Ant and Maven – An Insight

By on November 30, 2012

I thought of writing today on the differences between Ant and Maven as it popped in my mind. I am not getting to get little bit in detail comparing them with examples.

To Start of quickly in word. Maven is a Framework, Ant is a Toolbox.

Maven is a pre-built road car, whereas Ant is a set of car parts. With Ant you have to build your own car, but at least if you need to do any off-road driving you can build the right type of car.

<project name="my-project" default="dist" basedir=".">
    <description>simple example build file</description>
    <!-- set global properties for
    this build -->
    <property name="src" location="src/main/java" />
    <property name="build" location="target/classes" />
    <property name="dist" location="target" />
    <target name="init">
        <!-- Create the time stamp -->
        <!-- Create the build directory structure used by compile -->
        <mkdir dir="${build}" />
    <target name="compile" depends="init" description="compile the source ">
        <!-- Compile the java code from ${src} into ${build} -->
        <javac srcdir="${src}" destdir="${build}" />
    <target name="dist" depends="compile" description="generate the distribution">
        <!-- Create the distribution directory -->
        <mkdir dir="${dist}/lib" />
        <!-- Put everything in ${build} into the MyProject-${DSTAMP}.jar file
        <jar jarfile="${dist}/lib/MyProject-${DSTAMP}.jar" basedir="${build}"
    <target name="clean" description="clean up">
        <!-- Delete the ${build} and ${dist} directory trees -->
        <delete dir="${build}" />
        <delete dir="${dist}" />

In this simple Ant example, you can see how you have to tell Ant exactly what to do. There is a compile goal which includes the javac task that compiles the source in the src/main/java directory to the target/classes directory. You have to tell Ant exactly where your source is, where you want the resulting bytecode to be stored, and how to package this all into a JAR file.

Contrast the previous Ant example with a Maven example. In Maven, to create a JAR file from some Java source, all you need to do is create a simple pom.xml, place your source code in ${basedir}/src/main/java and then run mvn install from the command line. The example Maven pom.xml that achieves the same results.


That’s all you need in your pom.xml. Running mvn install from the command line will process resources, compile source, execute unit tests, create a JAR, and install the JAR in a local repository for reuse in other projects.

High-level Comparison

The differences between Ant and Maven in this example? Ant…

  • Ant doesn’t have formal conventions like a common project directory structure, you have to tell Ant exactly where to find the source and where to put the output. Informal conventions have emerged over time, but they haven’t been codified into the product.
  • Ant is procedural, you have to tell Ant exactly what to do and when to do it. You had to tell it to compile, then copy, then compress.
  • Ant doesn’t have a lifecycle, you had to define goals and goal dependencies. You had to attach a sequence of tasks to each goal manually.

Where Maven…

  • Maven has conventions, it already knew where your source code was because you followed the convention. It put the bytecode in target/classes, and it produced a JAR file in target.
  • Maven is declarative. All you had to do was create a pom.xml file and put your source in the default directory. Maven took care of the rest.
  • Maven has a lifecycle, which you invoked when you executed mvn install. This command told Maven to execute the a series of sequence steps until it reached the lifecycle. As a side-effect of this journey through the lifecycle, Maven executed a number of default plugin goals which did things like compile and create a JAR.

In contrast:

  • Ant documentation is concise, comprehensive and all in one place.
  • Ant is simple. A new developer trying to learn Ant only needs to understand a few simple concepts (targets, tasks, dependencies, properties) in order to be able to figure out the rest of what they need to know.
  • Ant is reliable. There haven’t been very many releases of Ant over the last few years because it already works.
  • Ant builds are repeatable because they are generally created without any external dependencies, such as online repositories, experimental third-party plugins etc.
  • Ant is comprehensive. Because it is a toolbox, you can combine the tools to perform almost any task you want. If you ever need to write your own custom task, it’s very simple to do.


Ant is mainly a build tool. Maven is a project and dependencies management tool (which of course builds your project as well).Ant+Ivy is a pretty good combination if you want to avoid Maven.

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