Friday, October 19, 2007

Clojure is here

I came across this posting Lisp on the JVM in reddit and thought .. what the heck ? What's so great about it when we have already ABCL, KAWA, SISC for the JVM ? In fact the title in reddit is a bit misleading - Clojure is very much like Lisp. It is targetted for the JVM, but more than anything else, the design embodies lots of thoughts towards immutability, functional data structures, concurrency, STM etc. Here is a comment from the author himself on reddit :
Clojure has some tangible, non-superficial differences from Common Lisp and Scheme. They yield something that is different, and might or might not be more suitable depending on your programming style and application domain.

  • Most of the core data structures are immutable. This is part of an overall design philosophy to make Clojure a good language for concurrent/multi-core programming.

  • Most of the data structures are extensible abstractions. This is different from Common Lisp where you can't extend the sequence functions to your own data structures, for instance. Even invocability is an abstraction - allowing maps to be functions of their keys and vice-versa.

  • Clojure extends code-as-data to maps and vectors in a deep way. They have literal reader syntax, the compiler understands them, backquote works with them, they support metadata etc. Because they are efficiently immutable and persistent, they support very Lisp-y recursive usage, shared structure etc, in ways Common Lisp's hash tables and vectors cannot.

  • Clojure embraces its host platform in ways that the standard Lisps ported to the JVM can't. For instance, Common Lisp's strings could never be Java Strings since the former are mutable and the latter are not. Clojure strings are Java Strings. The Clojure sequence library functions work over Clojure and Java data structures transparently. Etc.

  • Clojure has metadata as a core concept, not something one could retrofit onto the built-in Common Lisp types.

  • Clojure is designed for concurrency. Vars (similar to CL special variables) have explicit threading semantics. Clojure has a software transactional memory system. Etc.

In short, Clojure is (non-gratuitously) different. If you don't want different, you don't want Clojure. If you like Lisp and need to write multi-threaded programs for the JVM, you might find something interesting in Clojure.

I had blogged about SISC sometime back and discussed how we could use Scheme as a more consumer friendly XML in your Java application. I think Clojure is going to be the most interesting dynamic language on the JVM very soon. There has never been a better time to learn Lisp !

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