Maven: The Complete Reference

1.6. Is Maven an alternative to XYZ?

So, sure, Maven is an alternative to Ant, but Apache Ant continues to be a great, widely-used tool. It has been the reigning champion of Java builds for years, and you can integrate Ant build scripts with your project’s Maven build very easily. This is a common usage pattern for a Maven project. On the other hand, as more and more open source projects move to Maven as a project management platform, working developers are starting to realize that Maven not only simplifies the task of build management, it is helping to encourage a common interface between developers and software projects. Maven is more of a platform than a tool, while you could consider Maven an alternative to Ant, you are comparing apples to oranges. "Maven" includes more than just a build tool.

This is the central point that makes all of the Maven vs. Ant, Maven vs. Buildr, Maven vs. Gradle arguments irrelevant. Maven isn’t totally defined by the mechanics of your build system. It isn’t about scripting the various tasks in your build as much as it is about encouraging a set of standards, a common interface, a life-cycle, a standard repository format, a standard directory layout, etc. It certainly isn’t about what format the POM happens to be in (XML vs. YAML vs. Ruby). Maven is much larger than that, and Maven refers to much more than the tool itself. When this book talks of Maven, it is referring to the constellation of software, systems, and standards that support it. Buildr, Ivy, Gradle, all of these tools interact with the repository format that Maven helped create, and you could just as easily use a repository manager like Nexus to support a build written entirely in Ant.

While Maven is an alternative to many of these tools, the community needs to evolve beyond seeing technology as a zero-sum game between unfriendly competitors in a competition for users and developers. This might be how large corporations relate to one another, but it has very little relevance to the way that open source communities work. The headline "Who’s winning? Ant or Maven?" isn’t very constructive. If you force us to answer this question, we’re definitely going to say that Maven is a superior alternative to Ant as a foundational technology for a build; at the same time, Maven’s boundaries are constantly shifting and the Maven community is constantly trying to seek out new ways to become more ecumenical, more inter-operable, more cooperative. The core tenets of Maven are declarative builds, dependency management, repository managers, universal reuse through plugins, but the specific incarnation of these ideas at any given moment is less important than the sense that the open source community is collaborating to reduce the inefficiency of "enterprise-scale builds".