Why Boot is Relevant For The Clojure Ecosystem
Boot is a build system for Clojure projects. It roughly competes in the same area as Leiningen but Boot's new version brings some interesting features to the table that make it an alternative worth assessing.
Compose Build Steps
If you've used Leiningen for more than packaging jars and uberjars
you likely came across plugins like
lein-garden, both compile your stuff into a target
format (i.e. JS, CSS). Now if you want to run both of these tasks
at the same time — which you probably want during development —
you have two options: either you open two terminals and start them
separately or you fall back to something like below that you run
dev profile (this is how it's done in
(defn start-garden 
(print "Starting Garden.\n")
(lein/-main ["garden" "auto"])))
Now there are issues with both of these options in my opinion. Opening two terminals to initiate your development environment is just not very user friendly and putting code related to building the project into your codebase is boilerplate that unnecessarily can cause trouble by getting outdated.
What Boot allows developers to do is to write small composable tasks. These work somewhat similar to stateful transducers and ring middleware in that you can just combine them with regular function composition.
A Quick Example
Playing around with Boot, I tried to write a task. To test this
task in an actual project I needed to install it into my local
repository (in Leiningen:
lein install). Knowing that
I'd need to reinstall the task constantly as I change it I was
looking for something like Leiningen's Checkouts so I don't have
to re-install after every change.
Turns out Boot can solve this problem in a very different way that
illustrates the composing mechanism nicely. Boot defines a bunch
that help with packaging and installing a jar:
We could call all of these these on the command line as follows:
boot pom add-src jar install
Because we're lazy we'll define it as a task in our project's
build.boot file. (Command-line task and their
arguments are symmetric to their Clojure counterparts.)
(require '[boot.core :refer [deftask]]
'[boot.task.built-in :refer [pom add-src jar install]])
"Build jar and install to local repo."
(comp (pom) (add-src) (jar) (install)))
boot build-jar is roughly equivalent to
lein install. To have any changes directly reflected
on our classpath we can just compose our newly written
build-jar task with another task from the repertoire
of built-in tasks:
observes the file system for changes and initiates a new build
cycle when they occur:
boot watch build-jar
With that command we just composed our already composed task with another task. Look at that cohesion!
There Are Side-Effects Everwhere!
Is one concern that has been raised about Boot. Leiningen is beautifully declarative. It's one immutable map that describes your whole project. Boot on the other hand looks a bit different. A usual boot file might contain a bunch of side-effectful functions and in general it's much more a program than it is data.
I understand that this might seem like a step back at first sight,
in fact I looked at it with confusion as well. There are some
problems with Leiningen though that are probably hard to work out
in Leiningen's declarative manner (think back to
lein X auto commands.
Looking at Boot's code it becomes apparent that the authors spent a great deal of time on isolating the side effects that might occur in various build steps. I recommend reading the comments on this Hacker News thread for more information on that.
When To Use Boot, When To Use Leiningen
Boot is a build tool. That said it's task composition features only get to shine when multiple build steps are involved. If you're developing a library I'm really not going to try to convince you to switch to Boot. Leiningen works great for that and is, I'd assume, more stable than Boot.
If you however develop an application that requires various build steps (like Clojurescript, Garden, live reloading, browser-repl) you should totally check out Boot. There are tasks for all of the above mentioned: Clojurescript, Clojurescript REPL, Garden, live reloading. I wrote the Garden task and writing tasks is not hard once you have a basic understanding of Boot.
If you need help or have questions join the #hoplon channel on freenode IRC. I'll try to help and if I can't Alan or Micha, the authors of Boot, probably can.