Getting started with Gradle

Maven has been my build tool of choice for some years now. Coming from Ant the declarative approach, useful conventions as well as the dependency management offered a huge benefit. But as with most technologies the more you are using it the more minor and major flaws appear. A big problem is that with Maven builds are sometimes not reproducable. The outcome of the build is influenced by the state of your local repository.

Gradle is a Groovy based build system that is often recommended as a more advanced system. The features that make it appealing to me are probably the easier syntax and the advanced dependency cache.

For a recent project that I just uploaded for someone else I needed to add a simple way to build the jar. Time to do it with Gradle and see what it feels like.

The build script

The purpose of the build is simple: compile some classes with some dependencies and package those to a jar file. Same as Maven and Ant, Gradle also needs at least one file that describes the build. This is what build.gradle looks like:

apply plugin: 'java'

repositories {
mavenRepo url: ""

dependencies {
compile group: 'org.opencms', name: 'opencms-core', version: '7.5.4'
compile group: 'javax.servlet', name: 'servlet-api', version: '2.5'

sourceSets {
main {
java {
srcDir 'src'

Let's step through the file line by line. The first line tells gradle to use the java plugin. This plugin ships with tasks for compiling and packaging java classes.

In the next block we are declaring some dependency repositories. Luckily Gradle supports Maven repositories so existing repositories like Maven central can be used. I guess without this feature Gradle would not gain a lot of adoption at all. There are two repos declared: Maven central where most of the common dependencies are stored and a custom repo that provides the OpenCms dependencies.

The next block is used to declare which dependencies are necessary for the build. Gradle also supports scopes (in Gradle: configurations) so for example you can declare that some jars are only needed during test run. The dependency declaration is in this case similar to the Maven coordinates but Gradle also supports more advanced features like version ranges.

The last block isn't really necessary. It's only there because my Java sources are located in src instead of the default src/main/java. Gradle uses a lot of the Maven conventions so it's really easy to migrate builds.


To build the project you need Gradle installed. You can download a single distribution that already packages Grooovy and all the needed files. You only need to add the bin folder to your path.

Packaging the jar is easy: You just run the jar task in the java plugin: gradle :jar. Gradle will start to download all direct and transitive dependencies. The fun part: It uses a nice command line library that can display text in bold, rewrite lines and the like. Fun to watch it.

I like the simplicity and readability of the build script. You don't need to declare anything if you don't really need it. No coordinates, no schema declaration, nothing. I hope I will find time to use it in a larger project so I can see what it really feels like in the daily project work.