Clojure + Emacs + Leiningen + nREPL

This article provides step-by-step instruction how to configure Clojure environment.

Little history

Long time I was using swank-clojure as connector to my Clojure projects from Emacs SLIME. But, suddenly, I lost all my emacs preferences and needed to configure it again (yeah, it's my fault, this time I've created configuration on GitHub). So, when I entered to swank-clojure project page, I was a bit frustrated by the following message: "This project is no longer under active development. New users are strongly encouraged to try out nrepl.el instead". Ok, let's see what nrepl is.

Why emacs?

I don't know. I like lisp, and emacs created in (e)lisp. Strange hotkeys like C-x C-s. Huge functionality, that you can configure all days. Internal package manager. Plenty of modes. Mail client. Games. Whatever. Oh wait, I forgot text editor. I really, can't find any great reason that convince somebody to use emacs as IDE. But I like it.

There is a good xkcd comics about emacs.

By the way, there are lot of IDEs that can be configured much simpler way than described in this article:

So, before reading, ask yourself, Do I really need emacs?


First of all you need to install emacs, to get your future clojure coding environment. I'm using ubuntu, so I just type:

sudo apt-get install emacs

and it install emacs 23. If you using another OS, or do not trust package manager, check GNU Emacs official website for installation instructions.

Also, you need to install emacs package-manager.

  1. Copy file package.el to your ~/emacs.d/ folder.
  2. In your ~/.emacs file add folowing lines:
(add-to-list 'load-path "~/.emacs.d/")
(load "package")
(require 'package)
(add-to-list 'package-archives
    '("marmalade" .

These lines will be loaded after emacs restarted and install package manager. To check if it works, type M-x package-list-packages and this show you list of emacs plugins, hope you will find something useful there.


Leiningen is a build tool for clojure. It also controls dependency management, automation, tests, etc. Pretty like maven for Java.

To install lein 2 (it's shorter name for Leiningen) do the following:

  1. Download lein script
  2. Place it on your $PATH
  3. Make it executable

On ubuntu this can be performed with the following commands:

cd ~/
mkdir bin

Add line export PATH=~/bin:$PATH to your ~/.bashrc file

cd ~/bin
chmod +x lein

Execute lein, for first time it will download default lein package. To verify installation run lein version. On my machine for the post date it prints: Leiningen 2.0.0-preview10 on Java 1.6.0_24 OpenJDK 64-Bit Server VM


We have already installed emacs package manager, so we can get nrepl from there. It also needs emacs major mode clojure-mode, so type the following commands in emacs to install needed packages:

M-x package-install clojure-mode
M-x package-install nrepl

Try M-x nrepl-jack-in to execute REPL, where you can play with clojure commands.

Bind all together

We have fully configured environment for clojure and how to use it?

Create new clojure project using lein:

lein new helloworld

Start nREPL server in emacs:

M-x nrepl-jack-in

Open core project file in emacs:

C-f helloworld/src/helloworld/core.clj

Write simple function:

(ns helloworld.core)
(defn hello []
  (println "Hell, O'World!"))

Compile it:

C-c C-k

Switch to nREPL buffer, change namespace and run hello function:

(ns helloworld.core)

Probably, you'll get output:

Hell, O'World!

Congratulations! You just created working clojure project.

Note: this configuration covers only basic clojure+emacs environment. There are plenty plugins to work with parenthesis, documentation, tests, auto-completion and lot more. I'll do my best to cover such plugins in the next sections. Also, emacs23 is an old version of emacs, verison 24 is currently available.

mishadoff 13 October 2012
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