Preferred Build Setup

Update May 2018 Gradle has won the current era of Java build tooling.

I’m settling in to a build setup (for Java projects) that I’m reasonably comfortable with.

My current preference is:

  • An Ivy file to express dependencies
  • Buildr with ivy4r to do command line builds
  • Eclipse with IvyDE for Eclipse builds


This satisfies my four key requirements:

  1. Not be Maven

    This is self-explanatory.

  2. Pull dependencies from a Maven repository

    As I’ve admitted before, I dislike Maven, but it’s repo concept has been awesome for the Java community. Except for initially screwing up the group ids (commons-lang/commons-lang), they did good.

    While I think Ivy is generally over-engineered (every setting, repo layout, etc., is super extensible), I like having one file (ivy.xml) that is for dependencies, and only dependencies, that both a CLI tool and an Eclipse plugin can read in.

    (I.e. I don’t like encoding my dependencies directly in Buildr’s buildfile, because then they can’t be leveraged by an “in-workspace resolution”-capable Eclipse plugin.)

  3. Publish artifacts to a Maven repository

    Buildr publishes very nicely to Maven repositories–with pure Ivy, this took some ugly hacks.

  4. Eclipse “in-workspace” dependency resolution

    This is my must-have feature. If project Foo depends on project Bar, and I have both of them open in Eclipse, Foo should not be using bar.jar, but should instead have the Bar project’s class files directly on it’s classpath. That way I don’t have to re-jar Bar each time I want to test the latest changes in Foo.

    This is the primary flaw with any build solution that generates static .eclipse files (e.g. Buildr’s out of the box eclipse integration, or the old-school mvn eclipse:eclipse integration). An Eclipse plugin can tell which projects it does/does not have open, and update each project’s cross-project dependencies on the fly.

    Admittedly, the m2eclipse plugin does this well for Maven. And it seems more solid than IvyDE. Kudos, it’s a great feature. But it’s still Maven.

Ant vs. Buildr

I used to have all of this working with Ant, but it was terribly verbose and involved a lot of copy/paste for each new project. That being said, it was simple and “just worked”, so I lived with it for quiet awhile.

However, after using Buildr for a few projects, I’ve been very pleased with it.

In my opinion, Buildr does an good job of having sane “Standard Java project” defaults that you can tweak when needed. Basically it’s a better Maven.

My two complaints with Buildr are:

  1. Being an embedded DSL in a dynamic language, I find it hard to discover how to do new things. Once you know the right method_missing/whatever-backed incantation, it makes sense. But, personally, I think it is too flexible. I’d be willing to sacrifice some succinctness for a less magical DSL. (Of course, I’m a Java programmer.)

  2. It has (currently) half-baked dependencies support–the pom it generates for you won’t contain any dependencies, making it useless. However, this isn’t a big deal since I use ivy4r to leverage the external ivy.xml file anyway. It’d just be nice if this was supported as a first-class setup.

Aether Possibilities

I really like the looks of Aether.

I’d love to see someone build a m2eclipse-lite Eclipse plugin that read in a minimal, ivy.xml-type file (not a huge pom.xml), and could replace the admittedly fickle IvyDE.

Buildr is also potentially getting Aether support. Granted, it’d use the buildfile-based dependencies and not an external XML file.

But if it did, and this m2eclipse-lite plugin showed up, I would switch.


This is the build setup for my pageobjects project. It uses buildr/ivy, and is small and simple, so should be a good example.


This is where dependencies are declared. The Ivy confs are a lot like Maven’s scopes, so you can differentiate compile-time vs. build-time dependencies.

<ivy-module version="2.0">
  <info organisation="com.bizo" module="pageobjects" revision="${version}"/>
    <conf name="default" extends="compile"/>
    <conf name="compile"/>
    <conf name="sources"/>
  <dependencies defaultconfmapping="%->default;sources->sources()">
    <dependency org="org.seleniumhq.selenium" name="selenium" rev="r9790" conf="compile;sources" />
    <dependency org="junit" name="junit" rev="4.8.1" conf="compile;sources" />

Things to note:

  • For your dependencies, use conf names that map to Maven scope names, so that the Ivy-generated pom.xml (for uploading to a Maven repo) maps your dependencies correctly.

    Otherwise your dependencies will all be listed as <optional>true</optional>, which is terribly annoying.


Ivy uses a separate file to configure, among other things, the repositories you want to pull artifacts from. The ibiblio resolver works great for any Maven repository.

  <settings defaultResolver="default"/>
  <include url="${ivy.default.settings.dir}/ivysettings-public.xml"/>
  <property name="version" value="SNAPSHOT" override="false"/>
    <ibiblio name="local-m2" m2compatible="true" root="file://${user.home}/.m2/repository" changingPattern=".*SNAPSHOT"/>
    <ibiblio name="joist-m2" m2compatible="true" root=""/>
    <chain name="default" changingPattern=".*SNAPSHOT">
      <resolver ref="public"/>
      <resolver ref="local-m2"/>
      <resolver ref="joist-m2"/>

Things to note:

  • changingPattern is required for snapshots

    I always set this for at least my local-m2 resolver so that I can test local builds of other projects. Other than that, I’ve been using mostly timestamped jars of projects instead of snapshots.


This, of course, is the Eclipse classpath file.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
  <classpathentry kind="src" path="src/main/java"/>
  <classpathentry kind="con" path="org.eclipse.jdt.launching.JRE_CONTAINER"/>
  <classpathentry kind="con" path="org.apache.ivyde.eclipse.cpcontainer.IVYDE_CONTAINER/?ivyXmlPath=ivy.xml&amp;confs=*&amp;ivySettingsPath=%24%7Bworkspace_loc%3Apageobjects%2Fivysettings.xml%7D&amp;loadSettingsOnDemand=false&amp;propertyFiles="/>
  <classpathentry kind="output" path="target/eclipse"/>

Things to note:

  • Thanks to the IVYDE_CONTAINER line, this file is nice and short and won’t change any time you add/remove a dependency


This is what drives the Buildr build. It’s like a build.xml file, but written in Ruby, and baked by Rake:

require 'buildr/ivy_extension'


repositories.remote << ""
repositories.release_to = 's'
repositories.release_to[:permissions] = 0644

# to resolve the ${version} in the ivy.xml"version", VERSION_NUMBER)

define "pageobjects" do
  project.version = VERSION_NUMBER = 'com.bizo'


  package(:jar).pom.tap do |pom|
    pom.enhance [task('ivy:makepom')]
    pom.from 'target/pom.xml'

Things to note:

  • You pass in the version number with an environment variable, e.g. version=x.y buildr upload

  • The line repositories.remote << ... is there because even though we use Ivy to get the project’s actual dependencies, Buildr still needs the standard Maven repo to bootstrap dependencies from.

  • ivy.compile_conf('compile') is what glues the Ivy-fetched dependencies into Buildr’s compile classpath. There is also a test_conf method, e.g. ivy.test_conf('test').

  • package(:jar).pom.tap is a small 4-line hack to tell Buildr to run ivy:makepom and that it’s output (target/pom.xml) will override Buildr’s default pom file for our project

That’s It

So, that is what is working well for me these days. I particularly like that my standard Buildr buildfile is only ~20 lines long.

For my joist ORM project, I was able to use a ~50-line buildfile to replace ~1200 lines of extremely boilerplate, copy/pasted Ant XML code.

That was quite gratifying–although, in retrospect, somewhat embarrassing that I had let that much Ant code accumulate and was still deluding myself that it was an acceptable setup.

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