Tag: Software factory

When an upgrade is a downgrade

I recently blogged about software factory tools, but now I have to rant about one of those tools.

Sometimes, it seems, for non-technological reasons, a software editor will, perhaps intentionally, make the new version of its software worse than the previous one. Windows 8 comes to mind.

I did not expect a minor release of SonarQube server to fall into this category, but release 6.2 seems like a man-made disaster to me. The creators of SonarQube decided that it would be a good idea to suddenly and irrevocably remove several of its central features. They removed the distinction between unit and integration tests because it’s too hard for them to deal with. That could really mess up the data in your customized reports, but don’t worry – they also deleted your custom reports! All of them!

Apparently they removed dashboards and widgets because they don’t want SonarQube to be “seen as a multi-purpose aggregation and reporting tool”.  It’s true that as of 6.1 the reports they generated automatically were pretty good, but the reports you meticulously set up that your boss has been using in executive progress reports ? Gone forever. The only alternative is restoring the SonarQube database and re-installing version 6.1 without ever having the possibility to upgrade again. How’s that for progress?

Key Software Factory Tools in the Java World

Here are some popular free and/or freemium tools for creating a software factory for a Java project :

I’ve written about these build tools before.

Here’s a chart showing the relative popularity of these 3 tools.

There are many more unit test facilitators available for free, and I’ve developed some lesser-known open-source unit test facilitators myself.

  • Integration test facilitators
    • Arquillian – allows you to run a test on a Java EE server (either a remote server or one configured and launched by your test code)
    • OpenEJB – a lightweight EJB framework implementation that can be launched in a test
    • DBUnit – set up and clean up after tests that use real database connections
    • Docker – actually, Docker is a facilitator for just about any sort of automation you want to do, but I put it in the integration test category because it allows you to spin up a database or other server from a test.

Note: do not mix the Arquillian and OpenEJB together in the same test suite – jar conflicts can ensue when tests are run manually in Eclipse

There are surely other tools I’ve left out.  Feel free to mention your favorites in the comments.

Software factories

In the real world, most of us are not quite there, but it’s now possible with only free tools to have a reliable product release process which consists of just developing and committing code. In the case of an editor releasing a versioned software product, or for a site where new features are released gradually or via AB testing, or in all cases where human testers and/or management approval are necessary, there would also have to be the click of a button to approve a release. I’m speaking in broad, hand-waving generality, but such a process, when achieved, can provide a competitive advantage to a product or site by reducing time-to-market for new features and reducing the risk of quality issues (translation: easier to develop faster with fewer bugs).

Of course setting up such a process requires a lot of up-front work, considerable expertise, and occasional maintenance down the road, and such a system will (by design, normally) come to a halt very quickly if it is fed anything other than clean, well-tested code.

This notion has been called a “software factory” or “continuous delivery” or “continuous deployment” system.

I’ll have more to say on this subject soon, but today I will just point you to a couple of interesting diagrams:

Java build tools: Ant, Maven or Gradle?

When you create a java project (for a library or an application or a web site), while you could just rely on your IDE to build things for you, in most cases you really need a build script. For a build script, you basically have 3 choices: Ant, Maven or Gradle.

Now that I’ve used all three of these tools, thought I’d share some thoughts about how to choose between them. This is not an article about how to migrate from one of them to another – that’s usually not worth the pain if your build is complicated, and it’s fairly trivial if your build is very simple.

In the context of a new project, let’s take a look at each of the choices:


Ant is the old-school tool. Your build script is basically a list of configured commands in XML, organized as a set of interdependent tasks. It’s easy to learn, and relatively easy to debug. It’s pretty easy to extend with custom tags implemented in Java (I’ve created one myself). Ant does not naturally include dependency management (loading external jar files), bit that can be added with Apache Ivy.

Strong points:

  • easy to learn
  • easy to understand
  • excellent integration in IDE’s
  • lots of examples and help online

Weak points:

  • Procedural (build scripts can get very complicated)
  • inelegant
  • For dependency management, Ivy is less intuitive and requires extra configuration and tooling


Maven is the opinionated tool which forces a project structure and build life cycle on you, and it’s also the tool that introduced built-in dependency management and a central repository for dependencies. Like Ant, it’s based on XML. Some people hate Maven for making them do things Maven’s way, but the benefit is simplicity. Unlike with Ant and Gradle scripts, two Maven scripts which do roughly the same thing are very similar. I have not tried to extend its functionality, but Maven has a plugin architecture, and a lot of useful plugins are available. Maven is also well-integrated in a number of popular tools.

Strong points:

  • generally very little thought or debugging required to get a typical build working
  • strong integration with various CI and IDE tools
  • simple dependency management
  • lots of examples and explanations online

Weak points:

  • Lots of pain if you don’t organize your project the Maven way
  • inelegant


A relative newcomer, Gradle offers an elegant groovy-based DSL to run your build. Like Maven, Gradle has built-in dependency-management and makes some assumptions about project structure, but like Ant its execution is based on tasks. Unlike both Ant and Maven, Gradle has an elegant syntax which allows you to essentially write your build code in Groovy. Unlike Maven, the assumptions about project structure are conventions rather than rules. I have to say, though, that I recently encountered an official Gradle plugin which takes some of those assumptions as hard rules, and I had to abandon the plugin and use another tool. Hopefully this situation will improve over time. One thing I really like about Gradle is its dependency management syntax, which allows much simpler find-replace for version upgrades than Maven’s XML tags. The library name and version are all together on one line.

Strong points:

  • Elegance (i.e. lack of XML tags)
  • flexibility
  • simple dependency management
  • concision

Weak points:

  • Immature tooling and immature integration with popular tools (CI, IDE)
  • limited examples and help online
  • steep learning curve (especially for Groovy noobs)
  • inflexible plugins.


All three of these tools are good tools which can get the job done if you know what you’re doing. Personally, for a new Java project, I’d chose Maven for basic building of jar and war files. It’s what I did choose, even for my open-source Ant plugin. I Ant also, for non-build tasks (mass file copying with text replacement, for example) and tasks around the builds (for example, to update versions of dependency libraries and to rebuild the delegate interfaces using interface-it ant). Gradle is a very elegant and promising tool which will surely resolve some of its weak points over time. If you’re comfortable with groovy, it might be the right choice for you, but only if you stick to their recommended multi-project structure and don’t lean too heavily on your IDE.