(iterate think thoughts)

Blogging with Noir

14 Aug, 2012

Writing a blog engine in Noir turned out to be a very pleasant experience. The engine which is currently powering this blog supports all the features one would expect from a blogging engine, some of which include:

  • content caching
  • RSS feed
  • tags
  • markdown in posts and comments with live preview
  • syntax highlighting
  • file uploads and management through web UI
  • captchas for comments
  • latest comments view
  • controlling post visibility

All that weighs in at under 1K lines of Clojure, and some 50 lines of Js. I've outlined some of the quirks I ran into previously. Now, I'd like to talk about what went right and what facilitated writing a complete functional website in only a few hundred lines of code.

I used clojure.java.jdbc for database access. The library is very easy to use and provides all the basic functionality you'd expect with minimal fuss. You can define a database either using a map:

(def mysql-db {:subprotocol "postgresql"
               :subname "//"
               :user "clojure_test"
               :password "clojure_test"}) 
by providing a JNDI name and configuring a JNDI data source on the app server:

(def my-db {:name "jdbc/myDatasource"}) 
or by simply instantiating a data source as I do in the blog:

(def db 
    (doto (new PGPoolingDataSource)
       (.setServerName   (:host blog-config))
       (.setDatabaseName (:schema blog-config))
       (.setUser         (:user blog-config))
       (.setPassword     (:pass blog-config))
       (.setMaxConnections 10))}) 
Calling SQL commands is straightforward as well, all statements must be wrapped with a with-connection statement. This ensures that any result sets are cleaned up and the connection is closed once you're done with it. I found the library to be very intuitive and easy to work with. The documentation is available on github and covers most use cases. All of my db interaction ended up fitting in just under 250 lines, which makes it easy to keep on top of.

Noir has been indispensable in making things concise and easy to manage. Noir and Hiccup make it trivial to organize the pages and their controllers into self contained chunks.

Because it encourages making things stateless, it's easy to add functionality in isolated chunks. This means that you can add a particular feature, such as RSS support, without having to worry how it might interact with existing code. I find this especially important when writing side projects as it means that you have a very short ramp up time when you come back to a project after not having touched it for a while.

I'm personally a fan of using Hiccup for generating HTML, as it allows using the full power of Clojure for templating. However, some people have concerns about not having the actual HTML that designers can then style. Fortunately, there's nothing inherent to Noir that ties it to Hiccup. A defpage simply has to return an HTML string, how that string gets generated is entirely up to you. And there's a great guide for using Noir with Enlive, which is designed for HTML based templating. Again, I have to point out the thoughtfulness of design which separates creating routes and serving pages from the libraries which deal with actually generating them.

For Markdown parsing I dredged up an old library of mine, and with a few tweaks it's been doing its job as far as far as this blog is concerned. One advantage of this particular library is that it compiles to both Clojure and ClojureScript, so I can do previews in the browser and guarantee that they will be rendered the same by the server.

I added the ability to add language hinting using github style markdown, eg: ```clojure, to output tags compatible with the syntax highlighter, which I then use to do code highlighting in the browser.

I also didn't find any readily available libraries for generating RSS from Clojure, so I proceeded to make clj-rss, which turned out to be very easy thanks to the excellent XML support in the standard library and a few macros.

For my captcha needs I turned to a Java library called jlue. Thanks to the excellent Java interop, using it is quite seamless:

(defn gen-captcha []
  (let [text (gen-captcha-text)
        captcha (doto (new Captcha))]
    (session/put! :captcha 
                  {:text text 
                   :image (.gen captcha text 250 40)})))

(defpage "/captcha" []
    (let [out (new ByteArrayOutputStream)]
      (ImageIO/write (:image (session/get :captcha)) "jpeg" out)
      (new ByteArrayInputStream (.toByteArray out))))) 

Finally, all of the building and packaging is handled by Leiningen, which makes it trivial to track dependencies and package up the resulting application. In my case I'm deploying the blog to Tomcat, and so I simply build a WAR using:

lein ring uberwar 
The resulting WAR can be dropped on any Java application server. If you wanted to deploy to Heroku, you simply have to add a Procfile to the root directory of the project with the following contents:

web: lein trampoline run -m yuggoth.server 
Overall, I experienced very few issues and found the experience to be overwhelmingly positive. In my opinion the current tools and libraries available in Clojure allow writing web sites just as easily, if not more so, as most of the established languages out there.

tags noirclojure


14 Aug, 2012 - Ralph Möritz

Just tried out yuggoth on my laptop & despite being a little rough around the edges I have to say: not bad. markdown-clj is nice. Going to deploy to heroku & play around with it some more.

15 Aug, 2012 - Yogthos

Glad to hear it, and I'm open to any ideas for improvements. :)

16 Aug, 2012 - elliottw

could describe in more depth how to get this up onto heroku? I pushed it up to heroku, but I assume heroku isn't so magical that the db stuff just takes care of itself.

17 Aug, 2012 - Yogthos

@elliottw I haven't played much with deploying to Heroku myself, but they do have a couple of guides on their site. One for getting started with Clojure on Heroku and another focusing on making database-backed applications.

18 Aug, 2012 - elmany

Hi, I hadn't have the time to play with yuggoth yet :-( but I just want to talk about this: >I'm personally a fan of using Hiccup for generating HTML, as it allows using the full power of Clojure for templating. However, some people have concerns about not having the actual HTML that designers can then style In my humble opinion they shouldn't have that concerns. Designers shouldn't bother about html they should care about css. They should be served with a html file and they should be able build a design using purely css, maybe they can use one indirect tool to do it, but they should have content to design in advance, they can even participate in how will the content be structured in html but they shouldn't generate it, not in the current time. So the use of markdown is perfect because, as a "content producer" I can give structure to my document without bother about most of the html, after that I can ask a designer to make it pretty using css. I love the rationale behind yuggoth of making something easy to use from the point of view of the one that is writing the stuff. Hope to have the chance to work with it very soon and thanks in advance for this.

18 Aug, 2012 - Yogthos

@elmany Thanks for the feedback and I definitely agree that designers should focus on CSS, but a lot of people seem to feel strongly about having HTML templates so I just wanted to note that the option is available.


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