Clojure: intro to tap> and accessing private vars

Clojure 1.10 introduced a new system called tap. From the release notes: tap is a shared, globally accessible system for distributing a series of informational or diagnostic values to a set of (presumably effectful) handler functions. It can be used as a better debug prn, or for facilities like logging etc.

Tap has a nice simple api. We can send a value to the set of registered handler functions with tap>. We can register a handlers function with add-tap. Finally we can unregister a handler function with remove-tap.

Adding a tap handler and sending values

We create an atom bar and register an anonymous handler function to the tap system with add-tap. This will conj any values we pass to tap> to the bar atom.

(def bar (atom []))

(add-tap (partial swap! bar conj))

(tap> (inc 1))

=> @bar


(tap> "foo")

=> @bar

[2 "foo"]

When we dereference bar we get the values [2 "foo"] that have been passed to tap>. What happens if we add the same anonymous handler function to the tap system again.

(reset! bar [])

(add-tap (partial swap! bar conj))

(tap> "foo")

=> @bar

["foo" "foo"]

Surprising, even though we called tap once two "foo"s got written to our atom. Let's investigate the add-tap source to see if we can work out what's going on.

=> (source add-tap)

(defn add-tap
  (force tap-loop)
  (swap! tapset conj f)

So add-tap adds the tap handlers to an atom called tapset. From the name, we can guess that it might be a set which means we shouldn't be able to register the same tap function twice. Let's try and access tapset.

=> clojure.core/tapset

Syntax error compiling at (form-init1817879857542651664.clj:1:1).
var: clojure.core/tapset is not public

No luck, tapset is not public.

Creating and accessing private vars

In Clojure you can create private vars by adding the key :private to a var's metadata.

=> (def ^:private private-var "foo")


(ns baz)

=> user/private-var

Syntax error compiling at (form-init1817879857542651664.clj:1:1).
var: user/private-var is not public

Even though these private vars are not intended to be accessed we can still work around this by using #' to refer directly to the var. We can then dereference it to access its value.

=> #'user/private-var


=> @#'user/private-var


There are rarely any reasons to ever have to do this in production code, and even then it would not be advisable. However, it can be very useful when exploring a new api in the repl.

Back to tapset

Armed with our new knowledge of how to access private vars we can find out what's in tapset. Notice the @@ we need to derefence tapset twice: once to get the value of the var, and once to get the value of the atom.

=> @@#'clojure.core/tapset

#{#object[clojure.core$partial$fn__5831 0x18852ca3 "clojure.core$partial$fn__5831@18852ca3"]
  #object[clojure.core$partial$fn__5831 0xb50d66f "clojure.core$partial$fn__5831@b50d66f"]}

It looks like our anonymous functions are not unique and therefore count as different functions as far as tap is concerned. Let's reset! the tapset.

(reset! bar [])
(reset! @#'clojure.core/tapset #{})

(tap> "foo")

=> @bar


Back to normal. So if we want to be able to prevent the same function from getting added multiple times, we need to give it a name.

(defn conj-to-bar [x]
  (swap! bar conj x))

(add-tap conj-to-bar)
(add-tap conj-to-bar)

=> @@#'clojure.core/tapset

#{#object[user$conj_to_bar 0x4f1e0067 "user$conj_to_bar@4f1e0067"]}

Even though we called the add-tap function twice with the same function, it only got added once.

Removing tap handlers

The other advantage of using named functions is that you can use remove-tap to remove tap functions from the tapset. With an anonymous function you would have to hang on to the a reference to be able to remove it from the tapset.

(remove-tap conj-to-bar)

=> @@#'clojure.core/tapset


This concludes our initial intro to Clojure 1.10's tap system and some useful tricks for accessing private vars.