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Yizhe's Notebook

Fast Starting JVM Clojure with Checkpoint/Restore (Part 1)

It is well-known that Clojure has a long startup time. Even with years of improvement on the JVM and Clojure itself, getting to the REPL still takes seconds. This makes JVM Clojure unsuitable for short-living programs, such as command lines utilities.

Then there is Babashka, which starts instantly and works mostly like JVM Clojure. In Babashka, there is no JVM, instead a custom interpreter runs your Clojure Code.1 You can't use Java classes except those built into with Babashka. Existing Clojure libraries may or may not work depending on what Java classes they use underneath. Babashka is great for simple scripts, but comes short when you need third-party libraries.

Why do we have to choose between Clojure that works for everything and Clojure that starts fast? If only we could combine the power of JVM Clojure and the speed of Babashka...

Why is Clojure slow to start?

So why is Clojure on the JVM slow to start? I recommand reading this if you're interested in the details, but the TL;DR is that it takes a lot of time to initialize clojure.core namespace. In JVM's term, that means running a bunch of static initialization. Every top-level form in Clojure corresponds to a static field, which is initialized with static initialization blocks.

We can see it in action by compiling a small Clojure program into bytecode. Here's src/hello.clj:

(ns hello)

(defn hello-world
  (println "Hello world!"))

Running clj -M -e "(compile 'hello)" produces 4 .class files:


Using Intellij's Java decompiler, we can take a look at what these .class files contain. Here's

public class hello__init {
   public static final Var const__0;
   public static final AFn const__1;
   public static final AFn const__2;
   public static final Var const__3;
   public static final AFn const__11;

   public static void load() {
      ((IFn)(new hello$loading__6789__auto____126())).invoke();
      Object var10002;
      if (((Symbol)const__1).equals(const__2)) {
         var10002 = null;
      } else {
         LockingTransaction.runInTransaction((Callable)(new hello$fn__128()));
         var10002 = null;

      Var var10003 = const__3;
      var10003.bindRoot(new hello$hello_world());

   public static void __init0() {
      const__0 = (Var)RT.var("clojure.core", "in-ns");
      const__1 = (AFn)Symbol.intern((String)null, "hello");
      const__2 = (AFn)Symbol.intern((String)null, "clojure.core");
      const__3 = (Var)RT.var("hello", "hello-world");
      const__11 = (AFn) Object[]{RT.keyword((String)null, "arglists"), PersistentList.create(Arrays.asList(Tuple.create())), RT.keyword((String)null, "line"), 3, RT.keyword((String)null, "column"), 1, RT.keyword((String)null, "file"), "hello.clj"});

   static {

      try {
      } catch (Throwable var1) {
         throw var1;


The hello__init class contains 5 static variables, representing Clojure functions and variables. The static initialization block calls __init0(), which sets the static variables.

Remember that clojure.core containing over 600 functions and variables! This initialization takes place every time you launch a new REPL, and is the major cause for Clojure's slow start.

A promising solution: Checkpoint/Restore

CRIU, which stands for Checkpoint/Restore In Userspace, is a linux tool that can freezes a running program and saves ("checkpoint") its state to disk. The saved state can then be restored later multiple times, potentially on a different machine. CRIU can be applied to any Linux programs, including the JVM. CRaC, which stands for Coordinated Restore at Checkpoint, is an OpenJDK side-project that adds support for Checkpoint/Restore from the JVM. It exposes an API for triggering and reacting to Checkpoint/Restore, runs heap cleanup and compaction prior to checkpoint, and more.

The plan of attack is simple. We initialize Clojure once, then request a checkpoint via CRaC. Later, when we want a Clojure REPL, we ask CRaC to restore from the checkpoint. The restore process is fast, and from now everything works exactly the same as normal JVM Clojure -- JIT compilation, dymanic class loading, etc.

Here's a step-by-step guide if you want to try for yourself. I plan to package the whole thing into something like docker eventually, but for now you'll have to do it yourself.

  1. Download the latest build of JDK with CRaC. Unpack it with sudo (sudo is necessary because criu is a setuid executable).
  2. Download Clojure as a JAR file. I'll use 1.8 for the experiment and benchmark.
  3. To create a checkpoint, run
<JDK-CRaC-dir>/bin/java -XX:CRaCCheckpointTo=my_checkpoint -cp clojure-1.8.0.jar clojure.main -e '(jdk.crac.Core/checkpointRestore)'

We're telling Clojure to request a checkpoint immediately upon finishing initialization (via jdk.crac.Core/checkpointRestore). The checkpoint will be saved in my_checkpoint.

  1. When we want a Clojure REPL, run
<JDK-CRaC-dir>/bin/java -XX:CRaCRestoreFrom=my_checkpoint clojure.main

This will restore the checkpoint and transfer control to clojure.main, which starts a fresh REPL.


  • You may pass extra command line arguments when restoring the checkpoint. Those arguments are forwarded to clojure.main. For example, to execute src/core.clj, you may run 2
<JDK-CRaC-dir>/bin/java -XX:CRaCRestoreFrom=my_checkpoint clojure.main src/core.clj
  • The checkpoint refers to clojure-1.8.0.jar by absolute path. You need to make sure it stays where it is when you restore the checkpoint.
  • By default, the checkpoint is not portable across machines and Linux distros. There are ways to make it portable, and hopeful this will improve as the project matures.
  • You may initialize additional namespaces (or doing any sort of JVM warm up, really) before calling jdk.crac.Core/checkpointRestore, which can further reduce startup time depending on your use case.


We'll benchmark the time it takes to finish executing (println "Hello world!") for the following Clojure runtimes:

  • openjdk-17-crac+5
  • openjdk-17-crac+5 with dynamic CDS enabled
  • openjdk-17-crac+5 with Checkpoint/Restore
  • Babashka v1.3.182

Performance is measured with perf stat -e task-clock -r50. I ran the benchmark on my laptop with a 3.20 GHz AMD Ryzen 7 5800H in a NixOS VM.

Here's the result (lower is better):

benchmark result

Some observations:

  • Checkpoint/Restore starts up very fast, on par with Babashka
  • With OpenJDK (both with CDS and without CDS), task-clock is 2~3x wall clock, indicating efficient usage of multiple CPU cores. Not so with Checkpoint/Restore or Babashka
  • For Checkpoint/Restore and Babashka, the hello-world example finishes within milliseconds, and this benchmark is probably not accurate any more.
  • Checkpoint/Restore takes longer to initialize than babashka (as seen from the wall-clock), but most of the time is probably spent waiting on IO (as seen from the task-clock)

Let's also run through file sizes:

  • clojure-1.8.0.jar is 3.5MB
  • my_checkpoint is 43MB, about 12x larger than clojure-1.8.0.jar
  • babashka-1.3.182 is a 86MB standalone executable, which does not depend on JVM


Checkpoint/Restore is a promising technique to improve Clojure startup time without sacraficing power. CRaC is still in early stage of development, and we can expect constant improvement from now on.

The next post will be about integrating Checkpoint/Restore with tools.deps and the Clojure CLI tools. Stay tuned!



Babashka uses GraalVM Native Image to compile Java bytecode into native code ahead-of-time. This process requires that all the bytecode called at run time must be known (observed and analyzed) at build time (known as the "closed world assumption"). Normally, Clojure compiles your code into Java bytecode and loads them into the JVM on the fly, but this is not possible with GraalVM Native Image. As a workaround, Babashka embeds a Clojure interpreter to evaluate Clojure code directly without compiling to Java bytecode.


There's currently a bug where if you pass -e '(println "Hello world!")' as arguments, Clojure will see only -e '(println and treat whitespace as EOF. A workaround is to use \n instead of whitespace, like so: -e $'(println\n"Hello-world!")'