Execution Contexts

Spire can execute modules locally or on a remote machine. Each type is called an execution context. The default execution context is to execute locally. You can change this default context to be a remote context. This is most useful for work involving the REPL.

Contexts are generally invoked by the local, ssh or ssh-group macro. The forms in the body of the macro are evaluated in that context, and at the end of the macro the old context is returned. Thus contexts are lexically scoped.

Local Context

Local context is the default context if no other context is invoked.

Local context can be set by wrapping code in the local macro. eg:

    ...these modules run locally...

Remote Contexts

Spire connects to remote machines with the ssh or ssh-group commands. Each takes one or more connection descriptions that define how to connect. There are two types of connection descriptions: A compact host string format, or a more powerful hashmap format.

Connection Descriptions

Host Strings

A host string is of the format username@hostname:port. The username and port sections are optional. If no username is specified, the present user's username is used. If no port is specified then a default port of 22 is used.

Connection Hashmaps

A connection hashmap can be used instead of a host string. The hashmap can contain some subset of the following keys:

  • :host-string
  • :username
  • :hostname
  • :port
  • :password
  • :identity
  • :passphrase
  • :private-key
  • :public-key
  • :agent-forwarding
  • :strict-host-key-checking
  • :accept-host-key
  • :key

This is a convenience setting for when you wish to add extra options to an existing host string config. It allows you to specify some subset of :username, :hostname and :port in a single setting.


The username to connect as.


A machine hostname or an IP number to connect to.


The TCP port to use to initiate the ssh connection.


Authenticate with the remote server using a plain text password. The password to use is specified as the value for this key. If password authentication is in use and this setting is not provided, spire will prompt for a password to be entered at the terminal.


Authenticate with the remote server using a private ssh key identity stored in a file. The value should be the path to the private key file.


If the identity specified is encrypted, decrypt it with this passphrase. If it is encrypted and no passphrse is given spire will ask for a passphrase on the terminal.


Authenticate with the remote server using a private ssh key identity. The identity to use is specified as the value for this key.

Note: This value is not a filename but the contents of the identity file itself.


Presently, spire does not use the public key field, but it is passed to the underlying JSch ssh implementation for it's use. You may need to supply this if you are extending spire itself with new JSch functionality.


Set this value to true to enable SSH authentication agent forwarding on the connection. This requires a local SSH agent to be running. Default value is false.


Setting this value as false will allow a connection to establish to any remote host without checking its host key for validity. Default value when unspecified is true, ie. Check the remote host's host key.


This value controls the automatic acceptance of an unknown remote host key. If set to true, any host key will be accepted and added to the known_hosts file. If set to a string, spire will compare the remote host key's fingerprint with that specified in the string. If they match, the key will be added to the known_hosts file and the connection will be established.


Specify a custom key to key the return value in group connections. The default is to key the return values by the host-string.


The ssh macro initiates a connection to a single remote host via ssh and then executes the body of the form in an implicit do block. It takes the form:

(ssh connection-config

connection-config can be a host-string or a hashmap defining the connection.

Once connected, each form in body will be executed in turn.

Return Value

The result of the evaluation of the final form in body is returned by ssh unaltered.


The ssh-group macro initiates ssh connections to more than one remote host. Once the connections are established it then spawns a thread for each connection and executes the body of the form in each thread. It takes the form:

(ssh-group [connection-conf-1 connection-conf-2 ... connection-conf-n]

Each connection-config can be a host-string or a hashmap defining the connection.

If one thread/connection experiences a failure, its execution will stop, but the others will continue.

Return Value

ssh-group will take the return value from the last form evaluated by each thread and collate them together into a hashmap. The values for each connection will be stored under a key. This key will be the host-string by default, but you can override this return value key by specifying a custome :key in the connection-conf hashmap passed in to ssh-group.

Reconnection Issues

Both ssh and ssh-group, when used in isolation, will open a connection when the call is entered, and close a connection when the body exits. Consider the following:

(ssh "host-1" body-1)
(ssh "host-2" body-2)
(ssh "host-1" body-3)

In the above case, spire will open a connection to host-1, then run body-1, and then close the connection to host-1. It will then open a connection to host-2, run body-2, and then close the connection to host-2. It wil then reopen the connection to host-1, run body-3 and then close the connection to host-1.

Thus the connection to host-1 is performed twice, including all the connection negotiation and authentication. This approach is perfectly valid, but with a larger and more complex script, this connection overhead may become a substantial performance bottleneck.

There are two ways to mitigate this issue. Nested connections and pre-connecting.

Nested Connections

To mitigate this issue you can nest connections.

If ssh or ssh-group is called, and a connection to the host is already established, spire will use that existing connection but use a new channel on it to run the body.

Thus the previous example could be rewritten:

(ssh "host-1" body-1
    (ssh "host-2" body-2)

In this case, each host is only connected to once.

You can also nest more deely, if you wish. This is useful if there was some result of an operation on host-1 that you are going to use on host-2 thus:

(ssh "host-1"
    (ssh "host-2"
        (use-something-from (ssh "host-1" (get-file ...)))

Warning When nesting an ssh connection context inside ssh-group, the inner body code will be run multiple times, one for each ssh-group thread. In many such cases it will be prudent to gather that information outside of the ssh-group call and pass the data through.

(ssh "host-1"
    (let [data (get-file ...)]
        (ssh-group ["host-2" "host-3"]
            (do-something-wth data))))


Another way to mitigate excessive reconnections is to pre-connect to your machines using the functions spire.default/push-ssh!. Additionally spire.default/empty! can close all the connections.

(push-ssh! "host-1") ;; connects to host-1
(push-ssh! "host-2") ;; connects to host-2
(ssh "host-1" ... ) ;; reuses host-1 connection
(ssh "host-2" ... ) ;; reuses host-2 connection
(empty!) ;; disconnects from both host-1 and host-2. Or just let the script exit

Agent Forwarding

To activate ssh authentication agent forwarding on a connection, set :auth-forward to true in the host config:

(ssh {:username "root"
      :hostname "remote-host"
      :agent-forwarding true}
  (shell {:cmd "ssh -T git@github.com"}))

Note: ssh agent forwarding requires running a ssh-agent on your local computer to work.

Escalating priviledges


The user used to execute module commands can be changed with sudo or sudo-user.

sudo-user macro

sudo-user takes a configuration hashmap whose keys and values configure the execution of the sudo command. The body can be one or more forms.

(sudo-user config body...)

The config form is a hashmap with a subset of the following keys:

  • :username
    • :uid
    • :group
    • :gid
    • :password

For example:

(ssh "user@host"
  (sudo-user {:username "root"
              :password "my-sudo-password"}
    (do-something ... )))

sudo macro

sudo executes the body of the macro using the plain sudo command on the remote host.

(sudo body...)

sudo password caching

When using a password based sudo you only need to specify the password once. Spire will cache the password it has used for a connection, and if prompted for a password again and a new one is not supplied, the last used one will be tried. In this way you do not have to keep supplying the same password over and over. For example:

(ssh "user@host"
   (sudo-user {:password "my-sudo-password"}

nREPL Connections

Spire can be started with the --nrepl-server flag to launch an nREPL service. For example:

$ spire --nrepl-server 6543
Started nREPL server at

Now in an editor that supports a clojure nREPL, connect to this address.

Setting the default context for the nREPL

By default, if the code executed is not in the body of a context macro such as local, ssh or ssh-group, then the code is executed in a local context. This can be changed by the functions in the spire.default namespace.

Note: The macros local, ssh and ssh-group always override any default context setting.

When there is no execution context macro body in play, spire falls back to the default context. This context is the most recent value on a default context stack that you can change with the following functions.


Sets the present default connection context to an ssh connection with the chosen settings.

user> (set-ssh! "epiccastle.io")
user> (shell {:cmd "hostname"})
{:exit 0, :out "epiccastle\n", :err "", :out-lines ["epiccastle"], :result :ok}


Sets the present default connection context to an ssh connection with the chosen settings.

user> (set-local!)
user> (shell {:cmd "hostname"})
{:exit 0, :out "vash\n", :err "", :out-lines ["vash"], :result :ok}


This pushes a new ssh connection context onto the default context stack.

example (1):

user> (push-ssh! "epiccastle.io")
user> (shell {:cmd "hostname"})
{:exit 0, :out "epiccastle\n", :err "", :out-lines ["epiccastle"], :result :ok}


This pushes a new local connection context onto the default context stack.

example (2):

user> (push-local!)
user> (shell {:cmd "hostname"})
{:exit 0, :out "vash\n", :err "", :out-lines ["vash"], :result :ok}


This pops the top connection context off the stack and returns the present default connection context to its previous setting.

For example, after doing (1) and (2) above,

then example (3):

user> (pop!)
user> (shell {:cmd "hostname"})
{:exit 0, :out "epiccastle\n", :err "", :out-lines ["epiccastle"], :result :ok}


This pops all the connection contexts off and clears the stack. It returns the default connection context to a local one.

After doing (1), (2) and (3) above:

user> (empty!)
user> (shell {:cmd "hostname"})
{:exit 0, :out "vash\n", :err "", :out-lines ["vash"], :result :ok}

Requiring External Code

Code defined in external files can be referenced in your mainline by using clojures standard require semantics. This can be done as a plain require. For example:

(require '[roles.nginx :as nginx])

Or in a namespace declaration such as:

(ns infra
  (:require [roles.nginx :as nginx]))

The file to be included nginx.clj whereever it is found should begin with a matching ns declaration:

(ns roles.nginx)

External Code Search Path

Required code will be loaded from a standard namespace directory structure. For example, roles.nginx will be loaded from a file roles/nginx.clj.

This path will be used relative to the containing folder of the executing script, if spire is invoked with a code file path, or the present directory, if spire is invoked with -e to evaluate a string.

So, for example: If spire was invoked spire path/to/script.clj then the above required file would be loaded from path/to/roles/nginx.clj. Alternatively if spire was invoked `spire -e "(require '[roles.nginx])"` then the file would be loaded from roles/nginx.clj

Altering the Search Path

More complex library layouts can be facilitated via the environment variable SPIREPATH. If this environment variable is set, it should contain a colon : seperated list of paths to search for the library code. For example in the following case:

SPIREPATH=a/b:c/d/e:../f:. spire -e "(require '[role.nginx])"

The file nginx.clj would be looked for in the following order


If spire path is set and the present directory is not included, then it will not be searched. In this way settings SPIREPATH overrides the default search location behaviour completely.

Spire modules and their layout

By default the complete set of available modules are present to be used without a namespace qualifier in the scripts default namespace. So for example spire -e '(ssh "localhost" (get-fact))' works without any namespaces specified for ssh or get-fact.

These names are actually interned in the user namespace, and the default namespace for code evaluation is user. Thus, if you specify another namespace for execution via a ns declaration you will discover that you will need to require each module function from each namespace. For example:

(ns infra
  (:require [spire.module.apt :as apt]
            [spire.module.download :as download]))


(apt/apt ...)
(download/download ...)

This can become very tiresome so a namespace spire.modules is provided that contains every default module function in a single namespace. Thus you can restore the default root script behavoir in any namespace as follows:

(ns infra
  (:require [spire.modules :refer :all]))

Loading External Code

An alternative method to bringing in external code is with load-file. This loads the code from an external clojure file and evaluates it in the present namespace context. For example:

$ cat test.clj
(* 10 n)
$ spire -e '(def n 5) (load-file "test.clj")'


Output printing is controlled by the --output flag. You can specify a snippet of edn as a value. (This value will be used as the dispatch value driver when calling the output functions).


The default output driver is selected with --output :default. This driver tries to collate the output of the state together in a minimal way. It uses colour. It prints errors inline. It prints upload and download copy progress bars.


The quiet output driver is selected with --output :quiet. This driver prints nothing.


The events output driver is selected with --output :events. This prints a coloured, pretty printed vector for every called output function. The format of the vector printed is `[type filename form meta host-config & arguments]`

Threading Model



Command Line Arguments