In this article, we will go through the possible options for any Java developer to choose from the various options that are available out there to build your Java projects. As each of these options available in the market today, have their pros and cons, we will go through them in much more detail and understand the best possible options that we can choose out of the rest.
Also, we would be discussing the options which are pretty awkwardly present but are still valid tools that could be used by any of the Java developers in detail to whatever extent possible.
Any Java developer who would have worked on a project of considerable size would have definitely come across any of the following that we would discuss further in great detail. There can be possibilities that you might not have come across them as nubile Java developers, but it is a very good option for you to take up the necessary learning in understanding any of the build technologies that you are inclined towards. As we progress towards automating most of the mundane tasks and activities that are being taken up by the developers, these options come to the rescue of doing just that.
Let us not dwell any further on the discussions whether or not these build tools are required for an average Java developer or not, but let us get into the core of the discussion on how these build tools help any of the Java developers in their day to day activities. We will be discussing more the following three build tools in a great deal:
ANT was one of the only available options back in the 2000’s where there weren’t many options available other than ANT. It was released in the year 2000 and within a short span of time had become the most popular build tool for Java projects. ANT in conjunction with Ivy can be termed as the MODERN build tool.
Ant is java library, which helps to drive the process defined in the build file. Mainly Ant is used to build Java applications. Ant is very flexible, it does not impose any rules like coding conventions, directory structure. Ivy is a subproject of Ant, which acts as a dependency manager.
ANT has a very low learning curve, as it is very close to understanding similar to XML files and hence it was imbibed as a must know technology for Java developers than on. It was basically on the procedure-oriented way of coding.
One of the biggest advantages and also the biggest disadvantage of ANT was the usage of XML as the medium to write the build scripts. This was not a perfect fit for a procedural oriented programming approach ANT uses but has improved a great deal on accepting plug-ins after the initial release.
If the build scripts are not well documented with proper comments, then it becomes unmanageably big and maintenance gets tougher. Later on, as dependency management over the network became a must, Ant adopted Apache Ivy. The main benefit of Ant is its control of the build process.
Apache Maven was released in the year 2004 after ANT was released in the year 2000. The main goal that was planned to fix few of the developer hiccups while using ANT. Maven hasn’t solved the problem with the XML configuration but has solved it to an extent that needs a little bit of configuration rather than writing up tons of lines of XML code. XML as build configuration format has imposed strictly a structured and a standardized way.
Maven has taken a step further on relying upon conventions and provisioning targets or better understood as goals that could be invoked instead of developers putting in all the commands that lead to the successful execution of a task. Maven has also answered the problem of dependency manager while ANT had to rely on its subproject Ivy for these tasks to be done.
That been said, Maven has its own set of issues with dependency management where it can’t handle conflicts between different versions of the same library (where Ivy was way better with ANT in this particular aspect). Since Maven addresses more over dependency management, writing complex build scripts gets tougher in Maven than ANT.
Maven on bigger projects may have few hundreds of lines of code without actually doing anything great but just handling the dependency management. One of the biggest advantages that Maven can handle with much ease is the handling of the life cycle and comes at the cost of flexibility. Maven is more than a build tool. Maven even describes how software is built and helps in dependency management also. Maven is used mainly for java based projects.
Gradle as a build tool has imbibed in the good parts of both the build tools namely ANT and Maven with DSL and also various other improvements. Gradle has the power of ANT and also the flexibility of Maven with its life-cycle abilities. The end result of this amalgam is the advent of Gradle in the year 2012 which has gained a lot of attention in the shortest span of time.
Gradle doesn’t use XML but has its own DSL based on Groovy (one of the JVM languages available). Gradle uses groovy scripts for declaring project configuration. Having said that, Gradle build scripts look much smaller in the code lines and looks clearer and neater than ANT or Maven put together. Gradle had initially used Apache Ivy for its dependency management and later on has moved on to use native dependency resolution engine.
Gradle’s effort can be summarized into the smallest phrase that aptly fits it – “Convention is good and so is flexibility”. Google is a perfect example who has absorbed Gradle as their default build tool to build their Android OS and also has become their default build tool for Java projects as well.
Gradle was designed for multi-project builds and supports incremental builds by determining which parts of the build are up-to-date. Ant is mostly treated as legacy right now. Industry going forward with Gradle build tool. I personally feel, Ant and Maven still we can use, it mainly depends on the project. Sometimes we can use a combination of Ant and Gradle, Maven and Gradle, or even three together.
In this article, we have gone through the requirement of a build tool for any Java developer in particular. With the basic understanding of what can be achieved by using a build tool, we have introduced you with the 3 best tools that are basically available for usage. Going through all the details that are provided, selecting a build tool for your java projects with further depending on the choices that you make.
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