• The ' symbol used in the macroexpand example is just syntactic sugar for the quote operator. You could have written (macroexpand (quote (infix 1 + 2))) instead.


Macros are just functions that run at compile time, i.e. during the eval step in a read-eval-print-loop.

Reader macros are another form of macro that gets expanded at read time, rather than compile time.

Best practice when defining macro.

  • alpha-renaming, Since macro is expand binding name conflict could arise. Binding conflict is not very intuitive to solve when using the macro. This is why, whenever a macro adds a binding to the scope, it is mandatory to use the # at the end of each symbol.

Simple Infix Macro

Clojure uses prefix notation, that is: The operator comes before its operands.

For example, a simple sum of two numbers would be:

(+ 1 2)
;; => 3

Macros allow you to manipulate the Clojure language to a certain degree. For example, you could implement a macro that let you write code in infix notation (e.g., 1 + 2):

(defmacro infix [first-operand operator second-operand]
    "Converts an infix expression into a prefix expression"
    (list operator first-operand second-operand))

Let's break down what the code above does:

  • defmacro is a special form you use to define a macro.
  • infix is the name of the macro we are defining.
  • [first-operand operator second-operand] are the parameters this macro expects to receive when it is called.
  • (list operator first-operand second-operand) is the body of our macro. It simply creates a list with the values of the parameters provided to the infix macro and returns that.

defmacro is a special form because it behaves a little differently compared to other Clojure constructs: Its parameters are not immediately evaluated (when we call the macro). This is what allows us to write something like:

(infix 1 + 2)
;; => 3

The infix macro will expand the 1 + 2 arguments into (+ 1 2), which is a valid Clojure form that can be evaluated.

If you want to see what the infix macro generates, you can use the macroexpand operator:

(macroexpand '(infix 1 + 2))
;; => (+ 1 2)

macroexpand, as implied by its name, will expand the macro (in this case, it will use the infix macro to transform 1 + 2 into (+ 1 2)) but won't allow the result of the macro expansion to be evaluated by Clojure's interpreter.

Syntax quoting and unquoting

Example from the standard library (core.clj:807):

(defmacro and
  "Evaluates exprs one at a time, from left to right. If a form
  returns logical false (nil or false), and returns that value and
  doesn't evaluate any of the other expressions, otherwise it returns
  the value of the last expr. (and) returns true."
  {:added "1.0"}
  ([] true)
  ([x] x)
  ([x & next]
   `(let [and# ~x]
      (if and# (and [email protected]) and#))))
  • ` called syntax-quote is like (quote), but recursive: it causes (let …), (if …), etc to not evaluate during macro expansion but to output as is
  • ~ aka unquote cancels syntax-quote for single form inside syntax-quoted form. So x's value is outputted when expanding macro (instead of outputting x symbol)
  • [email protected] aka unquote-splicing is like unquote but takes list argument and expands it, each list item to separate form
  • # appends unique id to symbols to prevent name conflicts. It appends the same id for the same symbol inside syntax-quoted expression, so and# inside let and and# inside if will get the same name