Initially I was a big Maven fan. It was the best build tool. When coding in C I was using make and after switching to Java, naturally Ant was next.
But Maven was so much better. It had a few things that you cannot do anything but love them. First of all, dependency management. To get rid of downloading the jars, include them in a
lib folder, and even the bigger pain of updating them … wow … to get rid of all of these was a breeze.
Maven had also a standard build lifecycle and you can download a project and start a build without knowing anything about it. You could have done this in Ant, but there projects should have followed a convention, which wasn’t always the case. In all honesty, it wasn’t even existing one :), at least a written formal one.
And then Maven came with a standard folder structure. If you pickup a new project it’s clearly easier to understand it and find what you’re looking for.
And … that’s about it. I would like to say that the fact that uses XML was also a good thing. XML is powerful because it can be easily understood by both humans and computers (read programs). But no other tool, except Maven, was interested in understanding its POM. And if for describing and formalizing something, like a workflow, XML is great, using it for imperative tasks – not so. Ant was doing this and going through an Ant build wasn’t the easiest task of all.
Maven was also known for its verbosity. If you go to mvnrepository.com and take any package in there you’ll clearly see the most verbose one:
as compared to Gradle for example
And that’s for adding just one dependency. If you have 30 or more in your project, which for a web application is not uncommon, you end up with a looot of code …
And then it comes the customization. It is very good that Maven comes with a standardized lifecycle, but if it’s not enough (and usually it isn’t) it’s very hard to customize it. To do something really useful you’ll need to write a plugin. I know that there is the exec plugin, but it has some serious drawbacks and the most important one is that it cannot do incremental builds. You can simply run a command, but you cannot do it if only some destination files are outdated compared to their corresponding sources.
So, I needed something else. I looked a little bit over some existing build tools and none of them seemed very appealing, but I ended up switching to Gradle. Two reasons: Spring is using it (I’m a big fan of many Spring projects) and I wanted to also get acquainted with Groovy.
While switching a web application project, which took me 3 days, I ended up with a 10kb build file instead of 36Kb and many added features. I was able to build my CSS and JS using Compass/Sass and browserify and more importantly incrementally (but as a whole).
I was also able to better customize my generated Eclipse project, including specify derived folders. As a side note, for improved Gradle support in Eclipse you need to install Gradle IDE from update site http://dist.springsource.com/release/TOOLS/update/e4.4/ and miminum required version is 3.6.3 – see here why. You may need to uncheck
Contact all update sites during install to find required software if you get an installation error.
Gradle is probably not the dream build tool, it has a very loose syntax, it combines descriptive properties with imperative task reducing readability, but it’s less verbose and much more flexible than Maven. Probably with some coding standards applied on top, it could become a good choice.