Build Tools Explained – How to Choose a Build Tool

In this tutorial, you will learn about build tools. We would discuss some of the popular build tools out there and how to choose a build tool for your application.

  1. What are Build Tools
  2. Apache Maven
  3. Gradle
  4. sbt (Simple Build Tool)
  5. Apache Ant
  6. CMake
  7. Mill


1. What are Build Tools?

A build tools is a program that you can use to automate the process of building an executable application from your source code. Build tools help automate processes such as compiling, linking and packaging into executable for deployment.

Some of the operations performed by a build tool includes the following:

  • downloading dependencies
  • compilation of source code into binaries
  • packaging
  • running tests
  • deploying to production environment

Now that you know what a build tool is and what it does, let’s now look at some of the popular build tools in use.


2. Apache Maven

Apache Maven is a build tool of choice for many Java developers. It is based on the concept of POM (Project Object Model) which specifies configuration details and information needed to manage the project. A project using Apache Maven includes a pom.xml file. This file has sections that defines dependencies, plugins etc.

Apache Maven has the benefit of keeping your dependencies up to date and maintaining the whole project configuration in a central place.


3. Gradle

Similar to Maven, Gradle maintains the project configuration details in a central place using a DSL (domain-specific language) called Groovy. Unlike Maven though, it eliminates the XML part of the build script generation.

The Gradle build files are named build.gradle and contains a number of task. This tasks include configuring the build and other steps.

The main benefit of Gradle among others is that it is relatively easy to use and provides automatic response for changes in the project source.


4. sbt (Simple Build Tool)

sbt is an open-source build tool generally use for Scala projects. It is also sometimes used for Java projects as well. Some call it Scala Build Tool since it’s mainly popular with Scala. But it’s actually “simple build tool”.

Some of the feature of sbt includes the following:

  • provides support for a project with a mix of Java and Scala codes
  • natively support compilation of Scala codes and integration of a number of Scala test frameworks
  • support for incremental compilation, testing and deployment
  • integrates with Scala interpreter


5. Apache Ant

Apache Ant is a popular build tool which originated from the Apache Tomcat project. It was created as a replacement for thee Make build tool for Unix. It is implemented in Java and therefore requires the Java runtime.

Ant uses XML file to describe the build configuration.

Apache Ant provides the following benefits:

  • gives you complete control over the build process
  • has the flexibility of being applied to any source language
  • provide support for project that has a mix of languages including Java, C and C++


6. CMake

This is an open-source build tool that provides support for managing the build process of software application. It is both cross-platform and free and uses compiler-agnostic methods. CMake however requires a C++ compiler on it’s build system.

Some of the benefits of CMake includes:

  • provides automatic discovery and configuration
  • relatively easy to use
  • supports cross-platform discovery of the available system libraries


7. mill

Finally, I would like to talk about mill. In the Github page for Mill, it is described as “your shiny new Java/Scala build tool”. It aims at simplicity by enabling reuse of already familiar concepts.

Mill has native support of Scala programming language and can be an alternative for SBT. Mill can also be extended to support other languages via modules written in Scala or Java.

More information about mill can be found here –



Kindson Munonye is currently completing his doctoral program in Software Engineering in Budapest University of Technology and Economics

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