Learning Clojure: Error messages

I started my recent Clojure talk by enumerating the “scary bits” for new users. The two I went into were the fundamentally different semantics, and that the doc strings for the core functions were succinct and exact, but not expansive in use cases.

There was one that I forgot to bring up, though: compiler error messages when there’s a problem with a macro call.

There’s been a lot of chatter on the topic this past week, since Colin Fleming gave a talk at Clojure/Conj on the subject focusing on how to improve them with grammars. The conversation has kept a positive focus on how to fix it, as opposed to piling negativity on the situation (go Clojure community!) but that does not mean we can expect to see a change right away.

I’d like to address how this might affect you if you’re just getting into the language, and what you can do about it.