Resolving Clojure circular dependencies

0 votes
asked Jun 21, 2010 by mikera

I'm working on some Clojure code that has some circular dependencies between different namespaces and I'm trying to work out the best way of resolving them.

  • Basic issue is that I get a "No such var: namespace/functionname" error in one of the files
  • I tried to "declare" the function but then it complains with: "Can't refer to a qualified var that doesn't exist"
  • I could of course refactor the entire codebase but that seems impractical to do every time you have a dependency to resolve..... and might get very ugly for certain networks of circular dependencies
  • I could separate out a bunch of interfaces / protocols / declarations into a separate file and have everything refer to that.... but that seems like it would end up getting messy and spoil the current nice modular structure that I have with related functionality grouped together

Any thoughts? What is the best way to handle this kind of circular dependency in Clojure?

4 Answers

0 votes
answered Jun 21, 2010 by hamza-yerlikaya

I had a similar problem with some gui code, what I ended up doing is,

(defn- frame [args]
  ((resolve 'project.gui/frame) args))

This allowed me to resolve the call during runtime, this gets called from a menu item in frame so I was 100% sure frame was defined because it was being called from the frame itself, keep in mind that resolve may return nil.

0 votes
answered Jun 8, 2011 by stopthe

Either move everything to one giant source file so that you have no external dependencies, or else refactor. Personally I'd go with refactor, but when you really get down to it, it's all about aesthetics. Some people like KLOCS and spaghetti code, so there's no accounting for taste.

0 votes
answered Jun 10, 2014 by ralph-ritoch

I am having this same problem constantly. As much as many developers don't want to admit it, it is a serious design flaw in the language. Circular dependencies are a normal condition of real objects. A body cannot survive without a heart, and the heart can't survive without the body.

Resolving at call time may be possible, but it won't be optimal. Take the case where you have an API, as part of that api is error reporting methods but the api creates an object that has its own methods, those objects will need the error reporting and you have your circular dependency. Error checking and reporting functions will be called often so resolving at the time they are called isn't an option.

The solution in this case, and most cases, is to move code that doesn't have dependencies into separate (util) namespaces where they can be freely shared. I have not yet run into a case where the problem cannot be resolved with this technique. This makes maintaining complete, functional, business objects nearly impossible but it seems to be the only option. Clojure has a long way to go before it is a mature language capable of accurately modeling the real world, until then dividing up code in illogical ways is the only way to eliminate these dependencies.

If A.a() depends on B.a() and B.b() relies on A.b() the only solution is to move B.a() to C.a() and/or A.b() into C.b() even though C technically doesn't exist in the real world.

0 votes
answered Sep 15, 2017 by bonkydog

It's good to think carefully about the design. Circular dependencies may be telling us that we're confused about something important.

Here's a trick I've used to work around circular dependencies in one or two cases.

;; example/a.cljc

(ns example.a
  (:require [example.b :as b]))

(defn foo []
  (println "foo"))


   (alter-var-root #'b/foo (constantly foo))                ; <- in clojure do this

   (set! b/foo foo)                                         ; <- in clojurescript do this


(defn barfoo []

;; example/b.cljc

(ns example.b)

;; Avoid circular dependency.  This gets set by example.a
(defonce foo nil)

(defn bar []
  (println "bar"))

(defn foobar []

I learned this trick from Dan Holmsand's code in Reagent.

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