|Original author(s)||James Duncan Davidson|
|Developer(s)||Apache Software Foundation|
|Initial release||19 July 2000|
1.10.12 / October 19, 2021
|License||Apache License 2.0|
Apache Ant is a software tool for automating software build processes which originated from the Apache Tomcat project in early 2000 as a replacement for the Make build tool of Unix. It is similar to Make, but is implemented using the Java language and requires the Java platform. Unlike Make, which uses the Makefile format, Ant uses XML to describe the code build process and its dependencies.
Released under an Apache License by the Apache Software Foundation, Ant is an open-source project.
Ant ("Another Neat Tool") was conceived by James Duncan Davidson while preparing Sun Microsystems's reference JSP and Servlet engine, later Apache Tomcat, for release as open-source. A proprietary version of Make was used to build it on the Solaris platform, but in the open-source world, there was no way of controlling which platform was used to build Tomcat; so Ant was created as a simple platform-independent tool to build Tomcat from directives in an XML "build file". Ant (version 1.1) was officially released as a stand-alone product on July 19, 2000.
Several proposals for an Ant version 2 have been made, such as AntEater by James Duncan Davidson, Myrmidon by Peter Donald  and Mutant by Conor MacNeill, none of which were able to find large acceptance with the developer community.
At one time (2002), Ant was the build tool used by most Java development projects. For example, most open source Java developers included
build.xml files with their distribution. Because Ant made it trivial to integrate JUnit tests with the build process, Ant allowed developers to adopt test-driven development and extreme programming.
In 2004 Apache created a new tool with a similar purpose called Maven.
Gradle, which is similar software, was created in 2008, which in contrary uses groovy (and a few other languages) code instead of XML.
WOProject-Ant is just one of many examples of a task extension written for Ant. These extensions are installed by copying their
.jar files into ant's
lib directory. Once this is done, these task extensions can be invoked directly in the typical
build.xml file. The WOProject extensions allow WebObjects developers to use ant in building their frameworks and apps, instead of using Apple's Xcode suite.
Antcontrib provides a collection of tasks such as conditional statements and operations on properties as well as other useful tasks.
Ant-contrib.unkrig.de implements tasks and types for networking, Swing user interfaces, JSON processing and other.
Other task extensions exist for Perforce, .NET Framework, EJB, and filesystem manipulations.
Below is listed a sample
build.xml file for a simple Java "Hello, world" application. It defines four targets -
jar , each of which has an associated description. The
jar target lists the
compile target as a dependency. This tells Ant that before it can start the
jar target it must first complete the
<?xml version="1.0"?> <project name="Hello" default="compile"> <target name="clean" description="remove intermediate files"> <delete dir="classes"/> </target> <target name="clobber" depends="clean" description="remove all artifact files"> <delete file="hello.jar"/> </target> <target name="compile" description="compile the Java source code to class files"> <mkdir dir="classes"/> <javac srcdir="." destdir="classes"/> </target> <target name="jar" depends="compile" description="create a Jar file for the application"> <jar destfile="hello.jar"> <fileset dir="classes" includes="**/*.class"/> <manifest> <attribute name="Main-Class" value="HelloProgram"/> </manifest> </jar> </target> </project>
Within each target are the actions that Ant must take to build that target; these are performed using built-in tasks. For example, to build the
compile target Ant must first create a directory called
classes (which Ant will do only if it does not already exist) and then invoke the Java compiler. Therefore, the tasks used are
javac. These perform a similar task to the command-line utilities of the same name.
Another task used in this example is named
This Ant task has the same name as the common Java command-line utility, JAR, but is really a call to the Ant program's built-in JAR/ZIP file support. This detail is not relevant to most end users, who just get the JAR they wanted, with the files they asked for.
Many Ant tasks delegate their work to external programs, either native or Java. They use Ant's own
<java> tasks to set up the command lines, and handle all the details of mapping from information in the build file to the program's arguments and interpreting the return value. Users can see which tasks do this (e.g.
<rpm>), by trying to execute the task on a system without the underlying program on the path, or without a full Java Development Kit (JDK) installed.
Ant is intended to work with all systems for which Java runtimes are available. It is most commonly used with Windows, Linux, macOS and other Unix operating systems but has also been used on other platforms such as OS/2, OpenVMS, Solaris, HP-UX.
Ant was designed to be more portable than Make. Compared to Make, Ant uses less platform-specific shell commands. Ant provides built-in functionality that is designed to behave the same on all platforms. For example, in the sample
build.xml file above, the clean target deletes the
classes directory and everything in it. In a Makefile this would typically be done with the command:
rm -rf classes/
rm is a Unix-specific command unavailable in some other environments. Microsoft Windows, for example, would use:
rmdir /S /Q classes
In an Ant build file the same goal would be accomplished using a built-in command:
Additionally, Ant does not differentiate between forward slash or backslash for directories and semicolon or colon for path separators. It converts each to the symbol appropriate to the platform on which it executes.
<java>—use default values for options that are not consistent with more recent versions of the tasks. Changing those defaults would break existing Ant scripts.
<for>loop, a property cannot be re-evaluated for a sub-value which may be part of the iteration. (Some third-party extensions facilitate a workaround; AntXtras flow-control tasksets do provide for cursor redefinition for loops.)
There exist third-party Ant extensions (called antlibs) that provide much of the missing functionality. Also, the Eclipse integrated development environment (IDE) can build and execute Ant scripts, while the NetBeans IDE uses Ant for its internal build system. As both these IDEs are very popular development platforms, they can simplify Ant use significantly. (As a bonus, Ant scripts generated by NetBeans can be used outside that IDE as standalone scripts.)