Firstly, here are some assumptions about the projects which this document covers
Ant is also a great adjunct to an IDE -a way of doing all the housekeeping of deployment and for clean, automated builds. But a good modern IDE is a productivity tool in its own right -one you should consider keeping using. Ant just lets you give the teams somewhat more freedom in IDE choice -"you can use whatever you want in development, but ant for the deployment builds"
With standard target names, it is easy to build encompassing ant build files which just hand off the work to the classes below using the ant task. For example. the clean target could be handed down to the intf and impl subdirectories from a parent directory
<target name="clean" depends="clean-intf, clean-impl"> </target> <target name="clean-intf" > <ant dir="intf" target="clean" /> </target> <target name="clean-impl"> <ant dir="impl" target="clean" /> </target>
Ant lets you call JUnit tasks, which unit test the code your team has written. Automated testing may seem like extra work at first, but JUnit makes writing unit tests so easy that you have almost no reason not to. Invest the time in learning how to use JUnit, write the test cases, and integrate them in a 'test' target from ant so that your daily or hourly team build can have the tests applied automatically.
Once code fetches from the code control system are added as another ant target, the integration test code can be a pure ant task run on any box dedicated to the task. This is ideal for verifying that the build and unit tests work on different targets from the usual development machines. For example, a Win95/Java1.1 combination could be used even though no developer would willingly use that configuration given the choice.
System tests are harder to automate than unit tests, but if you can
write java code to stress large portions of the system -even if the code
can not run as JUnit tasks- then the java
task can be used to invoke them. It is best to specify that you want a
new JVM for these tests, so that a significant crash does not break the
Cross Platform Ant
Ant is the best foundation for cross platform Java development and
testing to date. But if you are not paying attention, it is possible to
produce build files which only work on one platform -or indeed, one
The common barriers to cross-platform ant are the use of command line tools (exec tasks) which are not portable, path issues, and hard coding in the location of things.
Both the command line invocation tasks let you specify which platform you want the code to run on, so you could write different tasks for each platform you are targeting. Alternatively, the platform differences could be handled inside some external code which ant calls. This can be some compiled down java in a new task, or an external script file.
Ant reduces path problems; but does not eliminate them entirely. You need to put in some effort too. The rules for handling path names are that 'DOS-like pathnames are handled', 'Unix like paths are handled'. Disk drives -'C:'- are handled on DOS-based boxes, but placing them in the build.xml file ruins all chances of portability. Relative file paths are much more portable. Semicolons work as path separators -a fact which is useful if your ant invocation wrapper includes a list of jars as a defined property in the command line. In the build files you may find it better to build a classpath by listing individual files (using location= attributes), or by including a fileset of *.jar in the classpath definition.
Note that DOS descended file systems are case insensitive (apart from the obscure aberration of the WinNT posix subsystem run against NTFS), and that Windows pretends that all file extensions with four or more letters are also three letter extensions (try DELETE *.jav in your java directories to see a disastrous example of this).
Ant's policy on case sensitivity is whatever the underlying file system implements *VERIFY*, and its handling of file extensions is that *.jav does not find any .java files. The Java compiler is of course case sensitive -you can not have a class 'ExampleThree' implemented in "examplethree.java".
Some tasks only work on one platform - Chmod being a classic example. These tasks usually result in just a warning message on an unsupported platform -the rest of the target's tasks will still be called. Other tasks degrade their functionality on platforms or Java versions. In particular, any task which adjusts the timestamp of files can not do so properly on Java 1.1. Tasks which can do that - Get, Touch and Unjar/Unwar/Unzip for example, degrade their functionality on Java1.1, usually resorting to the current timestamp instead.
Finally, Perl makes a good place to wrap up Java invocations cross
platform, rather than batch files. It is included in most Unix
distributions, and is a simple download for Win32 platforms from
ActiveState. A Perl file with .pl extension, with the usual Unix
path to perl on the line 1 comment and marked as executable can be run
on Windows, OS/2 and Unix and hence called from Ant without issues. The
perl code can be left to resolve its own platform issues.
Team Development Processes
Even if each team member is allowed their choice of IDE/editor, or even
OS, you need to set a baseline of functionality on each box. In
particular, the JDKs and jars need to be in perfect sync. Ideally pick
the latest stable Java/JDK version available on all developer/target
systems and stick with it for a while. Consider assigning one person to
be the contact point for all tools coming in -particularly open source
tools when a new build is available on a nightly basis. Unless needed,
these tools should only really be updated monthly, or when a formal
release is made.
Another good tactic is to use a unified directory tree, and add on extra
tools inside that tree. All references can be made relative to the tree.
If team members are expected to add a directory in the project to their
path, then command line tools can be included there -including those
invoked by ant exec tasks. Put everything under source code control and
you have a one stop shop for getting a build/execute environment purely
from CVS or your equivalent.
Deploying with Ant
One big difference between ant and older tools such as make is that the
processes for deploying java to remote sites are reasonably well
evolved in ant. That is because we all have to do it these days, so
many people have put in the effort to make the tasks easier.
Ant can Jar, Tar or Zip files for deployment, while the War task extends the jar task for better servlet deployment. Jlink is a jar generation file which lets you merge multiple sub jars. This is ideal for a build process in which separate jars are generated by sub projects, yet the final output is a merged jar. Cab can be used on Win32 boxes to build a cab file which is useful if you have to target IE deployment.
The ftp task lets you move stuff up to a server. Beware of putting the ftp password in the build file -a property file with tight access control is slightly better. The FixCRLF task is often a useful interim step if you need to ensure that files have unix file extensions before upload. A WebDav task has long been discussed, which would provide a more secure upload to web servers, but it is still in the todo list. If DAV is your required upload mechanism, why not take up the challenge?
EJB deployment is aided by the ejb tasks. At the time of writing, only WebLogic was supported with these tasks -if your EJB server is not supported, extending the ejb tasks would benefit your project and the rest of the ant community.
Finally, there are of course the fallbacks of just copying files to a
destination using Copy and Copydir , or just sending them to a person or
process using Mail.
How you structure your directory tree is very dependent upon the
project. Here are some directory layout patterns which can be used as
|bin||common binaries, scripts -put this on the path.|
|build||This is the tree for building; ant creates it and can empty it in the 'clean' project.|
|dist||Distribution outputs go in here; the directory is created in ant and clean empties it out|
|doc||Hand crafted documentation|
|lib||Imported Java libraries go in to this directory|
|src||source goes in under this tree|
To still have a single build across the sub projects, use parent build.xml files which call down into the sub projects.
This style works well if different teams have different code access/commitment rights. The risk is that by giving extra leeway to the sub projects, you can end up with incompatible source, libraries, build processes and just increase your workload and integration grief all round.
This project style works well if everyone trusts each other and the
sub projects are not too huge or complex. The risk is that a split to a
more loosely coupled design will become a requirement as the projects
progress -but by the time this is realised schedule pressure and
intertwined build files make executing the split well nigh impossible.
If that happens then just keep with it until there is the time to
refactor the project directory structures.
Ant Update Policies
Once you start using ant, you should have a policy on when and how the
team updates their copies. A simple policy is "every official release
after whatever high stress milestone has pushed all unimportant tasks
(like sleep and seeing daylight) on the back burner". This insulates you
from the changes and occasional instabilities that ant goes through
during development. Its main disadvantage is that it isolates you from
the new tasks and features that ant is constantly adding.
Often an update will require changes to the build.xml files. Most changes are intended to be backwards compatible, but sometimes an incompatible change turns out to be necessary. That is why doing the update in the lull after a big milestone is important. It is also why including ant.jar and related files in the CVS tree helps ensure that old versions of your software can be still be built.
The most aggressive strategy is to get a weekly or daily snapshot of the ant source, build it up and use it. This forces you to tweak the build.xml files more regulary, as new tasks and attributes can take while to stabilise. You really have to want the new features, enjoy gratuitous extra work or take pleasure in upsetting your colleagues to take this approach.
Once you start extending ant with new tasks, it suddenly becomes much more tempting to pull down regular builds. The most recent ant builds are invariably the the best platform for writing your extensions, as you can take advantage of the regular enhancements to the foundational classes. It also prevents you from wasting time working on something which has already been done. A newly submitted task to do something complex such as talk to EJB engines, SOAP servers or just convert a text file to uppercase may be almost exactly what you need -so take it, enhance it and offer up the enhancements to the rest of the world. This is certainly better than starting work on your 'text case converter' task on Ant 0.8 in isolation, announcing its existence six months latter and discovering that instead of adulation all you get are helpful pointers to the existing implementation.
You should also get on the ant-dev mailing list
, as it is where the other developers post their work, problems and
experience. The volume can be quite high: 40+ messages a day, so
consider routing it to an email address you don't use for much else. And
don't make everyone on the team subscribe; it can be too much of a
Tips and Tricks
Having a custom invocation script which runs off a CVS controlled library tree under PROJECT_HOME also lets you control ant versions across the team -developers can have other copies of ant if they want, but the CVS tree always contains the jar set used to build your project.
You can also write wrapper scripts which invoke the existing ant scripts. This is an easy way to extend them. The wrapper scripts can add extra definitions and name explicit targets, redefine ANT_HOME and generally make development easier. Note that "ant" in Windows is really "ant.bat", so should be invoked from another batch file with a "CALL ant" statement -otherwise it never returns to your wrapper.
Debug/release switching can be handled with separate initialisation targets called before the compile tasks which define the appropriate properties.
Internal targets should be used to structure the process
It is useful to define a project name property which can be echoed in the init task. This lets you work out which ant file is breaking in a multi file build.
What goes in to the internal ant tasks depends on your own projects. One very important tactic is 'keep path redefinition down through references' - you can reuse paths by giving them an ID and then referring to them via the 'refid' attribute you should only need to define a shared classpath once in the file; filesets can be reused similarly.
Once you have set up the directory structures, and defined the ant tasks it is time to start coding. An early priority must be to set up the automated test process, as that not only helps ensures that the code works, it verifies that the build process is working.
And that's it. The build file shouldn't need changing as new source files get added, only when you want to change the deliverables or part of the build process. At some point you may want to massively restructure the entire build process, restructuring projects and the like, but even then the build file you have should act as a foundation for a split build file process -just pull out the common properties into a properties file all build files read in, keep the target names unified and keep going with the project. Restructuring the source code control system is often much harder work.
If your build needs to handle exceptions then look at the sound listener as a simple example of how to write your own listener class. Complex conditional statements can be handled by having something else do the tests and then build the appropriate ant task. XSLT can be used for this.
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