What do :project/dev and :profiles/dev mean in a Leiningen project?

A few years ago I came across a Leiningen project that defined profiles for :project/dev, :profiles/dev, :project/test, and :profiles/test. It took me a little bit of digging, but eventually I discovered what was happening. This is a convention that I think originated with James Reeves. I’m reposting my issue comment here, so it can be more accessible for searchers.

If you see profiles like this in a project.clj, here is what is happening:

:dev  [:project/dev  :profiles/dev]
:test [:project/test :profiles/test]
:profiles/dev  {}
:profiles/test {}
:project/dev  { ... }
:project/test { ... }

Leiningen has a feature called Composite Profiles. On startup, if Leiningen sees a vector of keywords for a profile, it will lookup each keyword as a profile, and merge them together. For the :dev profile, Leiningen will merge the values of :project/dev and :profiles/dev.

If you want to add any custom settings or dependencies for your own use, you can place them into the :profiles/dev or :profiles/test in your ~/.lein/profiles.clj. If either of these are set in the user’s profiles.clj, they will override the empty :profiles/dev map specified in the project.clj. You need an empty map for :profiles/dev {} in the project.clj, because otherwise Leiningen will complain about a missing profile.