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Why I don’t Use Maven for my Java Projects

(and what you can do about it)


I used to really like maven. A long time ago. Around version 1.x. It had lots of great features I liked in a build system and required very little work to do just about anything. Then there was maven 2.

I often try to find an image to characterize my blog posts well. In this case, I just took the first image I saw on the maven site itself and felt that it pretty accurately summed my experience with maven.

It’s a guy sitting on a table with his back to his computer looking out a window contemplating the jump.

“Will it hurt?” he asks himself. “Will it hurt more than writing one more XML element describing how my .java files get turned into .class files?”

OK, so perhaps it’s not as bad as the imagery on their site makes it out to be, but I do have actual real reasons I’m not using it.

Why Not?

I’m going to assume you know the virtues of maven. I get complaints from users of my memcached client for not directly supporting their build tool of choice, so I’m just going to focus on the parts that keep me away.

Build De-automation

The absolute number one reason I’ve not put any effort into converting my build into maven is because it would increase my work. Not just to do the conversion, but in an ongoing way.

manual labor

I’ve asked many of the people who have wanted me to run my builds with maven if they’d do the conversion for me. I had two small requests that I didn’t think were unreasonable: It shouldn’t increase my work and it shouldn’t reduce the features in my software.

Nobody has delivered this to me, and I can’t see a way to do it myself.

Apparently, The Maven Way is to edit pom.xml for every release to put the version number into that file (then, of course commit it in my SCM) and then build and then do my normal tagging.

I have to write the version number out twice.

In contrast, here’s the line to figure out the version of the software I’m producing from the buildfile I use when I build my project using apache buildr:

VERSION_NUMBER = `git describe`.strip

That’s how every version I’ve released has worked since I switched to git. Before I used git with buildr, I used hg with buildr. Before I used hg with buildr, I used hg with maven 1. Before hg and maven 1, I used gnu arch and maven 1. Never in the history of this project have I had to modify the build system when I change version numbers. I think that’s an important feature.

My Build System is Not My SCM

There’s a workaround for the above – you use the maven SCM plugin!

Except, it’s as backwards as a guy sitting on a desk facing away from his computer.


The SCM plugin makes maven a user interface to my SCM. I cannot tell you how much I don’t want another interface to my SCM. I can, however, tell you that I carefully make my tags and I have tools that do neat stuff with my carefully created tags like generate a nice useful changelog.

I don’t use my build tool to write my code. I certainly don’t use it to commit my code or show me a diff.

What I do want is for it to appropriately interact with my SCM to get the information it needs to do a build.

Missing Build Automation

One of the features they added to maven 2 was you can’t script. You can’t script feature is great because, according to the site, they believe it’s better to write a formal plugin in java because not only is it less work for them (once), but you’ll probably find someone else has that to do the same thing you’re doing and you’ll want to share it!

One of my projects has a rather large maven.xml file because it builds a compiler code generator that it uses to generate code under the current environment. It’s very specific to that build and the code that goes with it. I’m not writing and hosting a full-fledged plugin in java to do what I used to do with a little jelly script (and ant before that and make before that).

Missing Build Plugins

This is a half-answer, but I’m missing features I want. One could write them, but nobody has. This, again, was a jelly script back in the data, and is now a buildr plugin, but for any given java library I write, you have the ability to do this:

dustinnmb:/tmp 794% java -jar x.jar
spy.jar  on Fri Nov 13 10:47:00 PST 2009
Build platform: java 1.6.0_15 from Apple Inc. on Mac OS X version 10.6.2
Tree version: 2.5rc1
(add -c to see the recent changelog)

That “Tree version:” listed there is straight out of the SCM. If you add the -c option, you get what is effectively my git log. You can take a file in isolation and know which bug fixes you have and all kinds of other junk.

It’s not even clear to me how one would go about doing this in maven.

Real Benefits Have Unrelated Dependencies

unrelated picture

Most of the time, when people ask me for maven support it’s not because of how I build my software. It’s not because they’re having trouble building my software (though that does come up).

Most of the time, they want to download it from the internet.

It was trivial to host a maven 1 repo, maven 2 repos are a bit harder because you have to generate a descriptor and a few other magic files and a deeper filesystem hierarchy for each build and then tell users how to configure up your repo.

It’s far better to just stick them in the main, centralized repositories, but you pretty much have to use maven itself to do that.

It is of course possible to create artifacts using another tool (such as apache buildr) and get them uploaded into one of the well-known maven repositories, but I don’t see any support for this coming out of the maven community.

I just can’t express the absurdity of such a thing.

This is like someone telling you that you can’t distribute software in ubuntu unless you use bzr as your revision control software. It just doesn’t make sense.

Think About The Users

I don’t have anything against maven as a concept per se, but it’s not right for me. Yay freedom of choice.

I would of course like my software to be easy to consume for people who do choose maven. I’ve put effort into making this so, and that effort has been slowly thwarted over time.

I intend to continue my efforts to make this work as easily as possible for everyone, but if you find my software being built through maven, it’s because of some hard work of others.

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