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Keywords: Java, Ant, build tools
Title: Ant: The Definitive Guide (2e)
Author: Steve Holzner
Verdict: A thorough run through a wide range of Ant functionality
Ant is the premier Java-based build tool. Part of the Apache project, Ant is the build tool that all other tools measure themselves against. It's an extremely simple to use, platform-independent alternative to make and the make-derivatives (gnumake, nmake, jam etc). However to view it as a simple alternative to make is to miss the point that Ant is extremely flexible, extensible and easily integrated into developer environments like Eclipse, jEdit and so on.
However, to get the most out of the power and flexibility of the tool requires some skill, which is where this book helps. Although the book opens with an introduction to Ant (Another Neat Tool, if you've ever wondered about the name), before proceeding quickly into some of the expert-level things that it can do.
The first four chapters go from an introduction to creating complex Java builds, packaging and on to application deployment. The writing is clear and methodical and the examples generally well-chosen and realistic. If you are new to Ant then these four chapters alone are a solid introduction and tutorial. And if you've already dabbled and are still finding your feet then these chapters will be a useful helping hand.
Chapter five looks at how you integrate Ant and the JUnit testing framework. Integration with the CVS source control system is the subject of chapter six. Followed by a chapter on using Ant with external programs, including batch jobs and multi-threading issues. Next up is the topic of web applications, which covers the creation of WAR files (and CAB files for Windows), web deployment, Tomcat, JSP compilation and deploying to EJB containers.
The use of Ant for transforming XML using XSLT, XML document validation, DTD creation and other XML-related activities also gets a chapter. This chapter also includes coverage of using Ant with XDoclets.
Other chapters include using Ant with Eclipse, (no surprise given that author Steve Holzner has also written extensively on Eclipse, including the Eclipse Cookbook from O'Reilly), and a chapter devoted to building your own Ant extensions.
The book provides a great way into Ant, showing how it can be used in a wide-range of environments to perform an even wider range of functions. For anyone looking to get the most out of Ant this is a great place to look for ideas and examples.