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Java Build Tools – A Detailed Comparison of Ant, Maven, Gradle, and Bazel

Which Java build tool should I select? I guess Maven…Mmm… Or maybe Bazel? Wait, I think Gradle is the best. I believe these kinds of conversations run in your head as well when you ought to choose a build tool. Let’s do a fair comparison of the following four: Ant, Maven, Gradle, and Bazel.

Build tools have evolved over the time and are becoming increasingly advanced every day. Though possessing the pride of pioneer among modern build tools, Ant is no more a market leader. Its market presence is being taken steadily by Maven. Within a short span of time from its introduction, Gradle’s speed of growth is remarkably high. Its success is understood by the fact that Google’s Android OS has Gradle as the default build tool.

Alright, so I’ve analyzed the advantages and drawbacks of each tool across 3 broad categories – which I thought will be of prime significance while you have to make a choice among the four. Scroll down to read more.

Learning Curve:

Organizations will think twice before adopting any software or application if it has a high learning curve. If everyone can start using a tool without any special training, it tends to succeed soon when compared to its peers. On this basis, I’ve done an evaluation based on: depth of previous knowledge required and possibilities of customization.

Maven stands tall here as one doesn’t need to be familiar with it to build the artifact or run unit tests on current projects. But the main drawback is Maven’s pom.xml file – which is heavy as it contains almost all information about the project; it’s just read and the goal is executed. If the project becomes bigger, so does its pom.xml file. None of us wants to take the effort of creating a new file from scratch, and we always wish to just modify an existing one. IDE helps you here, as Eclipse and NetBeans will generate minimal working pom.xml files, where you need to introduce some dependencies you require.

Gradle has the benefits of both Ant and Maven, along with DSL and other improved features. Gradle doesn’t use XML and has its own DSL based on one of the JVM languages – Groovy. It is more like Java’s simplified version and so welcomed warmly by the Java developers. Therefore Gradle’s build scripts are much precise and clear than those that of Ant or Maven. Gradle also employs Maven’s repository format, hence managing dependencies in Gradle will be easy if you are already experienced with these tools. What makes Gradle’s learning curve high is the time taken in learning DSL as it’s completely new and unique to Gradle.

Ant is based on procedural programming concept and hence its learning curve is fairly low. If you are familiar with XML and the basic tags, you can simply be up and running as Ant uses XML to write build scripts. Sound experience in XML, build tools, and dependency management will get you going without any special preparations. Moreover, plenty of templates are available in web and you can auto-generate a basic Ant script leveraging the IDEs.

Bazel automates software builds and tests. Its main advantage is you can work with source files written in any language (using its extension language) with native support for C, C++, Java, and Python. You can easily tweak the build process or write new rules to enable Bazel to work with any language or platform.

Availability of Plug-ins:

Maven doesn’t allow you introduce any code in the build script and need plug-ins if you want to do something new. In fact, you can’t really work in Maven without plug-ins and that’s the reason nearly 200+ are available in the Web to execute different kinds of tasks. However, still you can’t find one that suits your requirements? Simply write a plug-in on your own. There is an option for developers at https://mvnrepository.com/ with indexed repository.

Gradle is actually plug-in based. It has two types:

(1) Key plug-ins by the Gradleware team that are vital for Gradle and required by most users (e.g. plug-ins for Java, Eclipse, Maven, etc.)

(2) Community plug-ins by the community (e.g. GradleFX, Google App Engine). You can easily develop custom plug-ins with Gradle leveraging its documentation. Gradle plug-ins are available at https://plugins.gradle.org/. Developers can include their own plug-ins here as well.

Ant’s existing plug-ins are the Apache Ant Libraries (http://ant.apache.org/antlibs/index.html). It is a sandbox for a variety of plug-in ideas. Apache Ant Project site in the External Tools and Tasks section also contains a large number of external plug-ins for Ant.


Bazel plug-ins are available for download at JetBrains plug-in repository. The details are as follows:

Java Frameworks Supported:

Maven, Gradle, and Ant all use Spring MVC, Apache Axis, and Hibernate Java frameworks. Except Ant, Struts 1.x is used by both Maven and Gradle. And Maven and Ant employ Apache Xerces.

Guess you all enjoyed the technology conversation we had. Have any questions? Leave comments below and please do share your feedback. Our Future Focus team will clarify your doubts.


Contributed by:

Sneha Verghese
Software Engineer Trainee

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