Basic library for interacting with Neo4J

Upstream URL


James Fleming <>


Apache license 2.0, MIT license

neo4cl - a CL library for interacting with Neo4J

Short description:

From the Neo4J website: "Neo4j is a highly scalable native graph database."

Graph databases emphasise the relationships between things, and the information to be found there, in contrast to the relational focus on the things themselves. They are typically much more flexible in their definitions of things than RDBMSes, which fits well with Lisp's fluid approach to functionality.

Neo4J is a very popular graph database that scales well. It implements a property graph, which means you can assign attributes to relationships as well as to nodes, and its query language (Cypher) is very expressive. It's an excellent transactional database which satisfies the ACID model, in contrast to something like RDF, which is better suited to data warehousing where responsiveness is traded off for more semantic richness.

Neo4CL is very simple library that sends Cypher queries to a Neo4J server, and decodes the responses into something useful for processing in CL. The queries and their responses take the form of alists. This library aims at compliance with Neo4J 4.3.9 via the Bolt protocol, based on the documentation in the Neo4J developer manual, and is intended as something to build applications on, more than for interactive use.


Alpha: it works and there's a test suite, but not all functionality is implemented yet, and it hasn't been fully production-tested.


  • Basic authentication.
  • Autocommit transactions.
  • Multi-chunk message parsing.
    • I.e, it will reassemble multi-chunk messages received from the server in response to queries.
  • Lisp -> Packstream implementation:
    • nil -> Null
    • Boolean
    • string -> String
    • integer -> Integer
    • list -> List
    • hash-table -> Dictionary
    • alist -> Dictionary
  • Packstream -> Lisp implementation:
    • Null -> nil
    • Boolean -> t and nil
    • Integer -> integer
    • String -> string
    • List -> list
    • Dictionary -> hash-table
      • Dictionary is defined to potentially return multiple values for the same key, but the spec also states that the last-received value takes precedence in the event of key collisions. Hash-tables support this behaviour by nature, while doing this with alists involves more messing around..
    • Structures are parsed into CL classes, whose symbols are exported from the package:
      • Node -> node
      • Relationship -> relationship

Not yet implemented:

  • Explicit transactions.
  • Routing.
  • Multi-chunk encoding of large client messages.
  • Packstream parsing not implemented:
    • Float
    • Bytes
    • Structure types other than Node and Relationship
  • TLS/SSL connections.

There is an issue for each of these things in Github.

Not implemented, and not on the roadmap:

  • Anything involving Cypher itself. It forwards the query string and parameters, and assumes the server will know what to do with that.
  • Any kind of object-graph mapping.

What it does

  • Execute basic queries as autocommit transactions, parsing the results into suitable CL types, including various classes.


Neo4j versions

Bolt client


Lisp compatibility

SBCL only.

Once it's fully functional for Neo4j 4.3 and 4.4, support may be added for other implementations, if any interest is shown.


All available via Quicklisp:

  • fiveam for testing
  • trivial-utf-8
  • usocket

How it works

Clients mostly interact with a bolt-session object, which contains objects representing the usocket connection stream, the version of the Bolt protocol in use for this session, and the version of the Neo4j database that it's connected to.

Example usage

Fetch the label and name property of all nodes in the database:

(defparameter *bolt-server*
  (make-instance 'neo4cl::bolt-server
                 :hostname ""))

(defparameter *bolt-auth-basic*
  (make-instance 'neo4cl::bolt-auth-basic
                 :username "neo4j"
                 :password "wallaby"))

(let ((session (neo4cl:establish-bolt-session *bolt-server* *bolt-auth-basic*)))
    "MATCH (p) RETURN AS name, LABELS(p) AS label")
  (neo4cl:disconnect session))

Notes about Packstream encoding

Packstream is the message-encoding format used by the Bolt protocol.

It has explicit encoding for Boolean and Null values, but Common Lisp does not; this makes it difficult for the encoder to figure out whether the value for a hash-table entry is null, an empty list, or a boolean False. To resolve this, neo4cl recognises the values :true, :false and :null, and encodes them accordingly.

Error/condition handling

Three errors and one non-error condition are defined, following the Neo4J classifications:

  • client-error
  • transient-error
  • database-error
  • client-notification

They're further broken down into Category and Title, by simply splitting on the dot, and the Message is also included.

E.g, Neo.ClientError.Schema.ConstraintValidationFailed would be raised as

(error neo4cl:client-error
    :category "Schema"
    :title "ConstraintValidationFailed"
    :message "Node 126 already exists with label routers and property \"uid\"=[whitesands]")

The symbols category, title and message are exported so these fields can be read.

Dependencies (4)

  • fiveam
  • flexi-streams
  • trivial-utf-8
  • usocket

Dependents (0)

    • GitHub
    • Quicklisp