May 162012
 

Inversoft has recently switched from Savant to Gradle until Savant 2.0 is finalized and can effectively rolled out (if this ever happens). Gradle is a decent temporary solution, but as a build tool junkie, it rubs me the wrong way. Here are some things that we encountered during the switch that Savant addresses.

Maven Central

We started by attempting to use Maven Central for our dependencies, but quickly realized that Maven Central is a complete mess. We also realized that it suffers from the “most surprise” pattern as well as “GPL” infestation. During our transition, we started to realize that using Maven Central actually caused our number of JARs to dramatically increase and for a couple of GPL JARs to sneak into our classpath.

In the end, we had to rever to managing our own repository and manage all of the ivy.xml dependency files by hand to ensure that everything was correct.

Transitive Mess

Gradle appears to suffer from the “let’s make it simple” methodology of Maven. In order to actually make life simple and avoid actual work, Maven pulls in the entire universe of your project dependencies for compiling and runtime. This means that even if you never import a class from a transitive dependency, Maven puts it in the classpath. This allows you to use classes from transitive dependencies. If you do this though, you’ll never actually know what JAR file a class comes from since it could come from some deeply nested dependency. It also tightly couples your project to your dependencies and those dependencies transitives. We prefer loose coupling rather than tight, so this is generally bad. We also like fewer dependencies at compile time rather than more. Again, bad news all around.

Flat Structure

Gradle plugins and domain are entirely flat. This makes it difficult to separate concerns and distinguish between Java compiling, testing and runtime. Maven actually got this right by cleaning separating concerns and separating plugins.

Configuration vs. tasks

Gradle build files can quickly become large and complex. It is often hard to distinguish between what is configuration and what are tasks.

Order matters

Order matters in Gradle build files unless you always use the String syntax for all configurations and tasks. If you have one task that depends on another task, the order of declaration matters. This is quite painful to debug and I thought we had finally grown out of single pass compiling. Apparently not.

No Versions

There are many pieces of Gradle that don’t like versions, e.g. plugins. These don’t have versions and just use the latest available. This is usually a bad idea because historical builds can break and you’ll never know what version you’ll be using when you execute a build.

MD5 and SHA1?

Why both?

Hashes not always used

The MD5 and SHA1 hashes aren’t always used. For example, the ivy.xml files don’t appear to use the hashes associated with that file. It really should use the hashes for everything.

UploadArchives doesn’t run the tests

WHAT?!?!?

Summary

Overall, I’m not a big fan of Gradle. It seems to be overly complex and sorta punts on dependency management. Having used Maven, Savant, Ant and Ivy, I would say that Savant 2.0 is still the best build system out there, even though it still isn’t finished.