Maven by Example
The answer to this question depends on your own perspective. The great majority of Maven users are going to call Maven a “build tool”: a tool used to build deployable artifacts from source code. Build engineers and project managers might refer to Maven as something more comprehensive: a project management tool. What is the difference? A build tool such as Ant is focused solely on preprocessing, compilation, packaging, testing, and distribution. A project management tool such as Maven provides a superset of features found in a build tool. In addition to providing build capabilities, Maven can also run reports, generate a web site, and facilitate communication among members of a working team.
A more formal definition of Apache Maven: Maven is a project management tool which encompasses a project object model, a set of standards, a project lifecycle, a dependency management system, and logic for executing plugin goals at defined phases in a lifecycle. When you use Maven, you describe your project using a well-defined project object model, Maven can then apply cross-cutting logic from a set of shared (or custom) plugins.
Don’t let the fact that Maven is a "project management" tool scare you away. If you were just looking for a build tool, Maven will do the job. In fact, the first few chapters of this book will deal with the most common use case: using Maven to build and distribute your project.