage (major version changed)

  • github shas that do not contain any common root or ancestry (two shas on different branches for example)

  • versions that cross different repos or repo types such that no relative relationship can be established

Maven Repo

A repository of library artifacts - e.g. Maven central or Clojars

Requires and imports

Mentions in source code of library (sub)components that must be in the classpath in order to succeed. namespace and package/class names are transformed into path components.