Clojure Cookbook: Daemonizing an Application

  • clojure
  • cookbook

In anticipation of Clojure Cookbook’s forthcoming release on March 21, I’ll be publishing one of my favorite recipes each and every week leading up to the book’s release.

This is one of my favorite recipes because there was so little prior art on the subject. If you like this recipe, sign up for my newsletter to find out when I publish the next one!


Reader Chandra Barnett was kind enough to point out that -start needs to complete promptly and return control to jsvc.

I’ve adjusted -start in this post (and the book!) to spin of a future instead.

Thanks Chandra!

Now, without further ado, I present…

Daemonizing an Application


You want to run a Clojure application as a daemon (i.e., you want your application to run in the background) in another system process.


Use the Apache Commons Daemon library to write applications that can be executed in a background process. Daemon consists of two parts: the Daemon interface, which your application must implement; and a system application that runs Daemon-compliant applications as daemons (jsvc on Unix systems; procrun on Windows).

Begin by adding the Daemon dependency to your project’s project.clj file. If you don’t have an existing project, create a new one with the command lein new my-daemon. Since Daemon is a Java-based system, enable AOT-compilation so that class files are generated:


(defproject my-daemon "0.1.0-SNAPSHOT"
  :description "FIXME: write description"
  :url ""
  :license {:name "Eclipse Public License"
            :url ""}
  :dependencies [[org.clojure/clojure "1.5.1"]
                 [org.apache.commons/commons-daemon "1.0.9"]]
  :main my-daemon.core
  :aot :all)

To implement the org.apache.commons.daemon.Daemon interface, add the appropriate :gen-class declaration and interface functions to one of your project’s namespaces. For a minimally functional daemon, implement -init, -start and -stop. For best results, provide a -main function to enable smoke testing your application without touching the Daemon interface:


(ns my-daemon.core
  (:import [org.apache.commons.daemon Daemon DaemonContext])
    :implements [org.apache.commons.daemon.Daemon]))

;; A crude approximation of your application's state.
(def state (atom {}))

(defn init [args]
  (swap! state assoc :running true))

(defn start []
  (while (:running @state)
    (println "tick")
    (Thread/sleep 2000)))

(defn stop []
  (swap! state assoc :running false))

;; Daemon implementation

(defn -init [this ^DaemonContext context]
  (init (.getArguments context)))

(defn -start [this]
  (future (start)))

(defn -stop [this]

;; Enable command-line invocation
(defn -main [& args]
  (init args)

Package all of the necessary dependencies and generated classes by invoking the Leiningen uberjar command:

$ lein uberjar
Compiling my-daemon.core
Created /tmp/my-daemon/target/my-daemon-0.1.0-SNAPSHOT.jar
Created /tmp/my-daemon/target/my-daemon-0.1.0-SNAPSHOT-standalone.jar

Before proceeding, test your application by running it with java:

$ java -jar target/my-daemon-0.1.0-SNAPSHOT-standalone.jar
# ... Type Ctrl-C to stop the madness

Once you’ve verified your application works correctly, install jsvc. On OS X we suggest using Homebrew to brew install jsvc. If you’re using Linux, you’ll likely find a jsvc package in your favorite package manager. Windows users will need to install and use procrun.

Finally, the moment of truth. Run your application as a daemon by invoking jsvc with all of the requisite parameters: the absolute path of your Java home directory, uber JAR, output log file, and the namespace where your Daemon implementation resides. Don’t worry, we’ll capture this all in a shell script soon.

$ sudo jsvc -java-home "$JAVA_HOME" \
            -cp "$(pwd)/target/my-daemon-0.1.0-SNAPSHOT-standalone.jar" \
            -outfile "$(pwd)/out.txt" \
# Nothing!

$ sudo tail -f out.txt
# ... Ctrl-C to exit

# Quit the daemonized process by adding the -stop flag
$ sudo jsvc -java-home "$JAVA_HOME" \
            -cp "$(pwd)/target/my-daemon-0.1.0-SNAPSHOT-standalone.jar" \
            -stop \

If all is well, out.txt should now contain a couple ticks. Congratulations! Daemon can be a little hard to get set up, but once you have it running, it works fantastically. If you encounter any problems launching a daemon using jsvc, use the -debug flag to output more detailed diagnostic information.


You’ll find a full working copy of the my-daemon project at clojure-cookbook/my-daemon.


Have no illusions, daemonizing Java-based services is hard; yet, for over 10 years, Java developers have been using Apache Commons Daemon to this end. Why reinvent the wheel with a separate Clojure tool? One of Clojure’s core strengths is its ability to breathe new life into old tunes, and Daemon is one such “old tune.”

Not all tunes are created equally, however. Where some Java libraries require a little Java interop, Daemon requires a lot. Daemonizing an application with Apache Commons Daemon requires getting two parts just right.

The first part is creating a class that implements the Daemon interface and packaging it as a JAR file. The Daemon interface consists of four methods, called at different points in an daemonized applications lifecycle:

  • init(DaemonContext context): Invoked as your application is initializing. This is where you should set up any initial state for your application.

  • start(): Invoked after init. This is where you should begin performing work. +jsvc+ expects +start()+ to complete quickly, so you should kick-off work in a +future+ or Java +Thread+.

  • stop(): Invoked when a daemon has been instructed to stop. This is where you should halt whatever processing you began in start.

  • destroy(): Invoked after stop, but before the JVM process exits. In a traditional Java program, this is where you would free any resources you had acquired. You may be able to skip this method in Clojure applications if you’ve properly structured your application.

It’s easy enough to create a record (with defrecord) that implements the Daemon interface–but that isn’t enough, though. jsvc expects a Daemon-implementing class to exist on the classpath. To provide this, you must do two things: first, you need to enable ahead-of-time (AOT) compilation for your project–setting :aot :all in your project.clj will accomplish this. Second, you need to commandeer a namespace to produce a class via the :gen-class namespace directive. More specifically, you need to generate a class that implements the Daemon interface. This is accomplished easily enough using :gen-class in conjunction with the :implements directive:

(ns my-daemon.core
  ;; ...
    :implements [org.apache.commons.daemon.Daemon]))

Having set up my-daemon.core to generate a Daemon-implementing class upon compilation, the only thing left is to implement the methods themselves. Prefacing a function with a dash (e.g., -start) indicates to the Clojure compiler that a function is in fact a Java method. Further, since the Daemon methods are instance methods, each function includes one additional argument, the present Daemon instance. This argument is traditionally denoted with the name this.

In our simple my-daemon example, most of the method implementations are rather plain, taking no arguments other than this and delegating work to regular Clojure functions. -init deserves a bit more attention though:

(defn -init [this ^DaemonContext context]
  (init (.getArguments context)))

The -init method takes as an additional argument: a DaemonContext. This argument captures the command-line arguments the daemon was started with on its .getArguments property. As implemented, -init invokes .getArguments method on context, passing its return value along to the regular Clojure function init.

On that topic, why delegate every Daemon implementation to a separate Clojure function? By separating participation in the Daemon interface from the inner workings of your application, you retain the ability to invoke it in other ways. With this separation of concerns, it becomes much easier to test your application, either via integration tests or direct invocation. The -main function utilizes these Clojure functions to allow you to verify your application behaves correctly in isolation of daemonization.

With all of the groundwork for a Daemon-compliant application layed, the only remaining step remaining is packaging the application. Leiningen’s uberjar command completes all of the necessary preprarations for running your application as a daemon: compiling my-daemon.core to a class, gathering dependencies, and packaging them all into a standalone JAR file.

Last but not least, you need to run the darn thing. Since JVM processes don’t generally play nicely with low-level system calls, Daemon provides system applications, jsvc and procrun, that act as intermediaries between the JVM and your computer’s operating system. These applications, generally written in C, are capable of invoking the appropriate system calls to fork and execute your application in a background process. For simplicity, we’ll limit our discussion to the jsvc tool for the remainder of the recipe.

Both of these tools have a dizzying number of configuration options, but only a handful of them are actually necessary for getting the ball rolling. At a minumum, you must provide the location of your standalone JAR (-cp), Java installation (-java-home), and the desired class to execute (the final argument). Other relevant options include -pidfile, -outfile, and -errfile; these specify where the process’s ID, standard out, and standard error will be written to, respectively. Any arguments following the name of the class to invoke will be passed into -init as a DaemonContext.

A more complete example:

$ sudo jsvc -java-home "$JAVA_HOME" \
            -cp "$(pwd)/target/my-daemon-0.1.0-SNAPSHOT-standalone.jar" \
            -pidfile /var/run/ \
            -outfile "/var/log/my-daemon.out" \
            -errfile "/var/log/my-daemon.err" \
            my_daemon.core \
            "arguments" "to" "my-daemon.core"


Once you’ve started a daemon with jsvc, you can halt it by re-running jsvc with the -stop option included.

Since jsvc relaunches your application in a completely new process, it carries none of its original execution context. This means no environment variables, no current working directory, nothing; the process may not even be running as the same user. Because of this, it is extremely important to specify arguments to jsvc with their absolute paths and correct permissions in place.

For our sample, we’ve opted to use sudo to make this a less painful experience; but in a production, you should set up a separate user with more limited permissions. The running user should have write access to the PID, out and err files, and read access to Java and the classpath.

jsvc and its ilk can be fickle beasts–the slightest misconfiguration will cause your daemon to fail silently, without warning. We highly suggest using the -debug and -nodetach flags while developing and configuring your daemon until you’re sure things work correctly.

Once you’ve nailed an appropriate configuration, the final step is to automate the management of your daemon by writing a daemon script. A good daemon script captures configuration parameters, file paths, and common operations, exposing them in a clean, noise-free skin. Instead of the long jsvc commands you executed before, you would simply invoke my-daemon start or my-daemon stop. In fact, many Linux distributions use scripts such as this to manage system daemons. To implement your own jsvc daemon script, we suggest reading Sheldon Neilson’s Creating a Java Daemon (System Service) for Debian using Apache Commons Jsvc.

See Also

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