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Tim Strehle’s links and thoughts on Web apps, managing software development and Digital Asset Management, since 2002.
2004-05-06

The Sum of Ant

Ken Arnold on the The Sum of Ant:

"Ant is nothing more than the sum of its parts

By this I mean that ant has not learned the basic power of composition, building things out smaller parts. This was the great insight that our Unix forbearers bequeathed us toolsmiths, and it's pretty sad to see it forgotten. In Unix this is done with pipes -- the output of one program can become the input of another. Along with conventions about program output, this allows you to build up something that is more than the sum of its parts. A utility that finds file in the file system can generate a list of files for any purpose: removal, editing, rebuilding, copying, printing, ...

Ant has many kinds of tasks. These are portable because they are written in Java, and these task implementations can rely upon operating system abstractions in the underlying ant platform.

But they almost never work together. There are some common tools for building up lists of files, but if you want a list of files from any other source, good luck. This is why there are two different tasks (one optional) that calculate list of Java class dependencies, and they are incompatible. And if you want a list of Java class dependencies for a task that one of these two tasks can't handle, good luck.

A common quote in our biz is the observation that a good software tool will do things the author never expected. I doubt that writers of ant tasks are very often surprised."

Thu, 06 May 2004 20:54:36 +0000