Top 15 Ant Best Practices

Good stuff over at OnJava.com, the article “Top 15 Ant Best Practices” gives 15 recommendations on how you should be using Ant to structure and complete your builds. We’re using most of these already at work; I’d be curious to know the author’s take on the deployment system we’ve developed using Ant. I’ve got Subversion handling source control, so on the production machines, I have a build file called build-production.xml that I invoke from the command line using a batch file:

ant -buildfile build-production.xml

which a) checks out the latest build from Subversion / source control, b) executes the default build file (which is in source control) which compiles the project and then wraps up the result in a war file, c) stops the Tomcat Windows service, d) deletes the existing application from the $tomcat/webapps directory, e) unpacks the application from the .war creates in step b, and then finally f) starts the Tomcat Windows service.

It’s worked out pretty well so far in that it decouples the build file for the project from having to know anything about the environment in which it’s executing so developers can write their own build-development.xml which maybe does something similar to the build-production.xml, but deploys to a different location, or even a different application server.

The wrapper build file (be it build-production.xml, build-local.xml, etc..) can also override properties set in the project build.xml. In our projects, I’ve got the build.xml file conditionally setting properties in log4j.properties using the <propertyfile> tag. There are two such targets: one for production that sets the appender to SMTPAPPENDER and the logging level to ERROR and one for development that sets the appender to STDOUT and the logging level to INFO. Said targets use the if and unless attributes of the <target> tag like so:

<target name="build.resources.debug" if="project.debug">
...

and

<target name="build.resources.production" unless="project.debug">
...

This way, unless I set the project.debug property, the system will always be in ERROR / SMTPAPPENDER mode but developers can override that property at compile time using the wrapper build-local.xml to set the project.debug property, ie:

<ant antfile="build.xml">
  <property name="project.debug" value="true"/>
</ant>

Do you do it better? Can you one up me? I’ve love to hear about it.

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