Using Ant with Eclipse

by Simon. Average Reading Time: almost 4 minutes.

If you’re currently not using Eclipse as your development tool of choice, you certainly should be! Eclipse is an open source community whose projects are focused on building an open development platform comprised of extensible frameworks, tools and runtimes for building, deploying and managing software across the lifecycle.

Eclipse started out as a Java IDE and has continually grown from there. Plugins now include, amongst a plethora of others, the venerable Aptana, CFEclipse, SQL Explorer, Subclipse and, more recently, the Adobe-developed Flex Builder and ColdFusion-equivalent codenamed Bolt.

Apache Ant is a software tool for automating software build processes. It is implemented using the Java language, requires the Java platform, and was originally developed to automate the build of Java projects. However, since Ant was created as a simple, platform-independent tool, it can really be used to automate the build of anything you choose.

Ant uses XML to describe the build process and its dependencies, using a file commonly called build.xml. Using this file, Ant makes it trivial to integrate unit testing frameworks with the build process and has made it easy for web developers to adopt test-driven development, and even Extreme Programming.

Fortunately for us, if you download and run Eclipse, you already have Ant installed and so do not have any complex configuration to concern yourself with; well, at least initially.

Setting Up Eclipse

For the most part, Eclipse has all you need to get up and running with Ant pre-installed. However, most projects will include a release target which uses FTP to upload the files to a live server. The FTP ant task requires some extra libraries (.jar files):


(The library files can be downloaded from here).

Copy the files into the ant lib folder of your Eclipse install. The folder is commonly located here:

C:\Program Files\Eclipse\plugins\org.apache.ant_*\lib

(The asterix * refers to the Ant version).

Next, go to Window > Preferences and select Ant > Runtime. In the Classpath tab, select Ant Home Entries, click Add External JARs… and select the 2 files you copied to the ant lib folder.

A Typical Ant Project Setup

A project with ant build scripts should have the following within the repository:

  • build.xml (the actual ant build script)
  • build.properties.template (a template for individual build.properties files)
  • an optional top level lib folder (containing jar files for external ant tasks)

Examples of the build.xml and build.properties.template files can be downloaded from here.

Create Your Own build.properties File

Make a copy of the build.properties.template file (name it build.properties) and set the values to fit your local setup (in most cases, the only property you may want to change is deploy.dir.local which is the path to the site on your local machine).

This file should never be committed to the repository (the repository should be set to ignore it anyway).

Basic Build Tasks

The build file should have a deploy.local task. This task builds the project and copies it to your local webserver (the path to the web server folder will be defined in the build.properties file).

Most projects should also have a deploy.dev task to copy the latest work to the dev server so that other people can view it.

Setting Up an Automatic Build

To make things easy, you can set deploy.local to run every time you save a file. This is called an automatic build.

The process for setting up automatic build is quite convoluted. I’m not sure why but this is the best way I’ve found to make it work.

Step 1: Add the build file to your ant view

Click the add button and select the build.xml file from the project. You can also drag the build.xml file onto the ant view (To add the ant view to your perpective, go to Window > Show View > Other…)

Step 2: Run as Ant Build

In your ant view, right click the newly added build file and select Run As > Ant Build… In the dialog window, select the ‘Hide internal targets not selected for execution’ option in the Targets tab. You can rename the builder in the box at the top of the window if you wish (I usually remove the trailing ‘build.xml’. Click Apply and Close.

Step 3: Setup automatic build

Right click on the project, select Properties, then Builders. Click Import. Before closing the screen, highlight the imported build and select edit. Go to the Targets tab select clean for ‘After a clean’ and deploy.local for ‘Auto build’. Apply the changes and close.

Step 4: Enable Auto Build

Go to Project > Build Automatically

Acknowledgment: Thanks should go to Martin Laine for his help and guidance which resulted in this article.

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