Introduction to Gradle

For last few weeks I’ve been moving rather large collection of Ant, Shell and other scripts into Gradle. In my opinion Gradle is great. It has two things that I value the most when it comes to tools:

  1. The build scripts are CODE. As scripts are CODE I can do everything I could do when I code. It gives me freedom from XML
  2. It has dependencies management powered by Ivy.

Scripts are Code

The build scripts are Groovy code. Groovy is dynamic language that runs on JVM (similar to JRuby in some sense).  This means that I can test my build scripts with unit tests. This also means that I can do loops and conditions easier without weird, artificial XML tags.

Dependency management by Ivy

Gradle team, instead of inventing new dependency management, actually decided to use Ivy. Simple and easy tool that does what it says on a tin, nothing more. More important it will not try to download the Internet every time it runs.

The beginnings

First of all, if you would like to follow me with this article, grab yourself installation of Gradle. It is self-contained zip, and the only thing that you would need is Java installed.  Verify your Gradle installation by typing gradle –v from your command line.

Gradle expects your build scripts to be in a project folder in a file called build.gradle. You can write your scripts in another file but every time you execute Gradle you will have to specify where your build script is: gradle –b file_name.gradle.

To execute a task defined in build.gradle file you need to type: gradle taskName.

To see the list of all available tasks in for project type gradle tasks from command line.

Write you some tasks

Gradle has a concept of a task. Task is combined of multiple actions. One can define a task as new and assign some actions to it, or use predefined Types of task (Copy, Exec, etc.).

Example of new task definition:

task doStuff << {
  // Hey hey, I’m doing stuff
  println ‘Doing stuff’

Example of task that copies files:

task copySomeThings(type: Copy) {
  from ‘source’
  into ‘destination’

There is a very subtle difference between those two ways of defining tasks, and I got caught many times by it. The first task, doStuff doesn’t have predefined functionality. Calling method task doStuff creates task with name doStuff. However, I need to define some actions. This is the role of operator << (shift left). What actually happens is:

  1. Task doStuff is created
  2. Action that is defined in closure (between two curlies, {}) is appended to the end of the actions list of this task.  First and only action that will happen will be printed out into STDOUT.

If I need another action to follow the thirst one I defined I could do:

doStuff << {
  // Wow, now I’m doing another action
  println ‘Weheeeey’

The definition of copy task however doesn’t contain << assignment. It does contain the closure though. This closure is passed into the task Copy to configure it. from and into are methods defined on task type Copy that can be used to specify where to pick up files from and where to drop them. Every predefined task has some parameters and methods that I can specify. Please refer to documentation  (link to Gradle task list) for details of task.

This is important

The most common mistake I kept on making was defining a custom task and forgetting the << operator. The task did nothing and I was spending countless hours investigating why.

task doStuff(){
  // this will not happen

Task dependencies

In Gradle I can define dependencies between tasks. This means that when I want to execute specific task and there is another one that needs to be executed before it, Gradle will execute it too. The way to define task dependencies:

task doStuff() << {
  // I’m doing stuff

task doingEvenMore(<strong>dependsOn: doStuff</strong>) << {
  // Doing more

You can also specify name of the task instead of the task reference. This allows for kind of a lazy evaluation of build script.

task doingEventMore(dependsOn: ‘doStuff’) << { }

If you need to add dependency for already defined task you can use dependsOn method of a task.

doingEvenMore.dependsOn someOtherTask

Or dependsOn property of a task:

doingEvenMore.dependsOn = [doStuff, someOtherTask]

There is a catch with the last method: it overrides all previously created dependencies.

Then, there was Java

As of now I was describing how to create tasks and declare dependencies between them. To actually use it on a project we will need some more action. That’s why it is time to introduce Gradle Java plugin.

apply plugin:’java’

Java plugin adds some task to your build. You can check them out by executing gradle tasks from command line. Tasks that can compile, test and even jar your project.

What we are interested in are dependencies that project might need and the way Gradle handles them. By dependencies I mean third party libraries like: log4j, junit, etc. You can see dependencies in your project by executing gradle dependencies from command line.


Java plugin adds few dependency configurations. I’m interested in compile time dependencies, as it is needed for my project to compile and run.

apply plugin:’java”

repositories {

dependencies {
  compile group: ‘log4j’, name:’log4j’, version: ‘1.2.9’

Inside repositories block I used method mavenCentral(). This is method predefined by Java plugin providing access to Maven central repository. As I mentioned earlier Gradle uses Ivy to resolve dependencies. Ivy in turn works rather well with Maven repositories.

Lines above will add single log4j dependency to mine project. The cool thing about it is that it will also resolve all its dependencies.

We can also add multiple dependencies by doing:

    [group:’log4j’, name:’log4j’, version:’1.2.9’],
    [group:’xfire’, name:’xfire’, version:’1.2.6]

This will add two dependencies to my project.

There are few more dependencies (runtime, compile, testCompile, testRuntime, archive) added by Java plugin. Dependencies are nothing more than a list of libraries (files) included in a build lifecycle (compile, test etc).


One can define its own dependency configuration by creating new entry in configurations block of a build script.

configurations {

  gregWasHere group: ‘log4j’, name:’log4j’, version: ‘1.2.9’

Configurations are nice and simple way of adding compiletime or runtime libraries to any build. For example I used it when executing external Java process that needs extra libraries in classpath.

task executeSomeJava(type: JavaExec){
  main = “com.some.main.Bla”
  args = [“1”, “2”]
  classpath = configurations.gregWasHere


Gradle is really great and if you are still stuck in the world of XML and hate it, give it a try. Few tips I written in this article, could be used as a good starting point. I also found that coding to task convention that Gradle uses, simplifies the build and release process.

Few good resources to read when starting with gradle:

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