automate builds with Gradle and Maven

Two of the most popular DevOps tools for build automation and management are Gradle and Maven. Both tools offer a wide array of build tools including dependency management, debugging, and more to help users work through the entire build process.

While Maven is an older and well-established tool, Gradle is quickly gaining popularity among developers, particularly for Android applications. Here is what you need to know about each tool and how they compare to one another.
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What is Gradle?

Gradle is a build automation tool that provides support for multi-language development. It is a useful DevOps tool for those wanting to build, test, and deploy software on a variety of platforms. Gradle offers a flexible build model that can support developers throughout the entire development lifecycle from compiling and packaging code to publishing the final product online. Gradle works with Java, C/C++, and Groovy. It is also Google’s preferred tool for the development of applications for Android.

What is Maven?

Maven is an open-source build automation tool from Apache. Maven provides a uniform build system that is designed to make the build process easier and more effective.
Developers can use Maven to manage dependencies, documentation, reporting, distributions, and software configuration management. Maven is designed for Java projects, but can be used with other languages as well such as Ruby and Scala.

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Feature comparison: Gradle vs. Maven

Dependency management
Build metrics
Debugging tools
Open source
Incremental builds🚫

Head-to-head comparison: Gradle vs. Maven

Dependency management

Dependency management in Gradle
Image: Gradle User Manual

Both Gradle and Maven have built-in tools to manage dependencies from configurable repositories. Users of either system can use them to cache dependencies locally and download them.

With Maven, users are encouraged to use a central repository of JARs and other dependencies. Maven comes with an internal mechanism that allows your project’s clients to download any JARs required for building your project from a central JAR repository. This feature is helpful for users that wish to reuse JARs across projects. It also encourages communication between projects to ensure that backward compatibility issues are dealt with. Maven also allows publishers to provide metadata through optional dependencies.

Gradle provides customizable dependency selection and substitution rules that can handle unwanted dependencies in your projects. This mechanism allows developers to use Gradle to build multiple source projects together to create composite builds. Gradle also allows custom dependency scopes for more efficient builds. Gradle also supports feature variants and optional dependencies.

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The two tools offer many similar features and can often produce similar results. However, they differ quite a bit when it comes to flexibility and customization. Gradle’s build script and dynamic build model offer more flexibility and opportunity for customized builds.

Maven provides a more rigid model that can make customization challenging. Maven’s stricter project structure and reliance on pre-defined goals can make builds easier to understand, but limit your ability to set custom goals or conventions. This makes the tool relatively user-friendly and ideal for more simple projects, but somewhat limiting for developers that want to customize their projects more heavily.

Debugging tools

Gradle provides a debugging tool called Build Scan. Build Scan is an interactive web-based UI for debugging and optimizing builds. It allows users to collect build history, do trend analysis, compare builds for debugging, and optimize build times.

Maven can be run in debug mode to identify the cause of errors that you experience while working in Maven. Maven also offers the Surefire plug-in that can be used to debug projects and Eclipse to debug tests run with Maven.

Choosing Gradle vs. Maven

Both Gradle and Maven are great open-source build automation tools with strong functionality. Between the two of them Gradle tends to have the higher learning curve, but both are relatively user-friendly.

There are however, a few areas where Gradle does greatly outperform Maven, including:

  • Customized builds
  • Advanced dependency management
  • Incremental builds
  • Metadata resolution

Not all projects will require these features, but they do give developers more options. Gradle is also typically faster for building.

Ultimately, either option can work for most projects, Though Maven would typically be better-suited for smaller projects, while Gradle may be a better choice for more complex projects where the advanced features will see more use. If you want to do incremental or highly customized builds, Gradle is the best option between the two.

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