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From King Dale <>
Subject Can someone tell me what is so great about Ant?
Date Tue, 06 Feb 2001 18:24:51 GMT
I don't mean to be a troll, but I have been trying to find a good Java build
tool. I have seen lots of hype about Ant and have looked at it and I'd just
like to say I am not that impressed. I am hoping someone can show me where I
am wrong. Maybe there are some better ways to do things as all I have seen
are simple build script examples.

It is supposedly a powerful tool that replaces make, but I find lots of
problem with it as a build tool. Here is a simple example. Let's use the
build.xml directly from the documentation:

<project name="MyProject" default="dist" basedir=".">

  <!-- set global properties for this build -->
  <property name="src" value="." />
  <property name="build" value="build" />
  <property name="dist"  value="dist" />

  <target name="prepare">
    <!-- Create the time stamp -->
    <!-- Create the build directory structure used by compile -->
    <mkdir dir="${build}" />

  <target name="compile" depends="prepare">
    <!-- Compile the java code from ${src} into ${build} -->
    <javac srcdir="${src}" destdir="${build}" />

  <target name="dist" depends="compile">
    <!-- Create the ${dist}/lib directory -->
    <mkdir dir="${dist}/lib" />

    <!-- Put everything in ${build} into the MyProject-${DSTAMP}.jar file
    <jar jarfile="${dist}/lib/MyProject-${DSTAMP}.jar" basedir="${build}" />

  <target name="clean">
    <!-- Delete the ${build} and ${dist} directory trees -->
    <delete dir="${build}" />
    <delete dir="${dist}" />

And let's create and defined as follows:
public class Main
    public static void main( String[] args )

public class Foo
    public static void test()
        System.out.println( "Foo.test()" );

I run Ant and it builds correctly. But let's say I need to change the
signature of Foo.test and I add a parameter, but I forget to make the change
in Main. If I run Ant again it will tell me that it built successfully, but
I have successfully built an inconsistent target. The code will not run
since Main was not recompiled.

Certainly I could write my own tasks and explicit rules to fix this, but all
I want to do is build, not write my own make tool. Or I could simply always
rebuild all files by deleting the generated classes, but then all Ant is is
a glorifed batch file. Perhaps others have some other ideas on this.

Something else I look for, but is extremely rare in make tools is the
ability to handle that file dates can go backwards. For instance when using
an SCM tool and I am working on version 2.x and there is a problem found in
version 1.9. I will check out the source files for 1.9 but they will have
dates older than the current files and even though the files are different
they will not be built because the generated files are newer. One way for a
build tool to handle this is to maintain a build log that is consulted for
the next build. That build log says that file X with a certain timestamp was
generated from this list of files with timestamps. If any of the time stamps
are not equal to what is in the log, X is regernerated. The only build tool
I know of that does this sort of thing is omake in ClearCase.

Hopefully these will be taken as ideas for further improvement.

 -- Dale King

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