ClojureScript for JavaScript Developers

How do they compare in 2022?

ClojureScript for JavaScript Developers

Published
March 29, 2022
by
Alex Davis
Categories

Last year I spent some time building a cross-platform mobile app using React Native and ClojureScript. This led to the organisers of the React Native London conference asking me to give a talk about ClojureScript and its use in React Native applications, and I took that as an opportunity to do some further research into the ecosystem and how things have changed over the last 9 months.

It seems that my app still runs fine on Expo, which was a pleasant surprise. It was easy to update to the latest versions and a few years ago I would have expected this to introduce a variety of breaking changes, so this is a big improvement. Talking to people in the React Native community, it seems that things have stabilised quite nicely.

My talk was aimed at a JavaScript audience and it led me to think about the ClojureScript ecosystem in general, and what advantages it has over JS these days. After all, looking back over old ClojureScript talks for inspiration I found that some of the claims made at the time were a little out of date. For example, Figwheel and 'hot code reloading' are mentioned as advantages unique to ClojureScript, but these days a standard Figwheel or ShadowCLJS project will have slower hot-reload times when compared to ESM build tools like Vite or Snowpack. Some credit must be given to ClojureScript’s unique (to the best of my knowledge) ability to re-evaluate vars in place, allowing developers to avoid hot-reloading altogether.

However, while JavaScript tools have been evolving, the ClojureScript ecosystem hasn’t stood still. ShadowCLJS has a great console UI that allows you to inspect data flowing through your code using tap> and new React wrappers like Helix enable improved interoperability with modern hook-based React in comparison to Reagent (though Reagent is still a good choice in many cases).

Additionally, the ‘ClojureScript for logic, JavaScript (or TypeScript) for views’ pattern that I used for my react native app (inspired by this) can give you the best of both worlds if hot code reloading speed is important.

Clojure’s ability to mix Clojure and ClojureScript code in the same file with .cljc, while keeping things as simple as possible, is a big contrast to full-stack JS frameworks. An example is Next.js, which allows backend and frontend code in the same file but achieves it with significant amounts of 'magic' and complexity. Next is a great tool and has its uses, but when things go wrong it can be very tricky to figure out why, which is rarely the case with Clojure in my experience. Likewise, I find React hooks to be a very complex solution to the render lifecycle problem compared to the idiomatic 'reactive atom' pattern popularised by Clojure’s React wrappers. When hooks work, they’re great, and they make for a nice developer experience, but I personally feel Reagent code is just as nice to write but without nearly as many footguns.

Overall I think ClojureScript is still a great option, especially when dealing with complex business logic (which JS is weak at in my opinion). My talk at the React Native conference is here, and is worth a watch if you are coming from the JavaScript world but are interested in ClojureScript.

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