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New O'Reilly Definitive Guide Explores "Ant, the Little Build Tool that Could"

June 19, 2002

Sebastopol, CA--"I have to confess that I had absolutely no idea that Ant, the little build tool that could, would go as far as it did and make such a mark on the Java developer community," says James Duncan Davidson, the creator of Ant, in the foreword to the new book Ant: The Definitive Guide (O'Reilly, US $34.95). "It might be that the key to Ant's success is that it didn't try to be successful. It was a simple solution to an obvious problem that many people were having.

In 1998, frustrated by his efforts to create a cross-platform build of Tomcat using the build tools of the day (GNU Make, batch files, and shell scripts), Davidson threw together his own build utility on an airplane flight from Europe to the United States. Named Ant because it was a little thing that could build big things, James's quick-and-dirty solution to his own problem of creating a cross-platform build has evolved into what is perhaps the most widely used build management tool in Java environments.

"I love Ant. Ant is among the most important tools ever written for Java," says Eric M. Burke, coauthor of "Ant: The Definitive Guide." "Nearly every Java project uses Ant for its builds. I use it on a daily basis. It is used by nearly every Java developer, and has been integrated into every major Java IDE. Ant is critical to refactoring and eXtreme Programming because development teams need to ensure that every developer can build the project using identical configurations. Ant provides this capability."

If you're developing in Java and not using Ant, you owe it to yourself to invest in this little book. Ant is a reliable, cross-platform build tool that takes full advantage of the Java environment. Ant is itself written in Java. Ant works on multiple platforms--Unix, Linux, Windows, etc.--so your investment in learning Ant won't be wasted when you switch development platforms. Ant is easily extensible. Does your project have a requirement not currently met by any of Ant's functionality? No problem! Do like James, and write your own Ant task.

For eXtreme Programming, Ant is a must-have tool, enabling frequent builds to be done conveniently, which in turn facilitates test-driven development using JUnit and related technologies. Ant buildfiles are written using XML--a well-established standard--so your use of Ant will not require you to learn yet another scripting language. And Ant is an open source effort, part of the Jakarta project hosted by the Apache Software Foundation.

Here's a sampling of what you can accomplish using Ant:

  • Define build chunks, the results that they must produce, and the dependencies between them
  • Automatically retrieve source code from source control systems such as CVS
  • Build applications by having Ant not only compile the necessary source files in the proper order, but also generate the JAR files you need for deployment

Do all of the above from a single build file (or set of build files) that will function identically on every platform that Ant supports.

"Jesse and Eric do a great job of teaching you how to use Ant as it exists today. The book offers you in-depth information and details on how you use Ant to do things that it was never envisioned to do. Whether you are a casual user or needing to manage large and diverse projects, this is the book that you should keep close at hand." --James Duncan Davidson, Creator of Ant

Additional Resources:

Ant: The Definitive Guide
Complete Build Management for Java
By Eric M. Burke, Jesse E. Tilly
0-596-00184-3; 288 pages, $34.95 (US), $54.95 (CAN)
1-800-998-9938; 1-707-827-7000

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